The Ultimate Guide: How to Become a Medical Assistant

Dec 28, 2021

If you have a passion for medical science and helping others, you might’ve considered a career as a medical assistant. As a growing field, getting certified as a medical assistant will provide you with stable and fulfilling work.


When you’re just getting started, however, figuring out how to join the field can seem daunting. That’s why we’ve compiled everything you need to know about becoming a medical assistant in this guide.

Why Consider Becoming a Medical Assistant

If you’re still on the fence about becoming a medical assistant, however, you may be wondering what this field has to offer. Where can you work as a medical assistant? What benefits does it have to offer? Let’s take a look!

Job Prospects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the medical assisting field will grow by 23% by 2024. This means you’re unlikely to find yourself out of the job. The huge demand has led to increased pay and benefits for medical assistants. 


There are also numerous places where medical assistants can work, allowing for the rare combination of stability and diversity.

Helping and Meeting People

Medical assistants are also a great career choice for people who want to help others. If you have a strong sense of compassion and a desire to help, you’ll do well as a medical assistant. Medical assistants have the privileged position of being able to help in the medical field without the rigorous training, overwhelming responsibility, and astronomical debt that comes with being a doctor.

Affordable Education

Speaking of debt, working as a medical assistant is one of the most affordable ways to get a career in the healthcare industry. Unlike nurses and doctors, there are no strict education requirements for medical assistants.


That being said, post-secondary education and earning a certification can give you a huge advantage in the job market. Employers prefer already-certified hires because they don’t require as much training. Even then, medical assisting programs are generally cheaper than nursing degrees and always cheaper than medical school.


The education you’ll get at a technical school will also better prepare you for the fast-paced world of medicine.  

Step One: Study at a Technical College

Once you’ve decided to pursue a degree in medical assisting, the first step is to attend a technical college. As we mentioned before, there aren’t any strict education requirements for a career in medical assisting, but a certification will give you a leg up.

Finding the Right School

Before you can attend school, however, you have to find the right program. Alongside price considerations, you also need to think about accreditation, program length, and certification exam preparation.


Accreditation—though not the most obvious requirement—is one of the most important. An accredited program has met all your state’s requirements for a medical assisting program. If you attend an unaccredited program, employers won’t consider your degree valid and it won’t count towards certification prerequisites. If your state requires certification, then your career will be off to a false start.


Program length is also an important factor. Medical assisting programs usually take between nine months and two years to complete. Ideally, you want a program with a flexible schedule so you can take as much or as little time as you need. 


You should also make sure the curriculum is complete. Your prospective program should include courses covering business, communication, and basic bookkeeping alongside medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and the ins-and-outs of the healthcare system.


Finally, you should make sure your school has a good reputation for preparing students for their certification exams. To find this information, you should look up student reviews and figure out what former students have to say about the program.

Attend Your Classes

Once you find the right program for you, you need to make sure you attend all your classes and pay close attention. Everything you learn in your medical assisting courses will directly pertain to your job. The hands-on experience you’ll earn from your program is invaluable.

Step Two: Earn Your Certification

The next step is to earn your certification. Different programs focus on different certifications, but there are five institutions aspiring medical assistant can earn their certificate from:


  • Certified Medical Assistant, or CMA, from the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Registered Medical Assistant, or RMA, from American Medical Technologists
  • National Certified Medical Assistant, or NCMA from the National Center for Competency Testing
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, or CCMA from the National Healthcareer Association
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant, or CMAA, from the National Healthcareer Association


The bolded organizations are the two primary testers for medical assisting certifications. They cover similar material; the major difference is where they’re required. 

Step Three: Land Your First Job

Once you have your certification, the next stop is to get your first medical assisting job. There’s several factors you should take into consideration when searching for your first job.


The median national annual wage for a medical assistant is about $31,540, but you should also look into the median wage for a medical assistant in your area. This information is usually readily available through a Google search. Whatever that number is, you won’t want to take a job that pays much lower than that. 


You should also take into account benefits like health care and 401k options. 

Where You’ll Work

Medical assisting is a career with a surprising number of options. With their skills and knowledge, medical assistants are increasingly essential to many types of medical facilities’ function.

Physician’s Offices

Of course, the most common place for medical assistants to work is in physician’s offices and medical clinics. If you think about what your primary care physician does for you, you have a solid picture of what a medical clinic does.


Some physicians are more specialized—such as orthopedic doctors, pediatricians, and OB-GYNs—but these don’t change much beyond the types of people you’ll work with. 

Medical Research Centers

If you’re interested in furthering science and looking for a more research-related career, you might be able to find work in a medical research center. Medical research centers are used to conduct tests, clinical trials, and general medical research.


Working in a medical research center means you would do clinical tasks for the physicians conducting these tests, which includes collecting samples from patients, administering tests, and inputting patient information.


This is also a great role if you want to help people, but are less of a people-person. Medical assistants in research centers usually interact more with the physicians conducting the research than the patients.

Retirement Facilities

If you have a soft spot for the elderly, working in a retirement home might be a good fit. Retirement homes and assisted living facilities have a high demand for medical assistants. Medical assistants in these roles will provide won’t provide clinical services, but there are times where medical services are required for people in these facilities.


The main role of a medical assistant in a retirement facility is to provide assistance by helping residents get around, helping with daily hygiene, and making sure they take their medications.

Insurance Providers

Some medical assistants work with insurance providers to help with insurance claims. This is more of an administrative position where you’ll have little to no contact with patients. Instead, you’ll work primarily with data entry and communicating with medical billing offices.

Emergency Departments

There are emergency departments in almost every hospital in the US. Medical assistants in emergency departments are often responsible for getting basic information from the patient and taking vitals. If you operate well under pressure, this would be a great role for you.

Diagnostic Laboratories

Diagnostic labs are another great avenue for medical assistants. Many people require lab tests for diagnostics, drug tests, and other reasons. Diagnostic labs test samples from blood, urine, and body tissues to provide the results for these tests.


This is both an administrative and clinical role as medical assistants typically administer these tests.


About 15% of medical assistants work in hospitals and provide the most diverse work a medical assistant can find in one position. Since hospitals treat a lot of people and virtually every ailment, medical assistants can expect each day to look different.


You will rarely see the same patients twice, and your day-to-day work will consist of both clinical and administrative tasks.


Medical assistants can look forward to a stable and diverse career. To take the first step towards your medical assisting journey, check out Chattanooga College’s program! On our program page, you can learn more and schedule a no-obligation meeting with an advisor.