Medical Assistant

How to become a medical assistant

Fel Gonzaga
May 19, 2023

Becoming a Medical Assistant (MA) is a fulfilling career that allows you to help patients and work in a fast-paced environment. But how do you get started? In this post, we'll guide you on how to become an MA, including education, certification, and job outlook.

What is a Medical Assistant?

A Medical Assistant (MA) performs administrative and clinical tasks in a medical setting. They provide direct patient care and perform various clinical functions, such as ECG, phlebotomy, and medication administration, all while prioritizing patient safety and maintaining strict confidentiality. Their job duties vary with the location, specialty, and experience. Here’s what a MA usually does:

  • Taking patients' medical histories and recording vital signs;
  • Assisting physicians with patient examinations and procedures;
  • Preparing and administering medications as directed by physicians;
  • Scheduling appointments and maintaining patient records;
  • Billing and coding for insurance purposes, and
  • Communicating with patients and their families

What's great about being an MA is that it allows you to help people and make a difference in their lives. Whether you're assisting with a patient's care, helping to run a medical office, or supporting medical research, your work can have a positive impact on the lives of many people.

What are the requirements to become a MA?

The requirements for MA certification vary by state in the United States. Some states do not require certification to work as an MA, but employers may require you to have it. Other states have specific requirements for certification or registration. Here are some examples:

1. Educational Requirements - There are no formal education requirements for becoming a MA in most states. But, most employers prefer to hire MAs who graduate from the following programs:

  • Diploma or Certificate: You can become an MA through a diploma or certificate program. This is the most common route to becoming an MA. These programs take 9 to 12 months to complete. They cover topics such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, medical office procedures, and clinical skills.
  • Associate Degree: Some community colleges offer 2-year programs which lead to an associate’s degree. You can choose to pursue this if you want a more comprehensive education.

If you have no time or resources to enroll in training programs, you can learn the duties of an MA on the job as long as you have an HS diploma or equivalent. If you’re a high school student interested in this career, you should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Business and computer courses will also be helpful.

2. Certification Requirements - Most states do not require a certification to work as a MA, but employers may prefer to hire certified MAs. Here are some certifying organizations that the National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredits:

Certification Exam
Offered By
Exam Format
Exam Cost
Certified Medical Assistant American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) 200 multiple-choice questions $125 for AAMA members, $250 for non-AAMA members
Registered Medical Assistant American Medical Technologists (AMT) 210 multiple-choice questions and a practical exam $135 for AMT
National Certified Medical Assistant National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) 150 multiple-choice questions $90 for NCCT

There may be states that require you to complete an accredited program, pass a national certification exam, or both to work as a MA. California, Washington, and Louisiana are some of these states. If you're interested in becoming a MA, it's a good idea to research the requirements in your specific state or region. You can also check with the certifying agencies for information on certification requirements and resources.

3. Other requirements - Some training providers and employers may require you to pass or present requirements which include:

  • Background Check: Many employers require MAs to undergo a background check.
  • Drug Screening: Your employer may also require you to undergo drug screening.
  • Immunizations: You may need to provide proof of certain immunizations, such as Hepatitis B.

It is always best to check the specific requirements that you need to provide since it varies depending on the program, school, employer, or location.

What are the steps to becoming a MA?

To become an MA, you need to follow a series of steps. Here are the general steps involved in becoming a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA):

  1. Education: You first need a high school diploma or an equivalent certificate. This is the minimum educational requirement for pursuing a career as a MA.
  2. Accredited Program:  You can enroll in an accredited medical assisting program. The duration may last from 9 months to 2 years. The cost of the program ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. These programs offer diploma, certificate, or associate degree options.
    Dreambound works with state-accredited schools offering MA programs. Some of the programs can be online coursework with in-person externships. You can visit Dreambound and find medical assistant certification classes near you.
  3. Coursework: You must complete coursework that covers various topics, including medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, clinical procedures, medical office management, and medical ethics.
  4. Clinical Training: You also need to complete clinical as part of the training program. This provides hands-on experience in a healthcare setting. Otherwise, you may take part in an externship or volunteer in a medical facility, where you work under the supervision of medical professionals.
  5. Certification Exam: After completing an accredited program, you are eligible to take the certification exam. The CMA certification may be from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The exam assesses knowledge and skills in areas such as patient care, medical procedures, administrative tasks, and professionalism.
  6. Continuing Education: Once certified, you must maintain your credentials by completing continuing education requirements. This ensures that you stay up-to-date on advancements and changes in the medical field.

It's important to note that the specific requirements and steps may vary depending on the state and the certifying organization. It is best to refer to reputable sources such as the AAMA or the official websites of accredited MA programs for the most accurate and latest information.

Where do MAs work?

You can work as a MA in various healthcare settings, including:

  • Clinics,
  • Hospitals,
  • Outpatient Care Centers,
  • Urgent Care Centers,
  • Nursing Homes or Assisted Living Facilities,
  • Medical Laboratories, and
  • Academic Institutions.

It's important to note that the specific work settings for you may vary based on factors such as your location, employer preferences, and the scope of practice allowed by local regulations.

How much do MAs make? What is the job outlook for MAs?

MAs had a mean annual wage of $40,700, with a mean hourly wage of $19.57 in May 2022. There is a 16 percent increase in employment of MAs from 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is about 123,000 job openings each year, on average.

What comes after CMA?

In addition to the potential for job growth and salary, you also have opportunities for career advancement as a MA. With additional education and certification, you can move into roles such as:

Career Advancement
Job Description
Electronic Health Records Specialist You will be responsible for managing and maintaining electronic patient records. You will ensure accuracy, security, and compliance with legal requirements. You will also facilitate the efficient retrieval of patient data for healthcare providers. You may also assist in training staff on EHR systems.
Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner You will help diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, perform procedures, and provide comprehensive medical care under the supervision of a physician. You will often collaborate with physicians to deliver primary or specialized healthcare services.
Registered Nurse You will give direct patient care, administer medications, monitor patients' conditions, and coordinate healthcare interventions. You may specialize in specific areas, such as pediatrics, critical care, or oncology.

Final Thoughts

Embarking on the journey to becoming a MA opens up a world of opportunities in the healthcare field. Whether you're drawn to the administrative side or the clinical aspect, the path to becoming a MA is with growth and potential. So take the leap, follow your passion, and begin your exciting journey to become a valued member of the healthcare team as a MA.  Start your journey now with Dreambound!

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Written by
Fel Gonzaga

Fel is a student support representative who guides enrollees to the right program and answers their queries. She's committed to helping students and takes pride in her work. In her free time, she enjoys sightseeing and hanging out with loved ones.

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