Certified medical assistants (also called a CMA) often step into a job and play receptionist, file clerk, medical records person, and assistant to the physician.
While there are lots of things that medical assistants are not, there's still so much that they are. Medical assistants are essential to keeping a doctor's or other medical staff's day smooth and without snags (as much as possible).
Medical assistants may be asked to perform the following services:
- Blood draws (also known as venipuncture)
- Specimen collection and processing
- Sterile technique
- Immunizations (like TB skin tests)
- EKG and respiratory testing
- Obtain vital signs
When choosing a career path, there's no doubt that you will have a lot of questions. It's normal to want to know all the little details of what may be ahead. After sorting through dozens of websites with generic information, you may still have more questions than answers. If you are considering a job as a medical assistant, understanding the big picture is the best way to ensure that there won't be any surprises down the road.
Medical assistants are required to balance a variety of duties. As the go-to resource for many physician's offices and clinics, assistants are trained to conduct clerical duties—like answering phones, filing paperwork, billing, and records maintenance.
Accredited Medical Assistant Schools
The pace of a medical assistant program, and the depth of the curriculum are two things you should consider when weighing these two options.
Diploma programs can be very fast-paced due to their short timeframe. Although many programs are offered online for working students, you will need to be sure you can handle the expected workload and deadlines. An associate's program will allow you an extended timeline for completing your degree. However, the coursework is more in-depth, and will require plenty of study time.
Medical Assistant Degree vs. Medical Assistant Diploma
One question you are probably asking yourself as you consider medical assisting as a career: What is the difference between a medical assistant degree and a medical assistant diploma?
That's a great question, because there are both types of programs available to prospective students. In general, if you want to get started as quickly as possible, you can earn a medical assistant diploma in about a year. Many diploma programs are designed to help graduates become qualified to start working in the field.
Diploma Medical Assistant Programs
Diploma and degree programs can both offer students a chance to complete an internship at a real facility. This can be a good way to transition into a first job or learn about the difference between working in various environments. Plus, diploma programs can often be starting points for associate's degree students, which of course can lead to higher level degrees.
Associates Medical Assistant Programs
Associate's programs generally require around 30 more credits and can take an additional year to complete. However, you can be prepared for a bachelor's program in several areas, such as nursing, when you complete your associate's.
Even though employers recognize diplomas and associate's degrees as credible qualifications, earning your associate's will carry more weight with employers. Earning your associate's gives more of an appearance that you are going to continue your education and want a long-term career in healthcare. Having a degree in medical assisting vs a diploma can also give you a higher starting salary in some facilities.
The George Washington University’s (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences offers online Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (BSHS) programs for healthcare professionals, including a BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management.
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Which is the Best Medical Assistant Program?
It really depends on your scenario and career goals, not to mention availability in your area or online. Certain factors matter more to certain people. If you are more worried about cost and finding a job quickly, then you might want to start with a diploma program. They don’t cost as much to complete as an associate’s and you can qualify to work in half the time, in many cases. It would be good to talk with human resources personnel at employers you might want to work for before choosing a program. They can tell you the best educational approach for their medical assistant hiring practices.
Both types of programs should prepare medical assistants with the basic skills to work in the field. This includes basic computer skills, health privacy topics, anatomy and physiology, medical terms, lab procedures, and other foundational skills. Earning your associate’s degree may give you more knowledge and skills in more specialized areas, such as electrocardiography, phlebotomy, pharmacology, and others.
To make sure you choose the right type of program, contact schools in your area today to learn more about the salary, career outlook, and education that’s right for you!