How to Become a Medical Assistant | BestColleges (2023)

Wondering how to become a medical assistant? Learn more about medical assistant education, certifications, and salaries.


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Updated January 26, 2023

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  • Medical assistants perform clinical and administrative tasks.
  • Jobs for medical assistants are projected to grow by 18% between 2021 and 2031.
  • Certification can help you earn a higher salary and take on expanded responsibilities.

Whether answering the phones and scheduling appointments, updating patient records with accurate information, or assisting with a patient examination, medical assistants support healthcare managers.

As a medical assistant, you'll perform various clinical and administrative tasks. And while educational requirements vary by employer, they typically include at least some postsecondary training. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

If you enjoy working in a fast-paced environment that requires you to interact with many different types of people, a career as a medical assistant might be a good fit.

What Is Medical Assisting?

As the name suggests, medical assisting involves providing support to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in both administrative and clinical settings.

Medical assistants can work in various healthcare facilities, including hospitals, long-term care centers, rehabilitation centers, and physicians' offices.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants provide vital services in healthcare settings, and their career responsibilities can grow to include overseeing other assistants. Plus, some individuals also decide to seek certification as a way of furthering their careers.

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

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  • Keep all health records up to date, ensuring accuracy.
  • Take vital signs and record them, including blood pressure and oxygen levels.
  • Answer incoming phone calls and schedule patient appointments.

Medical Assisting Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Nursing Careers
Health Services Careers
Public Health Careers

What Are the Steps to Become a Medical Assistant?

Individuals aspiring to medical assistant roles can take two different paths depending on their career aspirations and employers' requirements. In the following section, we look at the steps future medical assistants typically take before starting their careers.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma or GED Certificate

Regardless of postsecondary education, all employers require candidates to possess a high school diploma or GED certificate.

If you know early on that you want to pursue this career, you can take classes in business management, communications, and human anatomy to prepare.

Step 2: Enroll in a Medical Assisting Program

Students who want to pursue postsecondary education can choose a couple of paths. In addition to an associate in medical assisting program, many community colleges and vocational schools also offer certificate or diploma programs in the subject.

Associate degrees typically require two years of full-time study to earn, while certificates and diplomas take between nine and 12 months.

When it comes to choosing a major, you may want a more generalist education so you can apply to various careers. If that's the case, pursuing an associate degree in office management, business, or health services may best suit your needs.

Some of the classes you may take include:

  • Business
  • Information Technology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Medical Terminology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry

Top skills needed in this area include interpersonal communications, attention to detail, critical thinking, and information technology.

Step 3: Consider Professional Certification

While not mandated by many states, some employers prefer to hire candidates who complete certification. This requires you to demonstrate your knowledge by passing an exam. Completing this step may also help you earn a higher salary.

(Video) CCMA Exam Practice Pt 1 | Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Exam Review | NHA CCMA Study Guide

You can choose from different options, including:

  • Certified Medical Assistant
  • Registered Medical Assistant
  • National Certified Medical Assistant
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant

Step 4: Get an Entry-Level Medical Assistant Job

After meeting all education and certification requirements, it's time to try landing a job.

Finding a job as a recent college graduate can feel intimidating. But take advantage of networking and mentorship opportunities, as well as career bridge programs that can help expedite the process.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $37,190 as of May 2021. Those in the lowest 10% received salaries less than $29,070. Entry-level medical assistants should likely expect their starting salaries to fall somewhere between these two numbers.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Pursuing continuing education or a specialization can help working medical assistants further their careers, take on more responsibilities, and potentially earn higher salaries. For instance, a medical assistant who decides to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing could work as a registered nurse after meeting licensure requirements. According to the BLS, these professionals received a median annual salary of $77,600 in 2021 — nearly double the pay of medical assistants.

What to Know Before Becoming a Medical Assistant


In addition to finding a school that maintains institutional accreditation, students considering a medical assisting degree or certification should also look for programmatic accreditation.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools approve programs based on curricula, administration, student support, and graduate outcomes.


Understanding the true program cost of a certificate or associate degree program in medical assisting can help learners set realistic budgets before starting school. Prospective students should compare the costs of online and on-campus programs while also doing their research to learn about any hidden college costs.


According to the BLS, medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $37,190 as of May 2021. Those in the top 10% earned a median of $48,170.

Certification can help medical assistants earn higher salaries. Your location also plays a role: workers living and working in Washington earned a mean wage of $47,320 in 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Medical Assistant

What qualifications do you need to become a medical assistant?

Most employers look for candidates with an associate degree, diploma, or certificate in medical assisting or a related field. Others may hire grads with only a high school diploma or GED certificate and provide on-the-job training. You can decide to seek certification after graduating to signal to employers your commitment to the discipline. Individuals considering this path should review job postings to learn about the most common requirements in their area.

What is the fastest way to become a medical assistant?

Hoping to become a medical assistant quickly? Earning a high school diploma or GED certificate and finding a hospital, clinic, or physician's office that will provide on-the-job training can get you there fast. But it comes with a caveat: Even if this is the fastest path to becoming a medical assistant, it does not guarantee the highest salary.

How do I become a medical assistant without a degree?

At the very minimum, medical assistants must hold either a high school diploma or a GED certificate. But in particularly competitive areas, you may only be able to become a medical assistant with a degree or alternative training after high school.

What does medical assistant training look like?

The length of medical assistant training depends on the type of program you choose. Those who enroll in an associate degree program spend approximately two years completing full-time studies. Those who pursue a certificate or diploma usually spend 12 months or less in school. Topics commonly explored in these programs include clinical and administrative training in areas such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and medical billing and coding. And some programs may also include an internship component.

What are the benefits of a medical assistant certification?

The American Association of Medical Assistants provides a voluntary Certified Medical Assistant qualification by examination. The exam consists of 180 questions and covers eight topics.

Gaining certification demonstrates to employers your mastery of the job and signals your seriousness about the role. This can lead to greater job security, more responsibilities, and higher salaries.

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