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Medical Assistant: Requirements to Be a Physician's Assistant

A medical assistant is an administrative professional who performs clerical duties in healthcare settings, such as maintaining the physician's office and interacting with patients. This career path is not to be confused with that of a physician assistant, who is allowed to practice medicine under a doctor's supervision. Medical assisting may be a good career choice for students with strong organizational and interpersonal skills and an interest in medicine.

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Requirements for Becoming a Medical Assistant

There are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant. Some medical assistants are trained solely on the job, often by shadowing experienced employees and participating in employer-administered training programs; however, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have completed a medical assisting program.

Medical Assisting Programs

Medical assisting programs can be found at community colleges and technical schools. These programs generally take 1-2 years to complete and result in either a certificate or an associate's degree. The prerequisites for entry into medical assisting programs usually include a high school diploma or its equivalent and proof of certain immunizations. Some schools may also require a criminal background check.

Curriculum

Medical assisting programs provide students with an education in the basic sciences, such as anatomy and physiology. They also tend to offer courses like electronic health records, medical office clinical procedures and medical billing. Accredited programs may include a practicum or unpaid internship, which allows students to apply their newly-learned skills in healthcare settings.

Medical Assistant Certification Options

Certification is voluntary for medical assistants but may be a beneficial career move. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants who hold certification may benefit from higher salaries and greater job prospects (www.bls.gov). Certification programs are available through a range of professional organizations.

American Association of Medical Assistants

The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential (www.aama-ntl.org). To be eligible, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical assisting program, complete a practicum and pass a written exam. CMAs must renew certification every 60 months by passing an exam or earning 60 recertification points.

American Medical Technologists

The American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification to qualified professionals. Candidates must complete an accredited or AMT-approved training program or have been employed as a medical assistant for the past five years (www. americanmedtech.org). They must then pass a certification exam that assesses administrative, clinical and general knowledge pertaining to medical assisting.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that medical assistant employment may grow at a much faster-than-average rate of 31% in the years 2010-2020. Medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $29,370 in May 2012, according to the BLS.

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