How Long Does It Take To Be a Medical Assistant?

If you want to be a medical assistant, it may take less than a year. This timeline includes education, on-the-job training, passing the exam, and obtaining certifications. If you want to be a healthcare professional, becoming a medical assistant is an excellent first step.

So if you plan to become a medical assistant, this informative guide can help you. In this guide, you’ll learn how long it takes to be a medical assistant, the steps to take, and an overview of the job. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Monirb

Job Overview: Certified Medical Assistants

Before you venture into a profession, of course, you need to have an overview and what to expect from the job. So here’s a job overview for medical assistants:

  • Work overview: Assists in clinical and administrative tasks in private clinics, physician offices, and other healthcare facilities.
  • Where medical assistants work: Hospitals, physician’s offices, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare facilities. 
  • Pay: Median annual wage of $37,190 or $17.88 per hour. Based on the data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2021. 

What do medical assistants do?

Medical assistants are mainly responsible for taking medical histories, administrative tasks, clinical tasks, records-keeping of medical files, filling out insurance forms, and any task of the physician or immediate supervisor. To give you an idea, the duties of most medical assistants include: 

  • Record personal information, medical history, or patient history
  • Schedule doctor and patient appointments
  • Obtain and record vital signs
  • Assists physicians or nurses in patient examinations
  • Administrative and clerical tasks like record-keeping, insurance processing, and encoding of Electronic health records (EHRs)

Specialization of Medical Assistants

If you get hired as a medical assistant in the future, you may specialize in certain fields such as administrative tasks or clinical work. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of medical assistants of the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics, here are some specializations of medical assistants and what they do:

  • Administrative medical assistants: Fills out forms from insurance agencies, encodes patients’ medical information, and schedules appointments. 
  • Clinical medical assistant: The duties of clinical medical assistants vary from state to state. But most clinical medical assistants assist in doing basic laboratory tests, sterilizing medical equipment, instructing patients about special diets, preparing patients for x-ray, changing dressings, and more clinical tasks. 
  • Other specializations depending on the area of work like ophthalmic medical assistants, optometric assistants, podiatric medical assistants, and more.

How much do medical assistants make?

On average, medical assistants in the US make $37,190 yearly or $17.88 per hour. This is according to the data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2021. You may ask, what are the top-paying states for medical assistants? 

Here’s the data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2021, as per the mean annual wage of each state:

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

As for the states with the highest employment of medical assistants, here’s what you should know: 

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Georgia

Steps to Become a Medical Assistant

If you plan to pursue being a medical assistant, you need to dedicate the next two to three years of your life. You need to enroll in an accredited program, finish the clinical hour requirements, obtain certifications and pass the exam. 

The timeline varies since medical assistant training programs take about nine months to two years, plus time to pass the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). Here are the steps you need to take if you want to be a medical assistant. 

Step 1: Prepare Your High School Diploma or Pass Your GED

The first requirement you need to prepare is your high school diploma or passing your GED. This is the first and most important requirement before you can even enroll in a medical assistant training program. 

Aspiring medical assistants still in high school are encouraged to focus on health science and math subjects in school. Taking subjects in high school like biology and algebra can help aspiring medical assistants prepare for this career. 

Step 2: Complete an Accredited Medical Assistant Training Program

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in most states, medical assistants require no formal education. However, most employers prefer hiring medical assistants who completed the program and have a certification.

Additionally, the American Association for Medical Assistants (AAMA) requires medical assistants to complete a medical assistant program (postsecondary program) prior to seeking certification. 


Schools for Medical Assistant Training Program

If you’re in search of medical assistant programs, it is available in universities, community colleges, vocation schools, and technical schools. A medical assistant program usually takes one year to complete, where you can obtain a certificate or diploma.

There are community colleges or universities that offer a two-year program that leads to an associate degree. All medical assistant training programs include classroom and laboratory courses that will help you prepare to become a medical assistant. 


Accredited Programs

When choosing a medical assistant program, make sure to enroll in a school that’s accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). 

The American Association for Medical Assistants (AAMA) reiterates that only graduates from institutions accredited by the ABHES or CAAHEP are the ones eligible to take the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification examination. 


What You’ll Learn in a Medical Assistant Training Program

When enrolling in a medical assistant training program, you can expect to study courses or subjects with the approved programs as recommended by the AAMA. 

The subjects or courses in the program are designed to teach knowledge, and clinical and administrative skills to become an effective medical assistant. The areas covered in a medical assistant training program are:

  • Human anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Administrative skills
  • Basic knowledge of the clinical procedures
  • Computer competency
  • Records-keeping
  • Lab techniques
  • Administering first aid
  • Medical law, medical ethics, and medical liability risks 
  • Pharmacology and medicine
  • Coding, accounting, and insurance processing

Those are the few subjects covered, or what you can expect to learn in a medical assistant training program. During the training program, aspiring medical assistants are also required to finish a practicum program. This includes supervised and unpaid hands-on training (internship) in a hospital, medical facility, or a medical office. 


Eligibility Pilot Program

The AAMA launched an eligibility pilot program. This gives aspiring medical assistants another option for the education pathway in order to be eligible to take the certification exam. This program was launched in August 2019 and will remain in effect until Aug. 3​1, 2024, until further notice. 

To be eligible in taking the CMA certification exam, the applicant must meet the requirements and submit the proof of the following:

  • Completion of two semesters (560 hours) of an accredited medical assisting program. Graduates from institutions accredited by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are eligible.
  • A minimum of 1,000 hours of medical assisting training or a 160-hour practicum or externship program. This is after the completion of a post-secondary program. 
  • Proof of certificate awards diploma, or associate’s degree of a medical assisting program

Aspiring medical assistants who want to apply for this eligibility program need to prove their knowledge in subjects like pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and mathematics. Additionally, clinical competence that meets the standards of AAMA is expected of aspiring applicants. 



Medical assistant programs usually include on-the-job training or practicum hours. Just like any other health care profession, what is learned inside the classroom is applied to practical skills. 

A medical assistant learns skills in a healthcare setting like a physician’s office, hospital, or outpatient clinic. During the unpaid and supervised internship, aspiring medical assistants will learn how to code Electronic Patient Records (EHRs), process insurance, and assist other health care professionals, depending on the facility. 

Step 3: Medical Assistant Certification

Once you finish the medical assistant program and have been awarded your post-secondary degree diploma, your next step is to obtain certification. Just to be clear, certification for medical assistants is not required in most states. 

However, as expected, most employers are likely to hire certified medical assistants and you can land better job prospects. Also, there are several states in the US that require medical assistants to either be a graduate of a training program or pass the certification exam, or for some, both in order to land a medical assistant job. 

So if you want to increase your chances of getting hired after finishing the program, become a certified medical assistant? You need to pass an examination by at least one of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.


The Institute for Credentialing Excellence recognized five certifications for medical assistants, which 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


Take Note: You Need to Renew Your Certified Medical Assistant Credential from AAMA (CMA) Every 60 Months

If you become a certified medical assistant by taking the medical assistant certification from AAMA (CMA), you should know that it’s valid for 60 months only. So it means you need to maintain and renew your certification every 60 months by either of the two options:

  1. Taking the AAMA (CMA) examination
  2. Complete the included continuing education units (60 units)

If you become a certified medical assistant through other certifying agencies above, the requirements may be different. 

That’s it! After completing the steps above, you will then be called a certified clinical medical assistant. Once you have a medical assisting certification, your chances of getting hired in medical offices or hospitals will increase. 

Career Growth of Medical Assistants

Once you’re hired and have gained work experience in a medical setting, the career growth of a medical assistant is promising. You can specialize in a field and move into managerial roles. If you want to further your career, you can pursue further education like getting an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or Phlebotomy Programs.  

As for the job outlook of medical assistants, the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected the profession to grow by 18% by 2030. On average, for the past decade, there are 104,000 projected job openings for medical assistants in the US. The bottom line? Medical assisting is one of the most attractive healthcare careers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are most medical assistant programs?

Most medical assisting programs take between one to two years. There are medical assisting programs that last for a year where you can obtain a certificate or diploma. Furthermore, there are universities and community colleges that offer a two-year program for medical assisting wherein it leads to an associate degree.

What are the qualifications to be a medical assistant?

The qualifications for becoming a medical assistant vary from state to state. Not all states require finishing a medical assisting program and certification. However, most employers require certification. 

Do medical assistants go to medical school?

No, medical assistants do not need to go to a medical school. You can work as a medical assistant with only a high school diploma or pass your GED. However, most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who finished an accredited training program and are certified.

Is a medical assistant the same as a physician assistant?

No, medical assistants and physician assistants are different. A physician assistant is responsible for the examination, diagnosis, and treatment of patients under the supervision of a physician. Physician assistants can prescribe some medications. On the other hand, a medical assistant is mainly responsible for performing clinical and administrative tasks. 

Where do medical assistants work?

Medical assistants mostly work in medical offices, physician’s clinics, outpatient, and hospitals. Medical assistants can also work in certain clinics like ophthalmologists, podiatrists, or optometrists. 

What is the highest-paying state for medical assistants?

The highest-paying state for medical assistants in Washington. The annual mean wage of medical assistants in Washington is $ 47,320, with an average hourly rate of $ 22.75. This information is based on the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2021. 

The Bottom Line

To recap it all, if you want to become a certified medical assistant, expect to spend two to three years finishing an accredited training program, finish your internship, and obtain a medical assistant certification.

The job demand for medical assistants is projected to grow in the next few years. Yes, you can try your luck in applying to healthcare centers to become a medical assistant without passing the certification exams. 

However, having formal training by enrolling in a community college or vocational school can help you with the technical skills and be ready for the job. Additionally, medical assisting certification is preferred by most employers.

If you need to find a school near you that offers medical assisting programs, you can look for programs at NursesGroups. Take the next step into your promising future and become a medical assistant. Search medical assistant programs in your area now!