How to Get Started with a Career as a Medical Assistant

Ready to start a career as a medical assistant? Wonder what a medical assistant does on a day-to-day basis? Interested in what you will learn in a vocational school’s medical assisting program?

Learn what a medical assistant does; how to choose a medical assisting program; the curriculum of a medical assisting program; the skills needed to become a successful medical assistant; certifications available after graduation; career services offered by some vocational schools; and the demand for medical assistants in the health care field.

What a Medical Assistant Does

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other health care facilities. On a daily basis, medical assistants typically

  • Record patient histories, treatments, and personal information
  • Measure vital signs and check patients in to see the doctor
  • Help the physician with patient examinations
  • Schedule patient appointments by phone or in person
  • Prepare samples for laboratory testing
  • Enter patient information into electronic medical records (EMR)

Choosing a Medical Assisting Program

Most medical assistants will train in a vocational school diploma program. These programs can take as little as 7½ months to complete as a full-time student and 15 months as an evening student. Not all vocational school medical assisting programs are created equal. Look for these qualities in the vocational school you attend.

Accreditation – The vocational school should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Flexibility – If you need evening classes because you have obligations during the day, like a job or taking care of a family, make sure your vocational school is flexible and offers day or evening classes.

Placement Assistance – The vocational school should have a career services department that will offer you placement assistance upon graduation and beyond.

Preparation for Certification Exams – The vocational school medical assisting program should prepare you to take one or all of the certifications offered by these organizations: National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA); and/or American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Medical Assisting Program Curriculum

During a medical assisting program, there is specific knowledge that you need to acquire to become a successful medical assistant.

During the medical assisting program, you should learn how to assist with in-office procedures. You should also have courses in pharmacology, human relations, keyboarding, phlebotomy, medical terminology, clinical skills, medical administrative skills, EKG testing, and electronic medical records, as well as additional hands-on training in a medical externship.

Pharmacology teaches mathematical computations of pharmaceutical measurements and calculations.

Communication and Human Relations is an introduction to patient relations in the medical office including medical law, medical ethics, and effective communication.

Keyboarding with Microsoft Word is a subject where medical assistants will learn how to create professional memos and business correspondence.

Phlebotomy teaches the proper techniques of taking blood and learning the parts of a microscope.

Medical Terminology is a comprehensive study of the human body, learning about the basics of cellular composition and understating each system in the body, including the skeletal, muscular, circulatory, and respiratory systems.

Clinical Skills shows the student how to prepare a new patient’s medical record, practice taking and documenting vital signs, and assist doctors with physical examinations.

Medical Administrative Skills goes through the history of health care systems and the duties of a medical assistant. The focus is on patient account management and finances.

Electrocardiography Testing teaches the medical assisting student the proper use of an EKG machine and how to identify if an EKG test is abnormal.

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) explains to medical assisting students how to use computerized billing and medical software programs. Course topics covered include creating patient records, maintaining health histories, and reading and interpreting patient files.

Medical Externship is where medical assisting students are placed in a medical facility for hands-on experience. The medical assistant student observes experienced medical personnel and performs duties under the strict supervision of trained professionals.

Skills of a Successful Medical Assistant

There are many skills a medical assistant will need to become successful. The successful medical assistant has good analytical skills, is detail oriented, and has good interpersonal and technical skills.

Analytical Skills – Medical assistants must be able to understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses. They will need medical coding education to code patients’ medical records.

Detail Oriented – Medical assistants need to be precise when taking vital signs or recording patient information.

Interpersonal Skills – Medical assistants need to be able to discuss patient information with other medical personnel confidentially. They often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so medical assistants need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.

Technical Skills – Medical assistants should be able to use basic clinical instruments so they can take a patient’s vital signs.

Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant

Graduates of most medical assistant programs are eligible to sit for one or all of the following exams offered by these nationally recognized organizations. On average, certified medical assistants may command a higher starting salary than those who are not certified. These are the top medical assistant certification agencies.

National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) awards the National Certified Medical Assistant credential after completion of a high school diploma or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and graduation from an accredited vocational school’s medical assisting program.

American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) awards the Certified Medical Assistant credential after completion of a high school diploma or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and graduation from an accredited vocational school’s medical assisting program.

American Medical Technologists (AMT) awards the Registered Medical Assistant credential after completion of a high school diploma or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and graduation from an accredited vocational school’s medical assisting program.

Utilizing Career Services

Many vocational schools will assist you in preparing your résumé to become a medical assistant. The Career Services department will help with job interviewing skills, résumé preparation, cover and thank you letter writing, and career counseling.

Preparing your résumé is an important step to getting a career as a medical assistant. The cover letter and résumé present your first impression. Take the time to tailor each cover letter to employers’ job descriptions to show them you are taking this process seriously. Make sure you are a good fit for the medical facility and convey this in your résumé.

Getting a medical assistant interview is the next step in the process of becoming a medical assistant. Utilize your vocational school’s Career Services department to help you with job interviewing skills and finding employers who are interested in hiring medical assistant program graduates. There are also many different job boards and social networks you can use to network and start your career as a medical assistant.

Once you get the interview, make sure to prepare and do your research about the employer before you sit down for the interview. The hiring manager will want to make sure you have the skills to be a successful medical assistant and that you fit the culture of the medical facility.

Demand for Medical Assistants

The increase in the elderly population and advances in technology are creating a demand for additional medical assistants to support the growing need for medical professionals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. An increasing number of group practices, clinics, and other health care facilities need support workers, particularly medical assistants, to complete administrative and clinical duties.

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants for work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours at externship in an actual medical work environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Contact us today to find out more on how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.

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