A medical assistant is an allied health professional who performs a mix of clinical and administrative tasks. Medical assistants help a medical facility, such as a physician’s office, run smoothly and efficiently. The job outlook for medical assistants is excellent, as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of medical assistants will grow 29 percent by 2026, compared to the average growth rate for all occupations at 7 percent.
If you are interested in pursuing this career, you might be wondering how long it takes to become a medical assistant. Although the exact amount of time can vary, it typically takes nine months to two years for most aspiring medical assistants. Becoming a medical assistant involves a number of steps, including graduating from high school, acquiring medical assistant training, and obtaining certifications.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?
The vast majority of medical assistants complete a postsecondary medical assisting training program, but some individuals may also elect to enter the profession through on-the-job training. However, employers usually prefer candidates who have finished a medical assisting program. Such programs are offered by vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Student can receive a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. These various educational routes vary in length.
Most states do not have any formal educational requirements for medical assistants, but a high school degree or GED certificate is usually needed for both postsecondary education and on-the-job training. High school students who are interested medical assisting should consider taking courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Business and computer classes will likely also be helpful. It normally takes four years to finish high school and about three months to get a GED certificate.
Training on the job allows aspiring medical assistants to work in a real medical facility right away. Under the direction of doctors, nurses, and other experienced medical professionals, trainees learn essential medical assistant job duties. However, it can be quite difficult to find a doctor that is willing to hire an untrained applicant. The length of such on-site training depends on the facility.
Vocational schools, community colleges, and universities offer medical assisting programs. These formal training programs characteristically consist of classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Students receive instruction in clinical procedures, office administration, first aid, and instrument care. These programs last between nine months and two years, depending on the path you take.
Certifications allow medical assistants to showcase their skillset and expertise. There are a number of certification bodies that offer credentials to medical assistants. Some certification exams may be taken while in training or shortly after graduation, whereas others require a certain amount of work experience. Most states do not demand medical assistants to be certified, although some employers might prefer job candidates who are certified.
How Long is a Medical Assistant Program?
Postsecondary medical assisting programs vary in length, depending on which educational institution you attend. Vocational school programs are usually shorter than community college or university programs. Let’s take a closer look:
Medical assisting programs at vocational schools can often be completed in less than a year. Delta Technical College’s medical assistant training program is nine months. The program emphasizes medical assistant essentials, such as phlebotomy, patient preparation, physical exam assistance, office management, medical billing and coding, life span care, and medical ethics. Students graduate with a diploma.
Medical assistant programs at community colleges and universities cover similar topics as vocational school programs, yet community colleges and universities also require students to enroll in general education classes like Math or English. These programs typically last two years, though some students may need longer to graduate. Community colleges offer varying academic degrees. Depending on the student’s course of study and the individual school’s offerings, upon graduation a student could earn an associate’s degree, diploma, certificate or even a bachelor’s degree.
How to Get Medical Assistant Certification
There are several certifications available to medical assistants. Each certification has its own set of eligibility criteria. These can include graduation from a medical assistant training program, full-time work experience as a medical assistant, or completion of medical assistant training in the military. How long it takes to attain such a certification depends on what type of credential to seek and what kind of eligibility criteria apply to you.
Certifications for medical assistants include:
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
For medical assistant certification, Delta Tech prepares students to take the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) National Medical Assistant (NCMA) Certification Exam.
Starting Your Career as a Medical Assistant
Becoming a medical assistant involves several steps, from getting a high school degree (or equivalent) to obtaining industry certification. Since aspiring medical assistants can chose between various educational paths, the time it takes to become a medical assistant can differ quite a bit. For those who pursue the path of a medical assistant training program following graduation from high school, for example, can complete their training in less than a year at Delta Tech.
If you have questions regarding the career path of a medical assistant, you can read our guide on “how to become a medical assistant” or contact our helpful Admissions Representatives to talk about your career goals.