What Is a Medical Assistant Associate Degree?
Medical assistant associate programs prepare students for entry-level administrative and clinical roles in hospitals, physicians' offices, and healthcare facilities. These programs also prepare learners to pursue further study through a bachelor's program. Many graduates with an associate degree can complete a four-year bachelor's degree with just two additional years of study.
During medical assistant associate programs, students gain skills and knowledge in patient communication, office management, and organization. Many medical assistant degrees require an internship or practicum, giving students practical experience in the field.
Most associate degrees in medical assisting take two years of full-time study to complete, though many schools also offer accelerated programs. Applicants typically need a high school diploma and must submit transcripts. Some schools may also require a minimum GPA or SAT or ACT scores.
Choosing an Online Medical Assistant Degree Program
To ensure they find the right program for their needs, students who are researching prospective online medical assistant degree programs should consider several factors, such as cost and transfer policies.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants play a critical role in the support of healthcare providers. They typically perform clinical and administrative tasks, such as taking patient histories, measuring vital signs, and performing basic lab tests. Most medical assistants work in physicians' offices, though it is also common to work in hospitals and outpatient care facilities. These professionals sometimes specialize in assisting a particular type of practitioner, like a chiropractor, optometrist, or podiatrist.
Depending on a medical assistant's work environment, they may perform administrative or clinical tasks. In larger hospitals with numerous support staff, medical assistants typically focus on clerical duties, like patient scheduling, records management, and correspondence. Smaller practices may require medical assistants to take on clinical responsibilities, including drawing blood, preparing specimens for lab tests, or even administering injections or medications, depending on state regulations.
Medical assistants can pursue professional credentials, such as certified medical assistant, to increase their competitiveness in the job market. Successful medical assistants are personable and detail-oriented, with excellent analytical and technical skills.
Medical Assistant Jobs
Graduates with a medical assistant associate degree can work as medical assistants, medical and health services managers, and pharmacy technicians. Below, you'll find important information about these jobs, including average salaries.
Medical assistants perform supportive clinical and administrative duties in hospitals, physicians' offices, and other healthcare facilities. They may take patient histories, measure vital signs, or assist physicians with exams. They also schedule patient appointments, maintain health records, and fill out insurance forms.
Medical assistants tend to perform a broader spectrum of tasks in smaller facilities, while those employed by larger practices often specialize in administrative or clinical work. Most employers prefer candidates with a medical assistant associate degree and certification.
Sometimes called healthcare administrators or executives, medical and health services managers develop and coordinate health services. Most of these professionals work in hospitals, physicians' offices, or residential and outpatient care facilities. They hire and train staff, prepare and maintain budgets, and ensure compliance with the latest laws and regulations.
These professionals may oversee an entire facility or a smaller department within a facility. Most employers require candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in a field like health administration, health management, or public health administration. This profession also includes nursing home administrators, who need specific state licenses to practice.
Pharmacy technicians support pharmacists by interfacing with customers and helping to dispense medications. Most pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies. These professionals take patient information, count tablets, measure liquid medications, and mix formulas. They may also perform administrative duties. In hospitals, pharmacy technicians often prepare dosages and dispense medication to patients.
All pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Most pharmacy technicians receive on-the-job training and hold a high school diploma or a postsecondary certificate, though employers often prefer candidates with an associate degree.
Educational Paths for Online Medical Assistant Programs
In addition to entry-level employment, graduates with a medical assistant associate degree can pursue further study through a bachelor's program. We cover several common bachelor's degrees for graduates below.
- Bachelor's in Nursing: Bachelor's in nursing programs build on the administrative and clinical experience students gain during an medical assistant associate degree program. Many schools offer bridge programs for certified medical assistants to pursue an accelerated associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). ADN and BSN programs usually require a practicum in addition to coursework in anatomy, patient interaction, and diagnostic procedures.
- Bachelor's in Healthcare Management: A bachelor's in healthcare management emphasizes business and leadership skills specific to the healthcare industry, preparing students for roles as supervisors and administrators. Students who aspire to an executive leadership position are best suited to a bachelor's in healthcare management. Coursework examines topics like quality management, payment systems, data management, and human resources.
- Master's in Public Health: Earning a medical assistant associate degree online can be the first step toward a bachelor's or master's in public health, especially if you enroll in a bridge program. Graduates with a master's in public health can work as public health practitioners, educators, researchers, and policymakers. Coursework explores topics such as health management, biostatistics, and epidemiology. Most public health master's programs require an internship or practicum at a community organization or public health agency.
Accreditation for Online Associate in Medical Assisting Degrees
Students should only consider accredited medical assistant programs when researching schools. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to academic rigor, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes.
Students benefit from attending accredited schools in several ways. First, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid opportunities, and many schools only accept transfer credits and degrees from accredited institutions. Additionally, many employers will only hire hire candidates with an accredited degree.
Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee regional accrediting bodies.
Programs within a school can also receive programmatic accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools both accredit medical assisting programs. Students seeking medical assistant certification need a degree accredited by one of these organizations.
Medical Assistant Professional Organizations
Medical assistant students and graduates can take advantage of a variety of professional organizations to support their careers. Many of the following organizations offer benefits like student discounts, scholarships, continuing education, and networking opportunities.
AAMA awards the certified medical assistant (CMA) credential. Members enjoy access to CMA exam discounts, exclusive web content and AAMA publications, and industry networking opportunities. They may also attend the AAMA annual conference.
ARMA represents thousands of allied health professionals, including nurses, corpsmen, and military medics. Applicants must submit evidence of a high school diploma or equivalent, a copy of their signed social security card, and a copy of their photo ID. Applicants may also need to submit transcripts from their medical assisting programs.
NHA advocates for more than 75,000 allied healthcare workers in the United States, including healthcare students, educators, employers, and employees. Members enjoy access to industry publications, career resources, and military benefits to assist with certification.