How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assisting is one of the fastest growing career fields available according to Entering the field is easier, and quicker, than you may think. There are plenty of options to consider as you start to look into your future, and this article is designed to give you all the information you need to make the best choice for what you desire out of a career. Certifications, specializations and education will all be covered as well as a quick synopsis of the different types of education that you can pursue.

Medical Assisting Career Options

The first point you need to consider is the type of medical assistant you wish to be. First off, medical assistants work as a general jack of all trades in a medical office. They will straddle the line of administrative and clinical work and have knowledge in both fields. This is a highly desirable option for many students and employers and the most common type of medical assistant currently working. There are other options though; administrative and clinical medical assisting.

Where general medical assisting learns a bit about the administrative and clinical side of the career, the two specializations focus more on a specific role. As an administrative medical assistant you will learn more about scheduling, checking in patients, medical coding, insurance billing and a wide range of other paperwork heavy tasks. This is the fastest way to enter the field, but will limit you to front office work. If you are not the type that wants to sit at a desk and keep the financial aspects of your business moving on all fronts, clinical medical assisting may be the choice for you.

Clinical medical assistants work in the clinical part of a medical office. Where administrative assistants focus on paperwork and billing, clinical assistants work with patients, vitals, and checkups. You will often get to know patients as they make the changes to their lifestyle meant to improve their health. Many prescriptions now require a monthly visit to the doctor and you will have one on one time with the patients each month. This lets you build a relationship and work in a more medical setting, but it is not a great fit for those that wish to focus more on the administrative side of the business.

Salary Expectations

General medical assistants are the highest paid as of the time of this writing. According to, medical assistants earn $43,000 a year. That information is gained directly from current postings for open positions with salary information. Clinical medical assistants come in just behind medical assistants with an income expectation of $42,000 a year according to Finally, administrative medical assistants earn an average income of $38,000 a year according to the same site. Experience and education will have a major impact on your actual income and employer and location will have a significant but lesser impact on how much you earn.


You have three options for your education as you start to move towards your future. First, you can earn a certificate which will take somewhere around 9 to 12 months to complete. Generally, these programs are offered by trade schools or career colleges and community colleges. Diplomas fall into the same category but will often have slightly different focuses in their educational process. Pursuing these options can be the fastest ways to start your career, but you will often find that those with more education will land positions and you will earn a smaller income while pursuing work longer.

Associates degree programs will take around 2 years, with some colleges offering accelerated plans that can be finished in 18 months. This is the best option if you are able to dedicate the time, and will allow you to hold an associate’s degree in medical assisting that will give you options for future education. You will find a career easier than those with a diploma and will likely earn a higher income, but you will spend at least twice the amount of time in school. Finding a way to work while earning this type of degree is the wisest choice.

Experience and Education

Balancing work with an education is a monumental task. Rather, it used to be a monumental task, today it is a bit easier to handle. With online programs offered by countless schools, you can find an educational option that lets you study on your own time and won’t make a significant impact on your personal schedule. University of Phoenix, Kaplan University and Penn Foster College are some of the most well-known schools offering online programs, but search around and you will find a plethora of options. Do some research on each school to ensure that their programs are respected in your industry.


Certified or registered medical assistants generally earn the highest pay and have the easiest time finding work. The difference in a certification and registration is very minor. The biggest difference is in the group that provides the designation and the type of exam you take. Most employers will view both designations equally. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers a CMA (AAMA) exam that will give you the designation of a Certified Medical Assistant. The American Registry of Medical Assistants offers an exam that will give you the Registered Medical Assistant designation. Both require addition study, continued education and re-examination throughout your career, but the payoff is well worth the investment.

Ultimately, the choices are all up to you and there is no perfect path for any individual. You will need to do your research, work hard, and network to make the most of your career, but understanding the basics of what is required and what the benefits of each role are will ensure that you can start your research in the right place. Take your time, and don’t make rash decisions and you will quickly find yourself in the career that you desire and deserve.