FAQ: How Long Does It Take To Become a Medical Assistant?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 29, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Two health care professionals look over medical files. One wears a dark blue scrub top with a stethoscope. The other person wears a scrub top with a colorful print.

Medical assistants are essential members of medical office teams. If you're interested in starting an exciting and rewarding career as a medical assistant, it may take at least six months to meet the qualifications. Gaining insight into the role can help you prepare to undergo the training and education requirements required to pursue this role.

In this article, we discuss the main duties of medical assistants, explain how long it takes to become a medical assistant and review educational options based on your career goals.

What is a medical assistant?

Medical assistants work with doctors to help provide various health services to patients. They most often work in outpatient facilities or medical offices rather than in hospitals. Their job involves a combination of medical and administrative tasks, including collecting lab specimens, drawing blood, answering phones, scheduling appointments and explaining treatments to patients.

Medical assistants communicate with patients and make sure the medical office or clinic runs smoothly. They work under the direct supervision of the doctor and are expected to both respond to requests and anticipate needs.

Medical assistants often specialize in a particular area such as administrative or clinical tasks. This is especially true in larger offices with multiple medical assistants. Even when specialized, they're still expected to have the flexibility and knowledge to complete any tasks the clinic needs.

It's a fast-paced, frequently changing career that can be very exciting and rewarding for those who are passionate about helping people. Beginning as a medical assistant could provide the opportunity to advance into a more supervisory or administrative role. With some additional credentials, it's also a great experience for those seeking a career in nursing.

Read more: Learn About Being a Medical Assistant

How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

Fulfilling the prerequisites to become a medical assistant may take somewhere between nine months and two years. In some cases, you might even be able to start a career right away with a medical office or clinic that offers on-the-job training. Not every employer may offer that option, so it's far more common to undergo vocational training first.

The length of that vocational training depends on where you get it. Institutions that provide specific medical assisting programs can be as short as nine months because they focus exclusively on preparing you for the tasks you may be doing as a medical assistant.

Institutions that don't have a medical assistant program may require you to complete a full associate degree with a focus on medical assisting. This can take two years. While it does take more time, having an associate degree potentially exposes you to more opportunities and greater earning potential.

Related: Types of Medical Assistant Jobs, Opportunities and Salary

Education opportunities for medical assistants

Beyond your high school diploma or the General Educational Development (GED) credential and medical assistant training, there are no specific credentials or licenses that becoming a medical assistant requires. A strong educational background is a great way to make your resume impressive and improve your opportunities for career advancement. Here are the educational opportunities for the role:

Vocational training

Some schools offer specialized medical assistant certificates or diploma programs. These programs usually take between nine months to a year to complete and include coursework that covers medical terminology, transcription, ethics and clinical procedures.

In some programs, there may be a special preparation and a review course for a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential, which can enable you to show potential employers that you're committed to the health care field. When choosing a vocational program, make sure that the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) accredits it so employers can recognize your qualifications.

Related: Reasons To Consider Vocational Training and Where To Find It

Associate degree

Although not as common as a certificate or diploma program, colleges and universities often offer associate degree programs. These programs take two years and often include some form of an internship or clinical practice as part of the curriculum.

One of the biggest advantages to this option is that by the time you have your degree, you're likely also have a few months of on-the-job experience in the form of an internship or practical training program. Your experience can allow you to practice the skills you learned in the classroom and prepare for your desired role.

If your school doesn't offer a specific medical assistant program, an associate degree in health science or health administration may be acceptable to employers. It may be an impressive addition to your resume and may encourage employers to offer you on-the-job training.

Getting an associate degree, particularly in a medical assistant-specific program, can be beneficial for those who hope to ultimately move up into a management or administrative role later on in their career. Your degree can represent your specialized knowledge of the operations of medical facilities.

Related: 15 of the Highest-Paying Jobs in the Medical Field That Only Require an Associate Degree

CMA certification

Although not always required, a CMA certification helps your application as you search for a medical assistant position. The AAMA offers it as a way for medical assistants to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the field.

To get certified, you can take the CMA exam if you've completed an accredited medical assistant training program. The CMA is a 200-question exam covering a broad range of topics related to health care delivery and the various responsibilities of a medical assistant. The exam may take you on your understanding of the following content areas:

  • Psychology

  • Communication

  • Professionalism

  • Medical law and regulatory guidelines

  • Medical ethics

  • Risk management, quality assurance and safety

  • Medical terminology

All states recognize the certification, so it can make you a highly competitive candidate where you want to work. If you've completed the necessary education or are planning to enroll in an accredited program, you take this exam to get officially certified.

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