Which Path To A Medical Assistant Career Is Right For You?

15 January 2016
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If you're interested in a career in the medical field, then medical assisting might be a good choice for you. Because the medical personnel are always in demand, you'll have security knowing that you'll always be able to find a job. And you'll be working in a field that's rewarding, fast-paced, and never boring. Another great thing about deciding to become a medical assistant is that you'll have a variety of choices when it comes to deciding how to get there. No matter what your current situation is, you should be able to find a path that works for you. Take a look at your options for obtaining medical assistant training.

Associate's Degree

One option is to get an associate's degree in medical assisting. Associate's degrees usually take around two years to complete, and they are offered by community colleges, state colleges, and some universities. When you opt to earn an associate's degree, you'll take a variety of classes – some will focus on the skills that you will need to be a medical assistant, and others will be general education liberal arts classes, like English and humanities.

There are several advantages to choosing an associate's degree as your path to a career as a medical assistant. For one thing, if you think that you might want to pursue further education later, the college credits that you earn can be transferred to a bachelor's degree program. Having an associate's degree under your belt can also make you more attractive to employers. In a tough job market, the more education you have, the better off you often are. Future employers may see you as more highly qualified.

On the other hand, an associate's degree is likely the most time-consuming path to becoming a medical assistant, and it's almost certainly the most expensive. An associate's degree for medical assisting can run over $5000 for in-state tuition, or over $10,000 for out-of-state tuition.  If your funds are limited or you're in a hurry to start your new career, you may not want to spend the time and money to take classes unrelated to your future career. In that case, another option might be better for you.


Another option is to pursue a medical assistant certification. Just as with the associate's degree, you'll need to take classes to earn your certificate. However, unlike the associate's degree option, you won't take general education classes. Instead, you'll only take classes that teach the skills and information that you'll need to become a medical assistant.

Certificate programs are one of the most accessible paths to a career as a medical assistant. You can earn a certificate from a community college, many state colleges, or a vocational school. In some cases, you may be able to do most or all of the work online on your own schedule. Because you won't need to take as many classes, certificate programs are both faster and less expensive than associate's degree programs. If you are eligible for financial assistance for an associate's degree, chances are good that you'll still be eligible for financial assistance if you choose a certificate program.

The biggest drawback to a certificate program is that the classes you take for a certificate program rarely count for college credit that can be transferred to another program, so if you want to go back to school for something else later, you'll probably have to start over at square one. Other than that, there are very few disadvantages to choosing a certificate program.

On-the-Job Training

While it's not a common route, you may also be able to learn medical assisting on the job. At one time, this was the usual way to become a medical assistant; however, the American Association of Medical Assistants was formed to create certifications and give the field additional legitimacy, and as a result, most employers today want and expect to see certification. But while certification may be a common employer requirement, it is not yet a legal requirement – it is possible to work as a medical assistant without certification. That means that if you find a doctor who wants to train you while you work, you can become a medical assistant by working as one.

The advantages to learning on the job are obvious – you can earn while you learn your trade, and you don't have to worry about the cost of training. Because you'll be learning from the medical professionals that you'll be working closely with, you'll learn exactly what you need to know, not only for your field, but for your specific place of employment.

Unfortunately, there are some serious disadvantages to taking this route as well. First of all, it may be quite difficult, if not impossible, to find an employer in your area who is interested in training you. Unless you already know someone who is interested, this may not be the most realistic option. Also, if you do find an employer to train you on the job and then later your job situation changes, you may find that future employers are less interested in hiring a medical assistant with neither a degree nor a certificate. And because you'll have received most of your training in one specific setting, you may find that you're not well prepared to work in a different type of medical setting, even if you can get a job.

Ultimately, it's up to you to decide the best way to achieve your goal of becoming a medical assistant. You have more than one path open to you, and it's a good idea to do your research and find out just which one will help propel you to a successful and fulfilling future in medical assisting. Contact a school like ASA College to get started.