Medical Assistant Degree Programs

When discussing Medical Assistant Degree Programs we need to differentiate between Certificate/Diploma programs and Associate Degree programs. Medical Assistant Certificate/Diploma programs are shorter and will get you working quicker, but they will not let you go as far as Medical Assistant Associate Degree programs, which are longer at approximately 2 years, will. Associate Degree programs will get you a better wage and will also give you credits which you can transfer towards earning a Bachelor’s Degree at a later stage.

What Degree Do I Need To Become A Medical Assistant?

Medical Assisting has become a very popular vocation over the past few years due to the dearth of nurses and assistants in the medical industry. This need for personnel is set to grow due to the advances of modern technology keeping people alive longer but requiring assistance for longer too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job prospects for medical assistants are anticipated to grow by 34% between 2008 and 2018.

A medical assistant degree can be applied to a vast array of areas within the medical caring industry. When it comes to studying to become a Medical Assistant, you have two ways you can go, and it is important that you find out as much as you can about both choices so that you can make an informed decision as to which direction would best suit you.

Medical Assistant Degree Programs

Medical Assistant Certificate Versus Associate Degree

There are various schools that offer medical assisting certificates, which will increase your chances of getting employed in the medical field. Although you do not necessarily need a certificate to be employed as medical assistant, it will definitely improve your chances.

Vocational Schools and Community Colleges offer undergraduate certificates, and some of them offer an opportunity to focus on either clinical or administrative skills whilst others give instruction on both.

A Medical Assistant Certificate Program requires you to do 30 credit hours and usually takes about 9-12 months to complete whilst an Associate Degree program will take you two years to complete.

Both programs will contain certain clinical and administrative tasks such as:

  • Administrative skills – form a large portion of an assistant’s job. The Medical Assistant Degree Programs will cover all the skills necessary to run a medical office efficiently. The course covers word processing programs, spreadsheets, e-mail, organization skills, professional conduct in the workplace and how to prioritize your duties.
  • Clinical procedures – are the processes that medical assistants are required to perform on a daily basis. The course will cover collecting bodily fluid specimens from patients, performing simple lab tests, how to change dressings, how to prepare patients for x rays, and how to use medical equipment like EKG machines.
  • Coding and Insurance Processing – this is an integral part of the billing process and as such important to the medical assistant. It covers how to document the services provided to patients by assigning diagnostic and procedural codes to their files, and how to use those codes to create insurance claims.
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology – anatomy covers the structure of the body, and its organs, tissues, and bones. Physiology deals with bodily functions such as breathing and the cardiovascular, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. This knowledge prepares medical assistants for clinical duties.
  • Infection control – is a set of procedures performed by the medical assistant in order to maintain the integrity of the sterile environment of the hospital or clinic. Medical Assistant Degree Programs discuss standard precautions that should be taken, such as avoiding contact with body fluids, wearing protective clothing, frequent hand washing, and correctly disposing of needles.
  • Inventory management – is the stocking, control and ordering of essentials such as disposable medical gowns, bandages, swabs, and other supplies required in a clinic or hospital. The course will cover how to catalog items, how often they need to be ordered, how to track the use of certain items.
  • Medical Ethics and Law – provides an ethical framework to assist students with difficult decisions that need to be made. It covers situations like healthcare reform and informed consent, patient confidentiality, and medical experimentation.
  • Medical Terminology – this portion discusses the technical language that is used in the medical and healthcare industry and covers the vocabulary relating to medical legislation, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic testing and clinical procedures. The Latin roots of medical terminology are also explored.
  • Measuring Vital Signs – is how the physical condition of patients is determined. All Medical Assistant Degree Programs cover how to measure and record vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, pulse and breathing rate.

You may also be required to complete an internship in a health-care facility or a physician’s office in order to get hands-on experience.

The main difference between these two Medical Assistant Degree Programs is what they are worth in the long run; an associate degree makes it easy to transfer credits towards obtaining an advanced degree in the future should you decide to study further. Those with a certificate may find that those with associate degrees pip them at the post when applying for employment as many employers prefer applicants who have a higher degree and who have an opportunity for further study.

Online Medical Assistant Degree Programs

Medical Assistant Degree Programs
There are various online Medical Assistant Degree Programs offered, and the main thing you need to remember when sourcing the program that you would like to enroll in is to ensure that the program includes a practical component so that you can get your hands-on clinical experience. Many of the online programs include internships or externships, which are important as you cannot learn to perform tasks such as removing stitches or testing blood without actually physically doing it.

The other very important factor in your decision regarding a school is that it must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This is very important as you will not be able to become a Certified Medical Assistant unless you graduate from an accredited school.

Although things could change in the future, you need to be aware that very few online Medical Assistant Degree Programs were accredited in 2012.

What Does A Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant who has qualified with a certificate will perform both administrative and clinical duties such as taking and recording a patient’s vital signs, coding and filing insurance forms, scheduling appointments, updating patient records, collecting specimens, and organizing hospital admissions and lab services.

Those who qualified from their Medical Assistant Degree Programs with an associate degree will be qualified to do more than those with a certificate. They will do many of the same tasks but will also be qualified to draw blood, remove stitches, authorize prescription refills, and prepare and administer various medications under direct supervision of a physician.

Various Medical Assistant Professions

Choosing between Medical Assistant Degree Programs also depends on which type of medical assisting you would like to do:

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

  • Education Required: Certificate (approximately 12 months of study)
  • Average Salary: $28,900
  • Work Environment: Hospitals and Medical clinics
  • Job Description: CMAs perform a combination of clerical and clinical duties, including taking patient histories, billing patients, collecting specimens, basic laboratory work, and helping patients to understand medical instructions.

In order to become certified, graduates must pass the CMA Certification Exam offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

Administrative Medical Assistant

  • Education Required: Certificate (approximately 12 months of study)
  • Average Salary: $26,000
  • Work Environment: Medical Clinics and Hospitals
  • Job Description: Administrative Medical Assistants do purely administrative work such as scheduling and confirming appointments, ordering supplies and keeping examination rooms well-stocked, and maintaining patient medical records.

Clinical Medical Assistant

  • Education Required: Certificate (approximately 12 months of study)
  • Average Salary: $30,000
  • Work Environment: Medical Clinics and Hospitals
  • Job Description: Clinical Medical Assistants work very closely with both physicians and patients. They explain medical procedures to patients, sterilize medical equipment, record patients’ vital signs, and are also qualified to give injections and remove stitches.

Specialized Medical Assistant

  • Education Required: Certificate (approximately 12 months of study)
  • Average Salary: $28,900
  • Work Environment: Clinics
  • Job Description: Specialized Medical Assistants perform the same administrative and clinical duties that other assistants do, but they also perform more specialized clinical tasks as required by the specialized industry in which they work, such as ophthalmology, podiatric and chiropractic care or dentistry.

Salary Information

Salaries for Medical assistants differ according to your qualifications, the number of years of experience you have, and your level of skill as well as location. The median annual income for medical assistants, according to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, is around $29,914. One should, however take the whole package into consideration:

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Job Outlook

Medical Assisting is a field that is growing exponentially, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 527,000 medical assistants employed in theUnited Statesin 2010. This figure is estimated to increase by approximately 34% within the next decade, making it the fastest growing occupation, and medical assistants that gain their certification will have no shortage of job opportunities.


Whichever course you decide to take, it is important that when looking for Medical Assistant Degree Programs you ensure that you find one that is accredited.

The two accrediting agencies that are tasked with establishing policies and procedures that ensure quality medical assistant training for students are the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

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