What to Know About Being a Medical Assistant

Updated October 11, 2023 · 5 Min Read

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Medical assistants ensure top quality of care, confidentiality, and accurate medical record-keeping.

Medical assistants help doctors and other healthcare professionals in their daily activities. These individuals work in administrative and clinical capacities, interacting with patients, preparing them for examinations, and collecting laboratory specimens.

Students interested in helping others, working in healthcare, and serving as intermediaries between practitioners and patients would enjoy medical assistant roles. Earning an online medical assistant certification can take as little as nine months, with additional time needed to meet training hours and pass state-specific certification requirements.

Careers as a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work in healthcare facilities, inpatient and outpatient clinics, private practices, and other health-related settings. Between the large population of older adults in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued strain on the American healthcare system, the demand for medical assistants continues to grow.

These professionals have the knowledge and skills to provide clinical assistance, administrative support, and patient care. Medical assistants are essential members of healthcare teams and offer compassion and support to individuals in need. They can also specialize in specific types of care, as listed below. While the average medical assistant's salary will vary from state to state, nationally, they earn a median salary of just under $35,000.

Featured Online Healthcare Programs

Medical Assistant Career Information

Median Annual Salary


Projected Job Growth

Much Faster than Average

Allergy / Immunology

Allergy and immunology professionals diagnose and manage asthma, allergies, and comparable immune system conditions. In this field, medical assistants help with exams, give allergy injections, and maintain medical records.


Cardiologists care for the heart and circulatory system, treat related diseases, and offer preventative services. Cardiology medical assistants monitor patients, administer tests, and prepare patients for cardiovascular procedures.


Dermatologists assess, diagnose, and treat skin conditions. Dermatology medical assistants record patient histories, prepare individuals for procedures, and assist with exams and consultations.


This medical specialty focuses on elderly patients, extending to private practice, community programs, outpatient clinics, and acute medical facilities. Geriatric medical assistant duties include reviewing medical records and medications, assisting with exams, and serving as a liaison between patient and doctor.


Medical assistants specializing in neurology, working with doctors who treat conditions of the brain, spine, and nervous system. Medical assistants help with exams, maintain patient charts and medical records, and arrange for laboratory tests.


Orthopedic medical assistants offer support for patients experiencing diseases and conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. They keep patients comfortable, help with exams, administer medicines, and schedule surgeries.

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgeons perform cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Medical assistants in this field document visits, prepare patients for outpatient procedures, and assist with post-operative visits.

Accreditation for Medical Assistant Programs

While entire colleges and universities can hold regional or national accreditation, individual degrees may also hold programmatic accreditation. When researching medical assistant programs, individuals should check the accreditation status of each degree and certificate.

Programmatic accreditation indicates that the curriculum, instruction, facilities, and outcomes of a program meet the standards established by an accrediting body. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools both accredit health education programs.

Certification for Medical Assistants

A medical assistant certificate provides the educational foundation needed for a career as a medical assistant. Students earn certificates through academic institutions by completing coursework in science, communication, and medical information. Medical assistant certificate programs also incorporate practical training.

Aspiring professionals should know the differences between certificates and certification. Certificates demonstrate that a professional has completed an educational program, but it is not permission to practice. For that, medical professionals need licensure and certification. Medical assistants can earn certification at the national level to work in specific areas of healthcare and enhance their clinical and administrative abilities. They can obtain multiple certifications to optimize their skills and increase employment opportunities.

Medical assistant certifications must come from official professional bodies that oversee the healthcare profession. Certification vary by specialty, duties, and career types, and some of them also satisfy requirements for state licensure as a medical assistant.

The American Association of Medical Assistants certifies medical assistants to ensure they meet the highest levels of knowledge and capabilities. Each candidate must graduate from an accredited medical assisting program, take a certification exam, and complete a practicum as part of the certification process.

Certified medical assistants must renew their credentials every 60 months by examination or through a minimum of 60 continuing education credit hours.

The registered medical assistant credential, awarded by American Medical Technologists, requires 720 hours of instruction, including a minimum of 160 hours of practical training. Candidates can earn these hours through an academic program, military training, work experience, or by serving as an instructor.

Along with documentation of the requisite number of educational and practical hours, each candidate completes an exam covering anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, administrative medical assisting, and clinical medical assisting.

To maintain registration, certified medical assistants must pay fees and complete 30 continuing education hours every three years.

The National Center for Competency Testing offers a national certified medical assistant credential for individuals who take part in clinical and administrative duties in healthcare settings. Candidates receive certification by earning a medical assistant certificate or degree, possessing work or military experience, or a combination of these criteria. Once eligible, applicants complete the medical assistant exam. Applicants can also recertify by fulfilling a requisite number of contact hours.

The certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) credential, awarded by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), requires applicants to complete a medical assistant training program or have at least one year of supervised experience working in the field. The exam emphasizes the clinical aspects of medical assistant work. Recipients renew their certifications every two years. During that time, CCMAs must complete 10 continuing education credit hours.

NHA's certified medical administrative assistant (CMAA) program focuses on office operations in medical settings. Applicants must complete a training or academic program in medical administrative assistance or have at least a year of work experience in the medical administrative assistant field. The CMAA lasts two years, and candidates must complete 10 hours of continuing education credits to renew the credential.

Frequently Asked Questions From Medical Assistants

Do I Need To Become Certified as a Medical Assistant?

Becoming certified as a medical assistant increases employment opportunities and attests to an individual's skills and knowledge in the field. Some states require certification to work as a medical assistant.

What Is the Salary for a Medical Assistant?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median medical assistant's salary was $34,800 in 2019. The BLS projects a 19% employment growth rate from 2019-2029.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

The length of time it takes to become a certified medical assistant varies by individual and credential. Requisite education and practical training also factor into your career timeline, but some individuals complete certification in nine months.

Portrait of Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Header Image Credit: The Good Brigade | Getty Images

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