Quickly step into a new career path
Medical assistant represents an excellent entry into the field of healthcare. Get started fast, earn meaningful experience and open many doors to future career opportunities.
How long it takes to become a medical assistant depends on how quickly you can earn an education, get certified and begin your job search. With Herzing University, you can potentially be working as a medical assistant in less than 1 year. Here are the basic steps you need to take to become a medical assistant:
1. Know the duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant
Medical assistants carry a wide variety of responsibilities that differ according to practice. There are two primary types of medical assistants:
- Clinical medical assistants. These medical assistants focus on patient care, including taking vital signs, drawing blood, visual/hearing tests, preparing exam rooms for procedures, and much more.
- Medical administrative assistants. Other medical assistants’ work is focused more on the administrative side of patient care, including scheduling appointments, updating and maintaining patient records, handling insurance claims and additional accounting/billing tasks as needed.
Every job is different; some roles are more heavily involved in either clinical or administrative duties, while some roles incorporate both elements.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants most often work in physician’s offices and state, local or private hospitals. Most medical assistants work in smaller healthcare institutions, where individuals capable of handling both clinical and administrative tasks can be extremely valuable.
Medical assistants are vital contributors, collaborating with doctors, nurses and other professionals to ensure healthcare is delivered smoothly and efficiently.
2. Determine if medical assisting is right for you
According to the U.S. News and World Report, medical assistant ranks as the 11th best health care support job in the U.S. for 2023, attributed primarily to the job market and future growth. That alone is a pretty good reason to become a medical assistant!
There are a few important traits medical assistants must have in order to truly thrive in the role:
- Be detail-oriented. In healthcare, the smallest mistake can have major consequences. Whether you’re taking vital signs or transferring medical records to an electronic database, you must be patient and pay close attention to detail.
- Strong interpersonal skills. Communication is key! You’ll work frequently with both patients and other healthcare staff.
- Enjoy working with others. You need to be an eager team player—and it can help if you have a more extroverted personality, who is energized in a social environment and enjoys meeting new people.
If this sounds like you, you might love working as a medical assistant.
If you consider yourself more introverted and seek a more behind-the-scenes role, you may find a better fit in other fields of allied health, including health information management, medical billing and coding, or sterile processing.
Current nursing assistants looking to advance their career might think about becoming a medical assistant. Going from CNA to MA can be a logical career step for CNAs looking to advance their healthcare career, but not necessarily in nursing.
3. Get educated
Once you’ve decided you’re ready to become a medical assistant, it’s time to choose an educational program.
Your best chance for success right off the bat in your first job is to enroll in a diploma or degree program designed to prepare you to work as a medical assistant.
Do I need a degree (or diploma)?
While it’s possible to work as a medical assistant without going to school (especially in very small clinics or rural areas), you will be at a disadvantage in the job search. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that medical assistants typically graduate from a postsecondary education program. Employers may prefer candidates who have already earned formal training.
Formal training also has an effect on your potential certification eligibility. For instance, in order to become eligible for the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam, you will need to either complete a medical assisting training program or at least 1 year of professional experience. Our medical assistant diploma program can take as few as 8 months to complete. By completing a medical assisting training program, you can potentially become certified faster and position yourself better for educational advancement in the future.
Requirements for certification vary by state.
4. Earn experience
Earning real professional experience is crucial to becoming a medical assistant. While it’s possible in rare circumstances to find an entry-level medical assisting job that doesn’t require any formal education, you haven’t really become a medical assistant until you’ve proven to build the skills needed to do the job well.
The advantage of enrolling in a diploma or degree program is you’ll be introduced to key skills and knowledge at your own pace rather than jump right into the deep end, forced to learn at a high pace entirely on the job.
You’ll also earn real experience as part of your education. Our online medical assisting programs feature both clinical labs and an externship with proctor guidance to prepare you to succeed as a medical assistant. By the time you graduate you’ll be ready to hit it out of the park in your first medical assisting job.
5. Get certified
We want to help you become a highly qualified medical assistant—not only to find your first job, but to compete for the jobs you really want in the future.
Becoming certified is an excellent way to show employers you’re fully prepared to become a reliable asset, capable of both succeeding in the job in question and growing into advanced roles in the future!
Each of our medical assisting curriculums include prep for widely recognized medical assisting certifications:
- Diploma program: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- Associate degree program: Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
In each program we pay for your first attempt upon successful completion of the program.
Get educated, get certified, and prepare yourself best to find a job after graduation and succeed right off the bat.
Becoming a traveling medical assistant
Travel medical assistants are medical assistants who aren’t tied to one specific workplace. They act as a liaison between doctors and patients and often work where there are temporary vacancies or shortages.
This role involves many responsibilities both as clinical as well as administrative. Some of these responsibilities include:
- Checking medical histories and vital signs
- Phlebotomy/EKG/ Administer medication
- Preparing exam rooms, equipment, instruments and patients for exams.
- Assist with minor surgical procedures.
- Organize files and medical records
- Schedule medical appointments
- Coding and insurance
- and managing administrative projects
From the front office to the lab, medical assistants contribute to the success of the physician and the facility while also ensuring a good patient experience.
Where do Traveling Medical Assistants Work?
Traveling medical assistants can work in any medical facility including hospitals, medical centers, nursing facilities, clinics, government institutions and schools. They can move around locally or out of state and often help facilities with temporary vacancies or shortages.
Frequently Asked Questions
Beginning your career as a medical assistant is a great way to build a strong foundational education in healthcare, gain meaningful real-world experience and prepare yourself to continue growing professionally.
What is the next level after medical assistant? It depends on your strengths, preferences and overall career goals in healthcare.
Many fields in healthcare are potential landing spots for medical assistants looking to specialize or branch into a new career path, including healthcare management, health information management, nursing (you may consider going from medical assistant to RN), and more.
Herzing University offers many degree and diploma programs for practicing medical assistants to take a leap and embark on a new career path. Our health sciences degree program is designed to help you complete your bachelor's degree and advance your career to the next level.
In order to teach medical assisting, you’ll first need plenty of experience working as a medical assistant. Additional requirements will vary by the teaching position and school, including certification, an associate degree in medical assisting, or an advanced degree.
In rare circumstances it’s possible for current bachelor’s degree holders in unrelated fields to find work as a medical assistant without earning a medical assisting-specific education.
You will be better prepared to compete for jobs after you complete courses specific to medical assisting, earn a diploma or degree, and get certified. You may be able to transfer credit from prior college learning into our program—please contact our admissions department for more information.
Daily life as a medical assistant can vary quite a bit based on the exact roles and responsibilities associated with the job.
Some medical assistants work at a front desk and primarily answer phones, speak with patients, scheduling appointments and greet patients as they enter the office.
Other medical assistants may work in the back office in a clinical role, taking patients’ vital signs or obtaining their medical history. Some may even be responsible for in-house laboratory procedures, like drawing blood, drug screens or EKGs.
You can learn more about the typical day in the life of a medical assistant from someone who’s done it for over 20 years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants earn an average salary of $40,700 per year ($19.57 per hour).* As you earn more experience and gain more skills, your earning opportunity will improve.
The BLS also projects growing demand for medical assistants in coming years, predicting an 14% increase in employment from 2022-2032. It’s a good time to get your foot in the door and work towards your new career.
How long it takes to become a medical assistant depends on what level of education you pursue. Partner with Herzing University and you can expect a range of 8 months–20 months to get your education, get certified and start looking for a medical assistant position, depending on whether you choose a diploma or degree program.
The following timelines are based on full-time status:
- Associate degree: 16-20 months
- Diploma – online program: 8 months
After earning your degree or diploma, we recommend becoming certified as a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) or Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) even if it isn’t required in your state. With a diploma/degree and a certification, you’ll be positioned well for your first job.