Steps and Path to Become a Medical Assistant


Requirements to Become an MA

Aspirants are expected to meet specific eligibility criteria to be a medical assistant.

  • You must have a GED (General Educational Development) or a high school diploma.
  • Acquiring certification is not mandatory; however, some states and employers necessitate candidates to have a certification in order to work as a medical assistant.
  • Communication skills, interpersonal skills, pharmacology, medical terminology, and knowledge of human anatomy are a must.

Enroll in an Accredited Medical Assistant School to Complete the Training

The first step towards your journey of becoming an MA is to enroll yourself into a medical assistant school accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or any other recognized body. Aspirants must take note of the fact that they won’t be considered eligible to appear for the certification exam of medical assistance if they complete their education from a non-accredited nursing school.

An accredited medical assistant school provides you 3 choices – diploma program, certificate program, and degree program (associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree).

Parameter Certificate Diploma Degree
Duration About 1 year About 1 year 2-4 years
Curriculum General education coursework A little more detailed than a certificate program More intensive than certificate and diploma courses
Advancement Opportunity Entry-level job More opportunities than certificate holders Lucrative opportunities for career advancement along with a higher salary
Institutions Technical and vocational schools Technical and vocational schools Community colleges and universities

You can become a medical assistant by choosing any of the following 3 training programs:

  1. On-Campus Training Program
  2. If you pick this training program, you will have to complete your entire training (classroom and laboratory sessions) during set schedules, in a traditional campus setting and well thought out learning environment. You can have face-to-face communication with your mentors.

  3. Online Training Program
  4. If you have some family commitments or you are into a full-time job, online courses are the best option for you. These programs let you study at your convenience and comfort. However, before graduation, you will have to complete an externship in a clinical setting.

  5. Hybrid Training Program
  6. This program allows you to complete the theoretical part of your studies online, but you are supposed to complete lab work on-campus. These programs need a high level of organization and dedication on the part of students. One of the benefits of hybrid training is that it reduces the time and cost associated with commuting.


Complete Your Externship

An externship provides you an exposure to real-life clinical settings and an opportunity to get hands-on clinical training under the supervision of experienced medical professionals. You can complete your externship from a medical facility or a local clinic. An externship not only develops your skills but also helps you foster and grow your professional network, which, later on, can be leveraged to get a job.


Obtain Medical Assistant Certification

A certificate is an acknowledgment of your skills and knowledge about the domain. You can get any of the following five certifications listed by the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). All these certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Certification Accreditation
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification The American Association of Medical Assistants
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Certification The American Medical Technologists
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) Certification The National Healthcareer Association
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Certification The National Healthcareer Association
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Certification The National Center for Competency Testing

For obtaining the MA certification, candidates will have to qualify for the certification exam organized by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).


Prepare Resume and Cover Letter

In the era of fierce competition, it’s a herculean task to get your dream job. Nonetheless, an impeccable resume and cover letter can give you an edge over other job applicants.

The resume and cover letter must be short and snappy, highlighting all your qualifications and skills. Use appropriate healthcare industry terminology and keywords that grab the attention of the prospective employer. Ensure that your resume and cover letter have no spelling and grammatical errors.

Put in a little more effort and time to do research on the job you are applying for and the potential employer. Accordingly, customize your resume and cover letter to fit the job requirements. It will leave an excellent impression and showcase that you are genuinely interested in becoming a part of the organization.


Find the Right Job

Although many jobs are available for medical assistants in the USA, landing the right job being a fresher is quite tricky. Sometimes, simply applying for a job with clinics and physician’s offices won’t work; you have to expand your job search. Here are a few tips to jump-start the hunt for your first medical assistant job:

  • Stay active on professional platforms such as LinkedIn. Most of the recruiters, nowadays, post jobs opening there. You can join medical assistants groups and communities to keep an eye on recent job postings.
  • Contact people (nurses, supervisors, physicians) from your professional network (that you built during externship) to seek job opportunities in their organizations.
  • Prepare a list of organizations you want to work with. Research their websites and keep checking their “career” section regularly.
  • Be a member of your local AAMA chapter to touch base with potential employers.
  • Leverage your school’s/college’s placement services.
  • Create an account and upload your resume on employment websites such as Indeed and Monster.

Be persistent with your efforts, and keep patience while searching for the medical assistant job.


Ace the Interview

Got an interview call? Voila! You have climbed the first step to get your dream job. But keep in mind that a few less-than-perfect answers may shatter your hopes. So, prepare yourself well for the interview.

Think of all the questions that are relevant to the role you have applied for and prepare their answers. Also, ponder about the value you can bring to the table for the employer. The interviewer may ask the following questions:

  • Why do you want to pursue your career as a medical assistant?
  • Have you ever worked on medical software?
  • Do you know about HIPAA?
  • How will you handle a difficult patient?
  • How will you deal with stress?

These are some sample interview questions; you may also encounter several questions related to practice-specific, hard skills, and cultural fit. Another important thing to keep in mind while appearing for the medical assistant interview is – present yourself well.

  • Dress professionally
  • Make eye contact (do not stare) with the interviewer while answering the question
  • Speak clearly and confidently
  • Pay attention to your sitting posture
  • Ask questions to the interviewer
  • Thank the interviewer for the opportunity

Continue Education to Move Up the Career Ladder

You can broaden your horizons by pursuing advanced educational courses. It will not only add to your skills and knowledge but will also increase chances for promotion and career advancement in other medical fields.

How Much does it Cost to Become a Medical Assistant ?

The cost to become an MA depends on various factors, such as:

  • the school/college (public or private) you enroll in,
  • the course (diploma, certification or degree) you pursue,
  • length of the program,
  • the state/region from where you are pursuing the training,
  • whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student, etc.

The cost of a 1-year certificate program through a community college may vary from $2,500 to $10,000, whereas a 2-year associate degree through a community college may cost you between $6,000 and $15,000. In addition to the tuition fees, students have to incur other costs as well, such as books and supplies, room and boarding, transportation, certification exam fee, certification renewal fee, etc.

However, qualifying students can avail financial aid to cover some of their expenses. The following financial grants are available:

  • Scholarships
  • GI Bill Assistance
  • Federal Grants
  • The Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
  • Federal Low-Interest Student Loans

Knowledge Skills Required to Become a Medical Assistant

As a certified MA, you will have to perform both clinical and administrative tasks. That’s why; you must have the following skills to carry out your duties effectively.

  • Clerical and organizational skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer competency
  • Problem-solving and multi-tasking skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Flexible and empathic
  • Time management skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Active listener

Related Careers for Medical Assistants

After completing certification and getting exposure to various healthcare areas, MAs can advance their careers in allied health management, medical coding, nursing, etc. as transcription supervisor, healthcare administrator, medical assistant instructor, medical office manager, clinical team leader, lead medical assistant, etc.


Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are the essential members of the dental care team who assists dentists in various treatment procedures. From patient care and x-rays to scheduling appointments and recordkeeping, dental assistants perform varied tasks.


Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work to promote optimum oral health. They formulate a patient-centered dental care plan, educate patients regarding preventive oral care and oral hygiene, and evaluate the outcome of educational strategies.


Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical therapy assistants work with physical therapists to ensure overall wellness and fitness, relieve pain, and improve mobility in patients having movement difficulties due to disease or injury. From children to elderly, they provide care for patients of all ages.


Medical Records and Health Informatics Technician

These professionals organize and manage health-related data and information in both electronic systems and paper files. They ensure the quality, accessibility, accuracy, and security of data in compliance with the legal, regulatory, and ethical requirements of the healthcare system.



Phlebotomists perform venipuncture to draw blood from a patient for transfusions, donations, or medical testing. They may work in blood donation centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, etc.


Occupational Therapy Assistants

These are the medical professionals who help patients suffering from disabilities, injuries, and illnesses perform routine activities. They prepare and implement treatment plans for patients and monitor their progress. They help patients do stretches, exercises, and other therapeutic activities.


Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses to provide primary nursing care to patients. They take vital signs, assist patients in bathing and movement, administer medications, report any change in the health condition of patients to doctors, etc.


Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in preparing and distributing medicines to patients. They may get employment in grocery stores, drugs, hospitals, and other medical settings.

Written by : Casey Gardner

Casey Gardner is both a healthcare support professional and an accomplished content creator.  She has been working as a certified health care professional with marketable skills as a physician assistant,  and a qualified medical assistant for last two decades. She has dedicated her nursing career to produce over hundreds of content pieces since 2001, and her work has been published both online as well as offline.


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