Medical Assistants


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Medical assistants usually need a high school diploma, but in many cases receive specific training on the job. High school courses in the sciences, especially biology, are helpful, as are courses in algebra, English, bookkeeping, typing, computers, and office practices.

Postsecondary Training

There are no formal educational requirements for medical assistants, although most have a high school diploma and many earn certificates, diplomas, or associate's degrees. On-the-job training is also provided by some employers. Formal training for medical assistants is available at many trade schools, community and junior colleges, and universities. College programs generally award an associate's degree and take two years to complete. Other programs can last as long as a year and award a diploma or certificate. Prior to enrolling in any school program, you should check its curriculum and verify its accreditation.

Schools for medical assistants may be accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, which has approved hundreds of medical and ophthalmic programs; the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, which has accredited medical assisting programs; or the Commission on Accreditation of Ophthalmic Medical Programs, which has accredited ophthalmic medical assisting and ophthalmic clinical assisting programs. Course work includes biology, anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as typing, transcribing, shorthand, record keeping, and computer skills. Perhaps most importantly, these programs provide supervised, hands-on clinical experience in laboratory techniques, first-aid procedures, proper use of medical equipment, and clinical procedures. You also learn administrative duties and procedures in medical offices and receive training in interpersonal communications and medical ethics.

Other Education or Training

Many professional organizations provide continuing education (CE) opportunities. For example, American Medical Technologists offers webinars, conference sessions, and on-demand courses that cover topics such as career choices in medical assisting, workplace professionalism, tips on how to handle difficult people, and conflict resolution and stress management. The American Association of Medical Assistants, American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants, and the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology also provide CE classes, webinars, workshops, and seminars. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Voluntarily certification is available from certain professional organizations. The registered medical assistant credential is awarded by American Medical Technologists, and the American Association of Medical Assistants awards a credential for certified medical assistant. The National Center for Competency Testing awards the national certified medical assistant designation. The National Healthcareer Association awards several designations, including the certified clinical medical assistant and certified medical administrative assistant designations. Ophthalmic assistants can receive the following designations from the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology: certified ophthalmic assistant, certified ophthalmic technician, certified ophthalmic medical technologist, and corporate certified ophthalmic assistant. The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants offers the podiatric medical assistant, certified designation. Medical assistants generally do not need to be licensed. Some states require medical assistants to pass a test or take a course before they can perform certain tasks like taking X-rays.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring medical assistants should obtain hands-on clinical experience during their college education to prepare for the field.

To be a successful medical assistant, you must be able to interact with patients and other medical personnel and be able to follow detailed directions. In addition, you must be dependable and compassionate and have the desire to help people. Medical assistants must also respect patients' privacy by keeping medical information confidential. Overall, medical assistants who help patients feel at ease in the doctor's office and other medical settings and have good communication skills and a desire to serve should do well in this job.