Want to be a Medical Assistant? Here is what you need to know.


The job outlook for medical assistants is booming, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and is expected to grow 29% from 2012 to 2022. Medical assistants are a vital part of the health care system, completing administrative work as well as some clinical tasks to assistant other health care professionals. Most medical assistants work full-time at clinics or hospitals, making a median annual salary of $29,370 in 2012 (top earners make more than $41,570).

Job Duties of Medical Assistants

Medical assistants must be quick-thinking and able to complete a variety of health-relevant tasks. Although duties vary by setting, some common job duties of medical assistants include:

  • Recording patients’ medical history and personal information
  • Measuring blood pressure, height, weight, and other vital signs
  • Assisting a physician or chiropractor with patient examinations
  • Scheduling appointments and handling administrative work
  • Preparing blood and other samples for laboratory processing
  • Entering and maintaining patient records, often in an electronic medical record system

Educational Requirements

Medical assistants must hold at least a high school diploma. Community colleges, technical schools, and vocational schools often offer medical assistant certificate programs that take approximately one year to complete. In addition to postsecondary certificate programs, some associate’s degree programs in medical assisting are available. Prerequisites for these programs include a high school background in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and other sciences.

Board Certification Options

After completing relevant educational requirements, some individuals choose to become board-certified medical assistants. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which oversees certifying bodies to ensure their excellence, recognizes five accredited certifications for medical assistants:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants. Eligible applicants must complete an accredited program and pass a rigorous 200-question exam.
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), offered by the American Medical Technologists. Eligible individuals must demonstrate an educational background or relevant work experience to become certified.
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA), offered by the National Center for Competency Testing. Eligible individuals with the required educational background or relevant work history must demonstrate competence in clinical and administrative aspects of medical assisting.
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), offered by the National Healthcareer Association. This certification exam covers many of the clinical duties (e.g., recording vital signs, administering injections) that a medical assistant may perform.
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA), offered by the National Healthcareer Association. This certification exam covers many of the administrative duties (e.g., maintaining patient records, scheduling appointments) that a medical assistant may perform.

Although certification is not required for all medical assistant positions, some employers may prefer to recruit board-certified medical assistants. Certified individuals may also command a higher salary than their non-certified counterparts.

Required Skills and Training

Many medical assistants receive on-the-job training in their duties. This may include learning medical terminology, interacting with patients, maintaining paper or electronic medical records, scheduling and administrative tasks, and taking vital signs.

Effective medical assistants have strong analytical skills and are highly detail oriented. They must be able to follow complex medical charts, code medical records for billing, and precisely record information. The technical skills to accurately use basic clinical instruments are also needed. Perhaps most importantly, medical assistants must have strong interpersonal skills that allow them to interact professionally with patients and fellow health care professionals.