How Long Does It Take To Be a Medical Assistant?

If you aim to become a medical assistant, it may take less than a year. This timeline encompasses education, on-the-job training, passing the exam, and obtaining certifications. Becoming a medical assistant is an excellent first step for those aspiring to enter the healthcare profession.

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This informative guide is designed to assist you if you’re planning to become a medical assistant. You’ll learn about the duration it takes to become one, the necessary steps, and get an overview of the job.

Job Overview: Certified Medical Assistants

Before embarking on a career, it’s crucial to have an understanding of the job and what to expect. Here’s a brief overview for medical assistants:

  • Work Overview: They assist in clinical and administrative tasks in private clinics, physician offices, and other healthcare facilities.
  • Workplaces: Hospitals, physician’s offices, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare facilities.
  • Pay: The median annual wage is $37,190 or $17.88 per hour, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2021.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants are primarily responsible for taking medical histories, performing administrative and clinical tasks, keeping records of medical files, filling out insurance forms, and carrying out any task assigned by the physician or immediate supervisor. Common duties of medical assistants include:

  • Recording personal information, medical history, or patient history
  • Scheduling doctor and patient appointments
  • Obtaining and recording vital signs
  • Assisting physicians or nurses in patient examinations
  • Performing administrative and clerical tasks like record-keeping, insurance processing, and encoding of Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Specialization of Medical Assistants

Upon being hired as a medical assistant, you may choose to specialize in certain fields, such as administrative tasks or clinical work. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook for medical assistants by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some specializations include:

  • Administrative Medical Assistants: Handle forms from insurance agencies, encode patients’ medical information, and schedule appointments.
  • Clinical Medical Assistant: The duties vary by state, but typically include conducting basic laboratory tests, sterilizing medical equipment, instructing patients on special diets, preparing patients for X-rays, changing dressings, and more.
  • Other specializations depend on the work area, such as ophthalmic medical assistants, optometric assistants, podiatric medical assistants, and more.

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

On average, medical assistants in the US earn an annual salary of $37,190 or $17.88 per hour, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data of May 2021. The top-paying states for medical assistants include:

  • Washington: $47,320
  • District of Columbia: $46,690
  • Alaska: $46,390
  • California: $44,780
  • Massachusetts: $21.25

States with the highest employment levels for medical assistants are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia.

Steps to Become a Medical Assistant

Pursuing a career as a medical assistant requires dedicating the next two to three years of your life. It involves enrolling in an accredited program, completing the clinical hour requirements, obtaining certifications, and passing the exam.

Step 1: Prepare Your High School Diploma or GED

Your high school diploma or GED is the foundational requirement. Aspiring medical assistants in high school are encouraged to focus on subjects like health science and math to prepare for their future careers.

Step 2: Complete an Accredited Medical Assistant Training Program

Most states do not mandate formal education for medical assistants, but most employers prefer those who have completed a program and obtained certification. The American Association for Medical Assistants (AAMA) requires completion of a postsecondary medical assistant program before seeking certification.

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Schools for Medical Assistant Training Program

Medical assistant programs are available at universities, community colleges, vocational schools, and technical schools. These programs typically last one year for a certificate or diploma, with some institutions offering two-year programs leading to an associate degree. Ensure the program is accredited by either the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Eligibility Pilot Program

The AAMA’s eligibility pilot program offers an alternative education pathway for aspiring medical assistants to be eligible for the certification exam. This program is valid until August 31, 2024, unless extended.


An internship is a crucial part of medical assistant programs, offering on-the-job training in healthcare settings, where practical skills are applied and enhanced.

Step 3: Medical Assistant Certification

Certification, while not always required by states, is preferred by employers and can significantly improve job prospects. Certifications recognized by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence include:

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

Certifications need to be renewed every 60 months, with specific requirements depending on the certifying agency.

Career Growth of Medical Assistants

Career growth for medical assistants is promising, with opportunities to specialize and advance into managerial roles. Further education can enhance career prospects significantly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are most medical assistant programs?

Programs typically last one to two years, with certificate, diploma, or associate degree options.

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What are the qualifications to be a medical assistant?

Qualifications vary by state, but certification is commonly required by employers.

Do medical assistants go to medical school?

No, medical school is not required. A high school diploma or GED and completion of an accredited training program are sufficient.

Is a medical assistant the same as a physician assistant?

No, the roles are different, with physician assistants having more medical responsibilities.

Where do medical assistants work?

They work in various healthcare settings, including medical offices, clinics, and hospitals.

What is the highest-paying state for medical assistants?

Washington is the highest-paying state, with an annual mean wage of $47,320.

The Bottom Line

Becoming a certified medical assistant involves a few years of education and training but offers a rewarding career with growing job demand. Formal training and certification are preferred by most employers, enhancing job prospects and career growth opportunities.

For those looking to enter the healthcare field, becoming a medical assistant is a promising first step. If you’re searching for a medical assistant program near you, consider exploring options at NurseGroups.