Find Training for Your Next Career!

Connect now with local schools


Medical Assistant Career Guide

How to become a medical assistant in as little as 6 weeks-certified medical assistant training information

Medical assistants are usually the first and last people a patient sees when he or she is at a medical facility. But what do they do? Is it an enjoyable field? Are there jobs available? Can you really become a medical assistant in as little as 6 weeks? Read on to find out more about what it takes to become a medical assistant.

Medical Assistant Job Description

Maya Angelou quote-become a medical assistant career information article

First, before we launch into responsibilities, know that there are two main kinds of medical assistants: clinical and administrative.

Take the NCCT medical assistant practice exam to see if this career is a good fit for you.

  • Clinical: Clinical medical assistants aren't qualified to provide the same type of care as a nurse or doctor, but you are still extremely beneficial to the medical profession. You'll help with patients by recording their medical histories, explaining procedures and care with patients and their families, preparing patients for their exams, and preparing and delivering medication. Other duties a clinical medical assistant may be qualified to do are drawing blood and other specimens, completing tests on the samples collected, performing EKGs, stitch removals, and dressing wounds.
  • Administrative: In some healthcare settings, medical assistants are tasked with strictly administrative duties. You'll greet patients, answer phones, update and file medical records, handle various insurance forms and correspondence, and set up appointments when needed. Often, medical assistants will also arrange hospital admission for a patient or manage laboratory services.

Medical Assistant Specialists

Henry David Thoreau quote on how to become a medical assistant information article

Like many other careers in the medical field, medical assistants have opportunities to specialize. How do any of these sound to you?

  1. Ophthalmic and optometric medical assistants: Help provide eye care. You may have to show patients how to use contact lenses or assist in doctors in surgery.
  2. Podiatric medical assistants: You'll help podiatrists make foot castings, aid with surgeries, and take care of x-rays.
  3. EKG/cardiology medical assistants: EKG/cardiology medical assistants perform EKGs, Holter monitor procedures, and stress tests.
  4. Obstetrics and gynecology medical assistants: Hands-on training is necessary for this specialized portion of medical assisting. You'll help the doctor with procedures such as PAP testing, breast exams, and caring for pregnant women. Medical assistants MUST be certified for this specialty, however.

And then, there are also medical assistant administrative specialties. These require additional coursework and certifications:

  1. Medical billing and coding: Medical billers and coders work directly with the insurance agencies, ensuring the proper payment amounts are going to the right people, whether it’s the insurance company, doctor, or patient. Further specialization can occur within this field, as either hospital or ambulatory care coding. Certification through the American Academy of Professional Coders or Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Compliance is required.
  2. Medical administrative assistant: As a medical administrative assistant, you’ll work directly alongside the management team. Medical administrative assistants will take notes during meetings, create documents and spreadsheets, and work on office policies and other administrative duties that are assigned to them.

Do you need a certificate or degree when choosing a medical program of any kind?

Medical Assisting Diploma vs Associate Degree

Students are required to have earned a high school diploma or GED before they can become a medical assistant.

Employers typically insist that medical assistants pursue post-secondary education—including receiving a certified medical assistant (CMA) qualification—but there are some medical facilities that will train you in-house.

Most community colleges around the country offer two-year associate degree programs for medical assisting. There is also the trade school or vocational school route, which takes a year or less to complete and the student earns a diploma.

Both programs usually include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Online medical assisting programs are also available, and allow students to go at their own pace. Hybrid programs, which include both online and on-campus training, are also viable options.




Up to 1 year full time

2 years full time


Medical law, patient care, health sciences, medical terminology, hands-on practical studies

Curriculum similar to diploma but also includes general education requirements


Fast-track to a well-paying position as it only takes a year to complete

Associate degree path can be a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree


Graduates may not be as marketable as those with associate degrees

Takes longer than the diploma program and is more expensive

Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Becoming certified is not required, but it’s highly recommended: Employers prefer their medical assistants to be certified. Another benefit to medical assistant certification? The paycheck. CMAs end up earning more in the long run than medical assistants who are not certified.

To become a certified medical assistant, complete your certificate or associate degree training program. You'll then need to take the certifying test. Exams are given in January, June, and October every year.

There are three requirements that must be met in order to sit for the exam. You must take the exam between 30 days before program completion and up to a year after the program completion and your diploma or degree had been earned. Non-recent graduates have up to a year after their course is completed. And you may also apply to be re-certified if you had already taken and passed the exam but need re-certification. Only those who graduated from an accredited program are qualified to sit for the certification exam.

Personality Traits of Some Successful CMA's

  • People person: A medical assistant deals with a lot of people on a daily basis, and on a variety of levels. You need to go from patient to patient with a smile and an outgoing demeanor—no matter how the last person interacted with you. Shy people may feel slightly uncomfortable in this position. However, even less outgoing assistants can become bubbly and confident with a bit of practice!
  • Compassionate: Compassion is an essential ingredient when you are working with patients who aren’t feeling well. Medical assistants need to be supportive and give some emotional comfort to the patient while he or she is waiting to be seen by the physician.
  • Strong communicator: You need to be excellent at effectively conveying information. Equally important, you need to be good at active listening, to fully understand what is being told to or asked of you.
  • Organized: On any work day, you will see multiple patients. This entails an awful lot of paperwork, patient files, and names to be kept straight. One little mistake can go a long way in the wrong direction, so medical assistants must maintain strong organizational skills.
  • Team player: You are part of a team that includes the physician, nurses, medical staff, and the patients and their families. There is no room for a rogue player. If a medical assistant isn’t able to help the team, then his or her role may quickly be given to a medical assistant who will.
  • Detail oriented: To be an effective asset to the medical team, a medical assistant needs to pay attention to even the most minute details with patients. Something you notice can help the team better assess the situation.
  • Adaptable: Each day brings different experiences in the healthcare industry. Technology, procedures, and daily office life are in a constant state of movement, so a good medical assistant needs to keep up with the daily changes. You need to be flexible and easily roll with the punches.
  • Ethical: HIPAA laws protect patients' confidentiality rights and medical assistants are bound to these rules, the same as the rest of the medical staff. Gossiping and discussing patients is strictly prohibited. Everything you experience with the patients is protected, and an excellent medical assistants will play by the rules—eyes and ears open, but mouths closed!

Choosing the Right Medical Assistant Program

Jump to: Find a local medical assistant school

It can seem like the options for medical assistant programs are limitless, which makes picking the right program confusing. From starting your search to making your final choice, there are a few factors to consider about programs:

  1. Is the program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)? If not, then students who complete it aren't eligible to take the certified medical assistant exam.
  2. Is the tuition plus cost of books and supplies something that you can afford? Find out from the school if they have a financial aid program to bring the cost down to a more reachable figure. Also, look into other funding options.
  3. What type of degree are you want to get, a certificate or associate degree? Does the school offer those options?
  4. What are the class sizes, and are you comfortable with those numbers? Some students thrive in large classroom settings, while others benefit from smaller classes. It’s strictly a personal preference.
  5. Are internships offered with the medical assistant program you’re considering? Hands-on experience is one of the best learning tools.
  6. Does the school you’re considering have a job placement program for its graduates? A job placement program is an excellent way to land your first job and gain the necessary experience for your future jobs.
  7. What is the graduation rate and CMA exam passing rate of the schools you’re looking at? The higher the number, the better!

How Much Will School Cost?

A medical assisting certificate or diploma program through a vocational school can cost between $1,200-$4,200, depending on which state and program you go through.

The same program through a community college typically costs $2,500-$10,000. Programs will end up costing you more if you attend an out-of-state school.

There aren't many additional costs involved with medical assisting programs, aside from school supplies and classroom materials. However, one extra cost is the certification exam given by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). That costs either $125 or $250, depending on if you are a recent graduate or and/or a member of the AAMA.

Employment Outlook for Medical Assistants

An increased growth in employment is projected for medical assistants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics site states there will be a 18 percent growth for the profession between now and 2030.

A couple of factors driving this large employment increase are the aging of the baby boomers and expanding physician practices to accommodate patients.

Because there is so much growth within doctors' offices, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities, medical assistants are necessary to keep the administrative and clinical aspects running smoothly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the 2021, average pay among medical assistants was $38,190. The top 10 percent of medical assistants made closer to $48,170.

Keep in mind: These numbers are national averages, but factors such as geographic location, type of practice, and the amount of experience can make take-home pay look different across the nation.

Top Paying States for Medical Assisting Careers











The medical field is always filled with excellent opportunities, and one of the fastest ways to get involved is through a medical assisting program!