How Long is the High School Diploma/GED for Medical Assistant Programs?
To become a medical assistant, you are advised to take up courses related to biology, anatomy, chemistry, computers, and business in high school. You will need a high school diploma to be accepted to any medical assistant program or on-the-job training. You can also appear for the GED (General Education Development) exam to attain a diploma/certificate at the same level.
The high school diploma takes years, while the GED takes about 4 months, depending on how long you need to prepare for the exam. Once you have attained the diploma certificate, you will be eligible to apply for medical assistant programs in any state of the US. The other option you have is to apply for an externship with a medical institution providing this facility for medical assistants. It is not a recommended practice because most employers look for certifications when it comes to hiring medical assistants.
The better option is always to go for a post-secondary program from a vocational school or a community college because most top employers look for people who have completed any of these programs and attained a certification from one of the institutes mentioned further in the article.
How Long is a Medical Assistant Program?
A medical assistant program’s length can be anywhere from 9 months to 3 years, depending on the type of institute you go for. The vocational school program lasts for about 9 months and provides you with a diploma or a certificate. While the ones at community colleges last for 2-3 years, providing you with an associate’s degree.
Difference Between the Two Programs
Both of these programs will help you acquire the medical and administrative knowledge required to work in a medical office environment. The community college programs usually have a more comprehensive curriculum with a general education that forms part of the associate degree program.
Advantages of Both the Programs
The advantages of vocational schools are that they are comparatively cheaper and have a very focused curriculum. They teach you precisely what you need to learn to become a medical assistant in a shorter time. On the other hand, going for an associate degree would mean that your credits can be transferred to a university program if you decide to take up a specialty course in the future.
What to Expect at Both the Programs?
You will learn the following soft and technical skills in your time at a medical assistant program, be it the short program or a long one. These skills are a part of every medical assistant program and will prepare you for the certification exams you’ll be taking by the end of the course.
- Computer literacy
- Organizational skills
- Language skills, both spoken and written (bilingual, English, Spanish, etc.)
- Multitasking ability
- Medical terminology
- Patient care
- Vital signs measurement
- Medical insurance & billing
- Laboratory procedures
After completing an accredited medical assistant program, you will be eligible for most of the certification exams. Please check the accreditation of the institute you apply for according to the certification you want to receive in the future. The accreditation mismatch can cause a higher application fee or complete ineligibility for that particular certification.
How Long Does Medical Assistant Certification Take?
There are many medical assistant certifications in the US, most of which are recognized nationally. Some of the popular ones are:
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
These have slightly different eligibility criteria, but the main thing mentioned is that you should be 18 years of age and must have completed an accredited medical assistant program to be eligible. The process from understanding the certification, applying, studying, and taking the test takes about 3 months, and it takes another 3 months to receive the certificate after the exam date.
The Step by Step Process and Timeline to Be Certified
We have taken the process to obtain the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification to explain how you can get a medical assistant certification. The process is roughly similar for other certifications, but CMA is recognized in all the states and is the most popular one.
This exam has 200 questions that test you on your healthcare knowledge, administrative knowledge, and many other topics.
Follow the steps below to attain a CMA certification and gain a competitive edge over others in kick-starting your medical assistant career.
- To be eligible for CMA, you will have to complete a medical assistant program accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). You can apply for and take the exam within 30 days of finishing the program or you can take 12 months after you graduate. If you wait any longer, the process becomes a little more complicated.
- Before applying for the exam, you need to take a look at the Candidate Application and Handbook for the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification examination. After understanding all the policies and information, apply for the exam.
- If you are applying after 12 months of your graduation, you’ll need your “Official Medical Assistant Program Transcripts.” The application fee for current students and recent graduates of AAMA member programs is $125, and for non-members, it is $250.
- Select the 90-day testing period, update your profile, and schedule an exam date after paying the application fee. If you apply between 1-15 of a month, the earliest exam date you’ll get will be the 1st of the next month, and if you apply between 15-end of the month, you can take the exam on the 15th of the following month at the earliest.
- Study for the exam from various resources provided by the AAMA and take the AAMA Computer-Based Testing Tutorial to familiarize yourself with the exam software.
- Take the exam at the designated center. You will know your results at the test center after the exams and receive the scores and your certificate within 3 months of the exam. This certification is valid for 60 weeks.
Once you have received your certificate, you are officially ahead of the competition applying to jobs without a certification. The only thing now left to do is create a resume, spread it across your network, and apply for jobs as a medical assistant. Get more help for writing your resume here – Medical Assistant Resume Examples.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Medical Assistant Job?
A certified medical assistant will get a job quicker and with a better employer. To get a job with one of these employers, you will need to have a high knowledge of your niche and a plethora of transferable and technical skills.
It takes about one month to get your first job as an inexperienced medical assistant from the day you start applying if everything goes perfectly. Your certifications and skills combined will help you land a great job, but sometimes it may take a little more, sometimes 3-4 months, before you get employed as a medical assistant. To speed up the process, you can build a network of professionals on LinkedIn, collect recommendations from your seniors in the industry, and highlight your skills in the best possible manner to seem eager, eligible, and excited to start working as a medical assistant.
Once you successfully apply to various jobs, be prepared to face and ace your first medical assistant interview using these tips.
The total duration to become an established medical assistant from your high school graduation/GED completion is 1 year if you go to vocational schools and get the diploma/certificate. This route is recommended if you want to stay in the general medical field. For those who take the community college route, it can take anywhere from 2-3.5 years, depending on the length of your medical assistant program. Opt for this path if you would want to move into a specialty in the future because the points of the associate degree you receive in this program are transferable to the universities for further specialization courses.
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.