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Although attending medical school or nursing school are both wonderful educational tracks that can lead to prominent career positions, some people are eager to start working with patients right away rather than stay in school for years.

That’s part of the appeal of the medical assistant position. It’s an important occupation that offers a blend of patient care and administrative duties. This useful entry-level position is able to bridge both worlds and be appreciated by all, especially at busy medical offices and clinics.

Medical assistants are able to help with basic procedures such as checking patients in, checking their vital signs, performing basic non-invasive diagnostics, providing medication and sharing the information with a nurse or provider. They can also help when patient visits are complete, including scheduling future visits and updating their information. In California, they are required to be supervised by a licensed physician.

It’s also an in-demand position: the Bureau of Labor Statistics said there are more than 132,600 jobs nationwide that are expected to be added by 2030, an 18% increase.

Gaining experience as a medical assistant can be a great way to get a glimpse into a variety of modern health careers and determine if there’s a certain occupation you want to pursue later in life. It also could be a way to get valuable hands-on training while attending a degree program or saving money for school.

Learn about available positions here.

How to become a medical assistant

A medical position that legally requires little formal education or licensing can be great for those wanting to learn more about health care right away. However, your average clinic may not necessarily be interested in hiring someone with a high school diploma and no medical experience, especially if they are supposed to help patients, no matter their eagerness to learn.

That’s why there are a variety of certificate programs available for the position, including a Certified Medical Assistant designation (CMA), Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), and Clinical Medical Assistant Certification. These require completing a certain amount of credit hours and certification, as well as paying an exam fee which can be under $100 for a few, but up to $700 for the CMA.

Some accrediting organizations may provide this title after taking classes and completing the exam, while others may require a certain amount of work experience, such as five years for the RMA or two years for the National Certified Medical Assistant.

Students also may choose to earn an associate degree from a nearby community college, and others may take online courses for the knowledge. The in-person programs often have advantages in that they likely include some type of hands-on experience working with patients.

Many health classes at colleges have relationships with local health providers, which allow students to shadow providers, complete internships or earn experience working directly with patients. These could offer good training as well as good professional contacts when you’re ready to start your job search.

How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

Most certificate programs such as the CMA or RMA take 9 to 12 months. They cover a variety of useful courses, typically starting with basic medical procedures and terminology and then moving into everything from recordkeeping, billing and anatomy. First aid certification is encouraged, as well as topics such as medical ethics, electronic information and contagion control.

If you choose to earn an associate degree, this typically takes two years for a part-time student.

Following either path could open doors for a medical assistant position but some people may consider seeking an internship or externship at a provider. An internship may be several months long, but an externship is generally shorter, usually a few weeks or a month.

Either one could be useful to work with an office staff, meet the providers and see the daily patient flow. Clinics familiar with interns may also offer various ways to let you see various aspects of the practice.

Unless an internship leads to an offer of employment, the job search can begin, which could take weeks or months depending on the local community and available jobs.

Working as a medical assistant can provide useful opportunities for future health care positions.

To learn more about opportunities in your area through Eisenhower Health, click here:

Eisenhower Health is offering a $5k sign-on bonus* for MAs in California. Relocation is a major career decision, and we want to help our nurses achieve a healthy work-life balance. Apply today to receive great benefits and jumpstart your career at Eisenhower Health.

Originally posted on 8/3/2022

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