How to Become a Medical Assistant?

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Are you interested in pursuing a medical career where you can make a difference in the patient’s lives without going through the extensive schooling to become a doctor or a nurse? If so, a career as a medical assistant might be perfect for you. From assisting physicians and nurses with patient care to managing administrative tasks, medical assistants play a crucial role in the modern healthcare industry. Moreover, medical assisting is an excellent way to start a career in the medical field and opens doors for further advancement. 

So, how to become a medical assistant?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of becoming a medical assistant. From the necessary education and training requirements to certification exams and job applications, we’ve got you covered. So, keep reading and discover how you can start your career as a medical assistant. 

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants are healthcare professionals responsible for the smooth operation of medical facilities they work in and for assisting physicians with patient care. Due to this dual nature of their responsibilities, medical assistants are valuable members of the medical team. They collaborate with doctors to help provide various health services in outpatient facilities or medical offices. 

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

As medical assistants complete both clinical and administrative tasks in their workplace, their typical responsibilities include:

  • Greeting patients who come in for appointments;
  • Keeping inventory;
  • Maintaining medical records;
  • Assisting nurses with clinical duties;
  • Measuring vital signs;
  • Handling billing and insurance;
  • Cleaning and restocking exam rooms;
  • Performing basic diagnostic tests, like EKGs;
  • Caring for wounds;
  • Scheduling appointments and procedures.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

To become a medical assistant, you must fulfill a few prerequisites. Here’s what the journey to become one entails:

1. Obtaining a high school diploma or a GED

Earning a high school diploma is the minimum education requirement for enrolling in an accredited medical assisting program or working as a medical assistant. If you don’t have your high school diploma, you must earn an equivalent diploma, a GED.

2. Completing a medical assisting program

The next step in your journey is enrolling in a medical assisting program accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES to qualify for the certification exam. You can find medical assisting in-person or online programs through vocational schools, technical schools, community colleges, and even colleges and universities. Medical assisting programs offer instruction in clinical and administrative areas such as:

  • Human anatomy;
  • Medical terminology;
  • Pharmacology;
  • Administering medicine;
  • Medical law & ethics;
  • Record-keeping;
  • Computer competency;
  • Lab techniques. 

3. Applying for medical assistant certification

Although some states and employers don’t require medical assistant certification, gaining certification can lead to a higher salary and more comprehensive job opportunities. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification stands out as the top choice among professionals, but other certifications include Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA).

4. Passing the CMA (AAMA) exam

An essential step for obtaining medical assistant certification is taking and passing the CMA exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants. This rigorous exam requires a comprehensive, broad, and up-to-date understanding of health care delivery. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions administered in four 40-minute segments. Of the 200 multiple-choice questions, 180 questions will be scored, and 20 will be pretested. The exam assesses your knowledge in three categories:

  • Clinical Competency (106 questions): Clinical workflow, safety and infection control, procedures/examinations, and pharmacology;
  • General (38 questions): Legal and ethical issues and communication;
  • Administrative (36 questions): Billing, coding, insurance, scheduling appointments, and health information management.

5. Completing an internship

Many programs require internships before you receive your diploma. Even if they don’t, we recommend completing one anyway to gain the necessary hands-on experience in a clinical setting. You’ll also practice everyday tasks like taking vital signs, scheduling appointments, and performing minor diagnostic tests. Completing an internship or externship also gives you a competitive edge as a job applicant. 

6. Applying for a job

As a medical assistant, you’ll typically find employment in outpatient settings, but you can still work in other healthcare settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, schools, and laboratories. 

An essential part of your job search is networking. Consider reaching out to instructors, classmates, and people you know personally to find out if they know of any job openings in the field. You should also apply to both big and small healthcare facilities. Working in a smaller facility, such as a doctor’s office, will allow you to take on different tasks and help you build experience. 

As you apply for medical assistant positions, you should also prepare for interviews by practicing your answers to typical questions such as:

  • Are you certified in first aid and CPR?
  • How do you handle stressful situations?
  • Why did you choose to become a medical assistant?
  • What experience do you have in a medical setting?

7. Considering continuing your education

Medical assisting is an entry-level position within healthcare, so you can specialize in your work and advance in your career. Attaining an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN) are some of the ways to advance in your career as a medical assistant. These degrees allow you to pursue roles such as:

  • EKG technician;
  • Surgical technician;
  • Program management;
  • Physician Assistant;
  • Office management. 

Within clinical practice, you can specialize and obtain additional certification in geriatrics, ophthalmology, family practice, cardiology, and others. 

Moreover, many people begin their healthcare journey as medical assistants while they attend degree programs for other medical careers, such as paramedics, nurses, and doctors.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Overall, the journey to becoming a medical assistant can take one to two years. This journey includes medical assisting programs, which can take nine to two years, depending on the program. Typically, online programs take nine months, certificates from community colleges take 12 months, and associate’s degrees from community colleges take two years to complete. Although not always necessary, obtaining certification also adds a few months of preparation for the exam, and engaging in internships can take a few weeks to a few months.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant

Essential Skills for a Medical Assistant

As the job responsibilities require you to deal with administrative and clinical tasks, the essential skills and qualities you must possess as a medical assistant include the following:

  • Organizational skills: You’ll often have to balance different administrative and clinical duties, including checking patients in, scheduling appointments, etc., so staying organized and ahead of your tasks will help you complete your job with less stress.
  • Multitasking: As a medical assistant, you’ll likely juggle many roles, such as caring for patients, handling bookkeeping, and answering phones. You must be able to multitask to complete your tasks in a timely manner each day.
  • Communication skills: During the workday, you’ll interact with patients and may have to explain the procedure you’re about to perform or address their concerns about the treatment plan. Therefore, you must possess communication skills to effectively relay information in a way they’ll understand. You also need communication skills to communicate with other healthcare professionals about sharing updates about patients, delegating tasks, etc.
  • Attention to detail: Observing minor details allows you to evaluate patients and notice any concerning symptom changes. Moreover, attention-to-detail skills will enable you to identify potential clerical errors and maintain accurate medical records.
  • Empathy: Working as a medical assistant means encountering patients of different ages and backgrounds who need medical services. Empathy allows you to listen to their concerns and support them during a vulnerable time. 

Job Outlook and Salary

One compelling advantage of pursuing a career as a medical assistant is the anticipated 14% growth in employment opportunities, which surpasses the average of 3% for all occupations. The BLS also estimates that medical assistants will have about 114,600 openings each year over the decade. This is due to the aging population having more healthcare concerns, thus increasing the demand for medical services in physicians’ offices and other healthcare settings. The high demand is also a result of workers transferring to different occupations or exiting the labor force to retire. 

Medical assistants also benefit from the entry-level salary of $40,700, which varies depending on the location and years of experience. The highest-paying states for medical assistants include:

  • Washington – $50,350;
  • District of Columbia – $50,020;
  • Alaska – $49,400;
  • California $47,850;
  • Minnesota – $47,330.

According to years of experience, the medical assistant salary varies as follows:

  • Less than a year – $42,556;
  • One to two years – $44,369;
  • Three to five years – $47,594;
  • Six to nine years – $48,513;
  • More than ten years – $53,665. 


In conclusion, becoming a medical assistant offers a fulfilling career path. You can positively impact the patients’ lives and optimize the operation flow of medical facilities. The journey to becoming one involves completing a medical assisting program, obtaining certification, engaging in internships, and more, which can take one to two years in total. 

Suppose medical assisting looks like something you want to do. In that case, we encourage you to take the first steps to become one and embrace the opportunities for professional development, as the future is filled with endless possibilities. 


Do I need to have prior experience in healthcare to become a medical assistant?

Yes, it’s possible to find a medical assistant job with no experience. A medical assistant position is an entry-level job. Therefore, on-the-job training is often sufficient for managing your responsibilities. 

Is it possible to work as a medical assistant while pursuing further education?

Yes, you can pursue further education and work as a medical assistant at the same time. Being a medical assistant can serve as a launching pad for a future career as a doctor or nurse. 

Do medical assistants work full-time or part-time?

Medical assistants can work either full-time or part-time—however, most work a full-time 40-hour week. 

What are the most common challenges that medical assistants face in their daily work?

As with every job, being a medical assistant has its challenges. These include multitasking, working with nervous and scared patients, and following many rules and regulations, including HIPAA policies. 

Leave a Reply

Admission Enquiry