How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistant taking notes

For many students, a career in healthcare is an ideal niche. It allows you to earn a living by helping others and making positive contributions to your community. Qualified healthcare workers are in high demand. However, the path to becoming a doctor is lengthy and demanding. After earning an undergraduate degree, you will need to pursue a graduate degree at a medical school before beginning residency training. For many people, becoming a medical assistant is a practical alternative. Pursuing a career as a medical assistant allows you to follow your passion without having to go to medical school.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants need a diverse skillset. They provide direct patient care and administrative tasks. This unique hybrid role stands in sharp contrast to most healthcare roles, which are typically either in the front or back office, but not both. Depending on the specific clinic, a medical assistant may do any of the following:

  • Schedule appointments and maintain medical records
  • Take patient histories and enter information into their records
  • Measure vital signs
  • Assist with patient examinations
  • Prepare samples for laboratory testing

In some states, medical assistants are allowed to administer medications and injections under the supervision of a physician. Medical assistant roles that focus on clinical duties may involve removing stitches, changing dressings, sterilizing medical instruments and educating patients about medications.

Earning Your Degree

The medical assisting career is not uniformly regulated across all states, so it is important to research the education requirements for the state in which you wish to work. Although most states do not strictly require a postsecondary degree, most medical assistants pursue post-graduate certification to further improve their career prospects.

When looking for a bachelor’s degree program, aspiring medical assistants should focus on healthcare sciences. For example, you might major in biology or chemistry. Some universities may offer biology degrees that specialize in medical science. For instance, you might major in biology with a pre-medicine or pre-physician assistant specialization.

Medical Assisting Internships

While you are working toward your bachelor’s degree, consider building up your resume to improve your chances of obtaining a job after graduation. You can do this by selecting an internship geared toward aspiring medical assistants. An internship in a healthcare setting will help you refine your skills and deepen your industry knowledge. In addition, you will build professional connections that can help you secure a job in the future. Many successful interns are later offered permanent jobs at the organization where they interned.

Completing an internship involves much more than just showing up on time, although punctuality is crucial. To make a favorable impression, you should strive to conduct yourself professionally when interacting with both patients and staff members. Do not be afraid to ask questions and take notes as you shadow medical assistants or other professionals. This demonstrates that you are committed to learning and doing your job well. In addition, remember that one of the most important responsibilities of any healthcare professional is to keep patient information confidential.

Pursuing Voluntary Medical Assistant Certification

Some states and employers require medical assistants to earn a certification. Even if your state does not require certification, it can be a good idea to earn it. Doing so will improve your competitiveness in the job market and may allow you to command a higher salary.

It is important to look for a nationally-recognized medical assistant certification organization. One example is the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT) organization. Another option is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Earning either of these certifications will demonstrate your competency as a medical assistant.

Before your certification exam, spend some time reviewing key concepts from your undergraduate program and everything you learned during your internship. The exams typically cover topics such as anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. You can also expect to answer questions about patient care and safety and legal compliance.

Combine your passion with purpose at Grand Canyon University by enrolling in one of our many healthcare and medical science degree programs. Aspiring medical assistants may choose to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Physician Assistant degree or the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine program before moving on to pursue a medical assisting certification. Learn more about the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions by clicking on Request Info above.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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