Your Comprehensive Career Guide
Medical Assistant (MA) can be an excellent entry-level job for those looking to begin a career in healthcare.
While working as an MA can be highly rewarding on its own, you can also develop a wide variety of skills and knowledge you can potentially use for future career advancement in allied health, healthcare administration, or nursing.
We’ve put together many resources to help you decide if becoming a medical assistant is right for you. Here’s what you need to know.
What education or training do I need to become a medical assistant?
You can choose a program based on how long it takes, the certification you’d like to earn, and how it positions you for further career advancement.
Our admissions team is here to help you determine which pathway in medical assisting is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Considering your career options in healthcare? Here are a few other types of jobs where you can potentially get off to a fast start:
- Medical Records Technician. Medical records technicians are responsible for the recordkeeping of confidential patient information. These types of jobs have no responsibilities in clinical care.
- Medical Billing and Coding. Billers and coders focus on healthcare revenue cycle management, concerned primarily with how patients and insurance companies are billed for healthcare services. These professionals do communicate with patients (most often medical billers) but again, play no role in clinical care.
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). CNAs, on the other hand, do not play a role on the administrative side. They work exclusively in patient care, helping patients get dressed, bathe/shower, move from beds to wheelchairs, or eat meals. CNAs more often perform tasks needed around the clock, so hours/shifts in these positions can be less predictable.
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). LPNs have a different scope of practice than medical assistants, focusing more directly on patient care under the supervision of an RN or physician. This represents a more direct career path into nursing. Learn more about the difference between medical assistants vs. LPNs.
- Dental Assistant. Dental assistants also perform one or a mix of clinical and administrative tasks, but only in regard to dental care.
Your choice depends on the career path you’d like to pursue.
If your number one priority is finding a job as a medical assistant as quickly as possible, a diploma program may be a better choice. You can earn a diploma in a year or less when attending full-time and be ready to enter the workforce as a certified medical assistant.
If you envision medical assisting as step one on a long career path in healthcare, you may prefer to choose the associate degree program. In addition to core medical assisting courses, you will take general education classes you can transfer into a bachelor’s degree program in the future. Baccalaureate options for medical assistants include healthcare administration, health sciences and health information management. Earning an associate degree will likely only take a few months longer and position you very well for the next step in your education.
Students in the online program will take the RMA exam during their review course – which is a requirement to pass. Herzing will pay for the exam once.
Certification is not always required, but job duties may be limited in certain states if you don’t get certified.
Even if you aren’t legally required to be certified, many employers will require certification and it will make you available for more job opportunities, better pay and greater chance for advancement.
Sitting for and passing either the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam or Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam may open many more doors to start your career as a medical assistant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the most common places of employment for medical assistants:
- Physician’s offices
- Offices of other health practitioners
- Outpatient care centers
- Retirement communities / assisted living
The online medical assisting program (both diploma & degree) feature three main components:
- Online classes. Much of the coursework can be completed in the online component of the program.
- Clinical labs. You will be required to complete two clinical courses and meet with a proctor outside of class to ensure you are mastering key medical assisting skills.
- Externship. Over an eight-week period during your final term you will be required to complete 180 hours of hands-on experience in a medical clinic or healthcare facility. We can guide you in your search, but it is your responsibility to find and secure an externship site.
Our goal is to fully prepare you to thrive in your new career. The clinical and externship hands-on component of the program is crucial to helping you get the experience you need to become a medical assistant right out of school.
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.
While practical nurses (LPN) and medical assistants often perform similar tasks, there are a few key differences to be aware of, including:
- Educational requirements
- Average salary
- Scope of practice
- Ongoing career opportunities
- Future outlook for jobs
Learn more about the difference between practical nursing and medical assisting.