A medical assistant does a variety of work at a medical facility of either a clinical or an administrative nature, or both. Becoming a medical assistant allows you to work in the medical field without becoming involved in overly lengthy training and professional requirements. There are however important steps that you will need to take to insure that you are a well trained and responsible professional. There is not only one way to become involved in this field, but rather a number of different routes, mainly distinguished by how ambitious they are from an educational standpoint. The following are some of the primary steps and routes to take to become a medical assistant:
Seek on the Job Training
One of the simplest and most direct ways to get into the field of medical assisting is to apply for an entry level position at a medical facility that offers on-the-job training. Since there are generally no laws against an individual being hired as a medical assistant without formal education, this is indeed possible. You may need no more than a high school diploma and a willingness to learn in order to secure such a position. Places you can apply include hospitals, physicians’ offices, long term care facilities, and even colleges and universities. These establishments may have programs in place allowing you to train under an experienced medical assistant. Once you are shown the ropes, so to speak, you can begin to work at increasing responsibility levels yourself.
Enroll in a Medical Assistant Certificate Program
Certificate programs in medical assisting are one of the basic educational routes into the field. These programs often last around a year and result in a student being awarded a diploma or certificate in medical assisting. These courses may not go quite as in depth as longer term educational options but are often quite sufficient to prepare somebody for work as a medical assistant as well as to pass national certification exams. These programs are offered at community colleges, vocational/career schools, technical schools and even certain high schools.
Enroll in a Medical Assistant Associate’s Degree Program
A slightly longer term educational route, and one that is quite popular, is to get an Associate’s degree in medical assisting. Programs of this type generally last two academic years and go a bit more in depth than certificate/diploma programs. Offered at the same types of schools as certificate programs, these programs confer Associate’s degrees which do look good on resumes. So if you have the time and financial resources, you may want to consider enrolling in this type of program.
Some Points Concerning Training Programs
It should be noted that formal educational programs in medical assisting both often have externships – work at some health facility outside of the school – so that students can gain real world experience. It is important to select programs that offer this type of real word training so that you get a real feel for what the work is like.
It is also a good idea to find medical assistant schools that are nationally accredited, preferably by organizations such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This is important both as regards the completeness of the program and for certification oriented reasons as discussed below.
Become Nationally Certified if Possible
Two organizations – the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT) are mainly responsible for certifying medical assistants at a national level. If possible, get certified by one (or even both) of these organizations. It only requires passing a multiple choice exam. However in order to be eligible to take one of these exams you need to have completed an educational program that has been accredited by CAHEEP of ABHES as noted above. There are also a couple of other stipulations such as that you do not have any criminal felony charges.
Prepare a Great Medical Assistant Resume
Upon completion of your education you’ll want to prepare a really sharp medical assistant resume. If you have trained on the job, you may have already used a basic resume to get the job, but you’ll need to update it to reflect your job training/experience should you wish to get another job. You can refer to the post Tips for Creating a Great Medical Assistant Resume on this blog for some pointers here.
Begin your Job Search
Once you have become educated and preferably certified, and gotten all your credentials sharply written up on your resume, the only thing left to do is to find a job. All kinds of medical facilities need medical assistants, so you will have plenty of establishments to which to apply. In addition, there is expected to be a big demand growth for professionals in this and other allied health fields, so that is encouraging from a job search standpoint.
The places to look for jobs are at hospitals, physician practices, long term care facilities, outpatient care services, and colleges and universities. You can check want ads in your local newspaper, look at online job listing sites (both general ones and ones that deal specifically with health fields or even medical assisting itself) and consult your local employment office.
Your first job will mark your true entry into the medical assistant field. Be conscientious and motivated in order to advance in this position. Enjoy your status as a respected medical assistant!