From Classroom to Clinic: The Journey of the Medical Assisting Student

The Journey of the Medical Assisting StudentYou love the idea of entering the healthcare field in a clinical and administrative capacity. Both areas are rewarding and allow you to make your mark in an exciting, important industry. Most positions, however, delve almost exclusively into one area or the other. For example, you might take on the occasional administrative task as a licensed practical nurse, but very few roles allow you an equally viable means of exploring the sector’s many clinical and administrative functions.

Introducing medical assisting, an essential and diverse role which, as the Occupational Analysis of Medical Assistants points out, involves “cross-train[ing] to perform administrative and clinical duties.”[1] If you train for a career as a medical assistant, you can enter the field in the near future — and you can make a meaningful difference as you help patients, fellow medical professionals, and your entire community.

First, however, you need to get the right credentials. This begins with enrolling in a Medical Assisting program and committing to learning as much as possible about your future career. In this guide, we will reveal how to become a medical assistant. We will also outline which steps you can take to boost your job prospects and which medical assisting careers you can pursue once equipped with the right credentials.

Applying for a Medical Assisting Program

The first and most important step on your path to becoming a medical assistant? Finding and applying for a reputable Medical Assisting program. The application process may involve submitting documentation of your high school background, plus other details about why you want to enter the medical assistant career. This is also a great time to research financial aid opportunities.

Know What You Want

Be prepared to explore your options as you determine what you want from a Medical Assisting program and how it can help you make progress toward your career goals. Factors to consider include:

  • Depending on your schedule, location, and learning preferences, you may be more inclined to study online, in-person, or via a flexible, hybrid format. When in doubt, look for diverse programs that allow you to learn and study as you see fit.
  • While MA training timelines can vary from one program to the next, it is common practice to complete administrative and clinical coursework in under a year. Carrington College’s program, for example, spans 36 weeks, not counting breaks.[2]
  • Verify that your preferred college is accredited. This ensures that instruction from your program meets an acceptable threshold of quality. To achieve accreditation, colleges must meet strict eligibility standards — so if your prospective college is accredited by a respected commission, you can feel confident that you will receive an excellent education.

Carrington College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC/WASC), 428 J Street, Suite 400, Sacramento, CA 95814; 415 506 0234, an institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Additional information about accreditation, including the filing of complaints against member institutions, can be found at http://www.accjc.org/ .

Ideal School to Attend

Now that you’ve compiled a list of essential qualities and found a few programs that live up to these ideals, it’s time to narrow down your list and determine which school is the best fit. By the time you apply and enroll, you want to feel confident that your top candidates will provide the high-quality education and the resume boost that you deserve. Ultimately, the ideal school is one that has a strong reputation (including accreditation) and works well based on your unique schedule and personal preferences.

Research the Program

You’ve covered all the basics and feel confident that your preferred medical assistant programs will provide the thorough preparation you need. Next up: taking a deep dive into the program to determine which classes it includes and which concepts will be covered. This means closely examining the catalog of each potential school. Compare each program to determine which one provides the best and most comprehensive coverage of topics relevant to your future career.

What Should I Expect to Learn in an MA Program?

Every Medical Assisting curriculum looks a bit different, but these programs typically provide a broad overview of basic clinical and administrative topics, plus the opportunity to gain hands-on experience via an externship. Through both coursework and applied learning experiences, you may cover the following topics:

Daily Medical Office Functions

Whether you work as a primarily administrative or clinical MA, you will almost certainly be expected to handle a variety of office tasks, including:

  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Updating electronic medical records (EMRs)
  • Processing insurance claims
  • Answering phones and returning patient calls
  • Greeting patients during check-in

These tasks can be more complicated than they seem. In most cases, they involve high-level software, which MAs must be comfortable navigating as they perform everyday office functions. Strong time management and attention to detail are also crucial.

How to Run Diagnostic Tests

Clinical MAs often play a central role in administering various diagnostic tests that provide doctors and nurses with insight into patients’ current symptoms — and the underlying health concerns that causing them.

As the AAMA points out in a submission to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), requirements for performing certain tests vary between states — although many MAs are authorized to handle a wide variety of diagnostic procedures.[3]

During medical assistant training programs, aspiring MAs should grow familiar and comfortable with many types of tools and procedures, such as venipuncture (and related chairs or stations used while collecting blood samples), EKG machines, blood pressure cuffs, and point-of-care systems such as the hematocrit centrifuge (which are used to determine the volume of red blood cells).

Teaching Patients About Their Medical Care

Medical assistants interact closely with patients, providing not only reassurance prior to and during diagnostic procedures or evaluations but also details so patients know what to expect. If a patient is about to undergo a specific type of diagnostic exam, an MA can detail how these exams proceed and what will happen every step of the way. Many MAs are also authorized to provide basic instructions regarding dietary concerns and other lifestyle practices.

Maintain Supplies and Equipment

Today’s medical facilities are stocked with a range of complex tools, equipment, and supplies, all of which require close attention from detail-oriented healthcare professionals. These items must be carefully organized and maintained to ensure that they are safe, hygienic, and readily available. Critical maintenance procedures are often handled by MAs, who are responsible for ensuring that the clinic remains an aseptic environment — a place in which the likelihood of contamination from pathogens is minimal. This means abiding by strict cleaning policies and schedules.

Finding Your Externship

Hands-on learning prepares you for the many real-world challenges you will face in the medical field. The ideal medical assistant training program will include numerous opportunities to apply newly mastered concepts and skills. Externships are valuable because they introduce you to a variety of healthcare settings and situations. Ideally, your medical assistant training program will help you find and make the most of externship opportunities that expose you to the realities of working in the fast-paced world of healthcare.

Preparing for Exams

You’ve completed your coursework and learned a great deal by participating in an externship. Now, it’s time to focus on professional exams that will allow you to demonstrate your proficiency in various relevant topics. Upon passing these exams, you can add highly trusted and respected credentials to your resume.

While these credentials are not necessarily required to be eligible to practice at the state or federal level, many employers cite a strong preference for MAs who have proven themselves with both college credentials and certifications, such as the RMA (Registered Medical Assistant) or CCMA (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant). Thankfully, many college programs provide excellent preparation for taking the field’s top exams.

CCMA (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant)

As a top offering from the National Healthcareer Association, the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam verifies your understanding of critical MA concepts.[4] This is another highly trusted credential among today’s top employers.

Many of this exam’s top categories are similar to those featured in the RMA test. With the CCMA, there is a strong focus on general knowledge — such as healthcare terms and abbreviations.

Carrington College prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

RMA (Registered Medical Assistant)

A trusted distinction from American Medical Technologists (AMT), the RMA verifies that you are equipped with a strong skill set.[5] According to AMT, passing this exam and obtaining this credential can help you advance your career, improve your earning potential, and “demonstrate your commitment to your profession.” The exam includes over 200 questions, covering essentials such as:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical law and ethics
  • Laboratory procedures and terminology
  • Vital signs and measurements
  • First aid and emergency response

Find Your New Career in Medical Assisting

You have completed a college program, secured your Certificate of Achievement, and perhaps even passed the RMA or CCMA exam. Now, it’s time to search for your first job in medical assisting. There are manypaths to choose from, and sometimes the biggest struggle is not finding an available job but, rather selecting a position that fits your skills and interests. Follow these steps to find the right fit:

Know What You Want or Need

Revisit the goals you set early on in your MA program. Do the long-term objectives that you previously outlined still apply? If not, take some time to reflect on your current intentions for your career, accounting for any personal discoveries from your coursework and externship.

Have you realized that you are drawn to a particular niche or patient population? You may be able to find work as an MA in a relevant clinic or facility. For example, many MAs play an important role in specialty clinics, such as OB/GYN offices, children’s hospitals, or even dermatology clinics.

As you begin to narrow your options and focus on a few key types of MA positions, figure out what it will take to distinguish yourself as a job candidate. Your college certificate should help, of course, as will any relevant exams you’ve passed or job experiences (such as externships) that you’ve completed.

Network With Other MAs

Networking is vital in every field, including medical assisting. This should begin long before you enter the field, as your certificate program provides opportunities to connect with both current and aspiring healthcare professionals.

Take time to get to know your fellow students and to build meaningful relationships with your instructors and externship supervisors. You should also begin online networking during your program; develop a well-rounded profile on LinkedIn and reach out to current MAs in roles or niches you find compelling.

Set Your Goals

Challenges are bound to arise as you pursue your certificate and embark on your MA career, but setting goals will keep you feeling focused and positive when the going gets tough.

Develop a blend of short- and long-term goals to help you boost your immediate motivation while keeping you mindful of your long-term progress. Ideally, these goals will be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Find Your Place in the Medical Field

Don’t be worried if you fail to immediately feel at home in a particular healthcare niche. It may take some time before you discover your passion. Use this time to explore — and to reflect on what you do and don’t like about specific specialties. You may be surprised to discover that you have a strong preference for clinical or administrative work, or that you prefer a blend of the two.

Continue to seek additional training via continuing education or by partaking in conferences or webinars, as these will expose you to emerging opportunities or improve your resume so that you are well-positioned to seek out available jobs.

Prepare for an Exciting Job in Medical Assisting

If you’re wanting to get into the healthcare field, the Medical Assisting program with Carrington College is a great place to start training for your healthcare career.

Sources:

  1. “What is a Medical Assistant?” AAMA.
  2. “Academic Catalog 2022-2023.” Carrington College.
  3. Balasa, D.A. “Medical assistants’ competence in performing diagnostic tests.” American Association of Medical Assistants.
  4. “Your path to medical assistant certification.” National Healthcareer Association.
  5. “Are you eligible for RMA certification?” American Medical Technologists.

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