What is a Medical Assistant Associate Degree?
A medical assistant associate degree provides the necessary credentials to pursue a career in medical assisting. This includes completing administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, offices of physicians, and other healthcare organizations. In larger healthcare organizations, a person may specialize in either administrative or clinical medical assisting. Someone specializing as an administrative medical assistant will have duties such as filling out insurance forms and recording patient information. For those specializing as a clinical medical assistant, they will have duties like doing basic lab tests, disposing of contaminated supplies, and sterilizing medical instruments. A medical assistant plays a very important role because they help to keep medical offices running smoothly while doctors and nurses treat patients.
Why Should I Get a Medical Assistant Associate Degree?
Students who have recently graduated high school and are interested in a career in the medical field should consider pursuing an associate degree as a medical assistant. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people who are detail-oriented and have excellent analytical, interpersonal, and technical skills would thrive as a medical assistant. This is best suited for people who want to work in the medical environment but do not want to become a doctor or a nurse. This is also well suited for those who want to gain experience in a medical environment before continuing their education in the medical field.
How to Choose a Medical Assistant Associate Program
Knowing how to choose a medical assistant associate program is also very important. Students should consider whether or not the program offers full-time, part-time, and evening courses. Depending on the student's schedule, it is important to find a program that fits best with their needs. Program flexibility may be important for those who are still working full time and/or have a family to take care of. Students should also consider whether or not they wish to become a clinical medical assistant or an administrative medical assistant. There may be different courses depending on the desired career outcome. Another thing to consider when choosing a program is when the program is available. Some campus medical assistant associate degrees are only offered in the fall, whereas others may offer admissions on a rolling basis, meaning there are various program start dates throughout the year.
Application and Admissions for Medical Assistant Associate Degree Programs
The application and admissions process is very simple for a medical assistant associate degree program. To begin, the prospective student must complete the application that is specific to the desired school. After completing the application, there may be additional documents that need to be submitted. Most programs require high school transcripts or GED equivalent in order to be considered for the program. Other materials may include letters of recommendation, a letter of intent or personal statement, and a resume. Each program differs slightly from one another, so it is very important to check with each individual school for required materials.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Medical Assistant Associate Degree?
The average length of a medical assistant associate degree program is about two academic school years. This is a total of four semesters, 20 months, and 60 credits. Credits are generally broken down into three categories: general education courses, major courses, and elective courses. Each course is 3 credit hours, so it will be a total of 20 courses in order to complete the degree program.
How Much Does an Associate Degree in Medical Assistant Cost?
An associate degree in medical assisting can cost anywhere from $999-$9,994 per semester depending on the degree program chosen. It can be as low as $79 per credit or as high as $707 per credit. This means that the total for the entire program would be between $3,996-$39,976. Some programs may also offer discounts to students who can pay the semester in full or to those who set up monthly auto-pay.
Associate Degree Coursework
There are many common courses for those pursuing an associate degree. Some general education requirements may include:
- English Composition
- Computer Applications
- Arts & Humanities Elective
Some major requirements for a medical assisting program may include:
- Medical Terminology
- Medical Law and Ethics
- Medical Insurance and Coding
Some programs may also require electives, which can be any course in any subject area. Another common requirement is an externship, which provides hands-on training necessary to develop skills as a medical assistant.
How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Medical Assistant
Earning potential as a medical assistant depends a lot on experience level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants have an earning potential of more than $50,580. However, the median annual wage is recorded as $35,850, which is about $17.23 per hour. This is less than the median annual wage for all occupations in the U.S., which is $41,950. As medical assistants gain experience, they will be able to request higher wages.
Begin a Career as a Clinical Medical Assistant
A clinical medical assistant helps with clinical tasks within a medical office or hospital. Some tasks may include doing basic lab tests, disposing of contaminated materials, and sterilizing medical supplies. Other responsibilities may include drawing blood, removing stitches, changing dressings, preparing patients for x-rays, and discussing medications and special diets with patients. Clinical assisting does not give the opportunity to diagnose or treat patients.
Begin a Career as a Specialized Medical Assistant
Some medical assistants become specialized by working in a specific setting. There are no specific medical assistant requirements in order to become a specialized medical assistant other than obtaining a job at a specific type of medical office. One example of a specialized medical assistant is a podiatric medical assistant. These medical assistants work with podiatrists, or doctors who specialize in feet. Podiatric medical assistants may make castings of feet, expose and develop x-rays, and even help podiatrists during surgery. Another example of a specialized medical assistant is an ophthalmic medical assistant and optometric assistant, who assist ophthalmologists and optometrists in providing eye care. Some responsibilities may include showing patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses, or assisting during surgery.
What Is the Difference Between a Clinical Medical Assistant and an Administrative Medical Assistant?
A medical assistant may have the opportunity to choose between clinical medical assisting and administrative medical assisting. A clinical medical assistant performs tasks that include things such as drawing blood and doing lab tests. They may assist during surgeries. Administrative medical assistants, however, perform tasks such as answering telephones and scheduling patient appointments.
Certifications & Licensure for a Medical Assistant
Most states do not require medical assistants to be certified or licensed. However, some offices or organizations may prefer hiring certified medical assistants. There are a number of agencies that certify medical assistants. For example, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies offers five accredited certifications for medical assistants:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
Each certification requires graduating from an accredited program, passing an exam, and showing work experience.
Accreditation for Medical Assistant Associate Degree Programs
When searching for a medical assistant associate degree program, it is important to consider institutions that have accredited programs. There are two major accreditors for a program in medical assisting: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Accreditation is important because it provides students with the assurance that the program meets a higher standard for education. Additionally, if a graduate is interested in attaining a certain certification, accredited schools are required in order to apply.
What Are Other Medical Assistant Degree Options?
While the associate degree program is the highest level of education specifically for medical assisting, there are a number of other degrees that can be pursued after a medical assistant degree. Graduates of a medical assistant associate degree program can pursue bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, as well as various certificate programs when looking to advance their education within the healthcare field.
Bachelor's Degrees in Medical Assistant
One example of a bachelor's degree that can be pursued after medical assisting is a nursing program. This would be a BSN degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Nursing is an excellent transition for medical assistants who enjoy the clinical side of the profession. Another bachelor's degree is a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Healthcare Management. This degree program is an excellent transition for medical assistants who enjoy the administrative side of the profession.
Master's Degrees in Medical Assistant
After pursuing a bachelor's degree, some students may be interested in furthering their education with a master's degree in the healthcare field. Students can pursue an MBA in either nursing or healthcare management. The benefit of a master's degree in these programs would be obtaining leadership positions within their field and receiving higher pay as a result of the higher degree. Another option is finding a Physician's Assistant (PA) program. A PA assists doctors, but they also have the ability to diagnose and treat patients.
Doctoral Degrees in Medical Assistant
There are also a number of doctoral programs that are available to those interested in the healthcare field. For example, students can pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Students can also find a PhD program for healthcare management. Both of these degree options will equip graduates with the necessary tools to both manage and teach within the nursing field. Another popular doctoral degree is attending medical school and becoming an MD. This degree generally pursued after a bachelor's program.
Certificate Programs in Medical Assistant
There are also certificate programs available for students interested in the medical assistant profession. Full-time certificate programs can take as little as nine months to complete, so this is the perfect program for students who are looking to enter the job force quickly. Graduates of this program will be ready for both the clinical and the administrative sides of the field.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Medical Assistant Associate Degrees
Scholarships and financial aid are also available for those interested in a medical assistant associate degree. The first option to consider is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a government program that awards need-based and merit-based loans, grants, and scholarships to eligible students. The application is due the June prior to the fall of enrollment. Another scholarship opportunity is the Maxine Williams Scholarship Fund. This scholarship awards eligible students $1,000 towards their medical assistant program. Students who wish to apply should be currently enrolled in a college-level medical assistant program that is CAAHEP accredited and have completed one semester with a 3.0 or higher.