How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants wear many hats in the healthcare system. Learn how to become a medical assistant and what responsibilities these professionals have.

portrait of Doug Wintemute
by Doug Wintemute

Updated September 20, 2022

Edited by Kelly Thomas
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How to Become a Medical Assistant
Image Credit: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images


Medical assistants play an integral role in the healthcare system. They handle an increasing number of administrative and clinical responsibilities, which puts them in great demand. A 2021 stat poll from the Medical Group Management Association reported 88% of healthcare employers found meeting the demand for medical assistants challenging.

While a difficult situation for healthcare, this provides great opportunity and timing for people who want to become a medical assistant. In this guide, check out more details about the medical assistant profession and explore different avenues into the field.

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Ready to start your journey?

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Medical Assistant

Since no states have formal medical assistant requirements for entry-level professionals, medical assistants can enter the field from many paths. However, most employers have their own internal requirements. People with more education, experience, and credentials may have access to more employment opportunities, more responsibilities, and higher wages.

Many employers require that medical assistants have professional certification. In some states, certified medical assistants have a larger scope of practice. The following list highlights the most common steps a person must take to become a certified medical assistant.

  1. 1

    Earn a high school diploma.

  2. 2

    Complete an accredited postsecondary education, such as a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree.

  3. 3

    Pursue certification — optional for entry-level employment in all states but mandatory for certain roles.

  4. 4

    Pass an approved certification examination, such as the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Exam with the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

  5. 5

    Apply for certification.

Types of Medical Assistants

Medical assistants can be separated into types based on their credentials, specialization, and duties. They may work as patient liaisons in general or specialized clinical roles, administrative assistants, or a mix of both.

Their state, credentials, and employer influence what roles medical assistants can perform. Certified professionals typically have roles with more responsibilities than non-certified assistants. Medical assistants can also hold different roles in various specialist facilities, such as ophthalmology, podiatry, obstetrics, and cardiology clinics.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants support healthcare professionals and facilities with clinical and administrative assistance. They handle patient records, patient preparation, and other administration-related duties.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant's role can vary between employers, facilities, and specializations. Their responsibilities majorly impact how smoothly the medical system operates. Their responsibilities include:

Requirements to Becoming a Medical Assistant

Medical assistant requirements vary depending on the employer and a state's scope of practice laws. For entry-level medical assistants, all states have the following minimum requirements:

For roles that need certification, medical assistants must meet the following requirements:

Certification Process for Medical Assistant

While all states make certification optional, many employers require it. States may also expand the professional capabilities of certified medical assistants. Along with the increased employment opportunities and responsibilities, these credentials may lead to more job security and financial rewards.

For CMA certification, candidates need to:

  1. Complete an accredited postsecondary program with at least two semesters worth of studies.
  2. Pass the CMA examination.
  3. Apply for certification with the certifying board of the AAMA.

CMA certification lasts for 60 months, and professionals must recertify by completing an exam or continuing education.

Medical Assistant Salary and Job Demand

Medical assistants will likely see a positive job outlook that results from a growing and aging population with diverse medical needs. As technologies and patient demands change, the medical assisting role will continue to evolve.

+16%
Projected employment growth

$37,190
Median salary (as of 2021)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most professionals work in physician offices, with hospitals and outpatient care centers employing the next largest workforce. The top 10% of earners made more than $48,170 in 2021.

Growth Opportunities

Top 5 Paid States

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Medical Assistant

Where does a medical assistant make the most money?

According to the BLS, the highest medical assistant salaries come from agencies, brokerages, and other insurance-related activities. The mean annual salary for assistants in this industry was $52,970 in May 2021.

The next highest-paying industries include supply merchant wholesalers, outpatient care centers, electronic shopping, and insurance carriers. Each of these industries had mean annual salaries above $44,000 in 2021.

What can medical assistants do and not do?

Several factors determine what a medical assistant can or can't do, including their credentials, location, and employer. In most positions, these professionals can work with patient records, take patient vitals, and provide patients with information. Some professionals can also assist patients with certain medications, draw blood, or administer various injections.

Medical assistants cannot assess, diagnose, or treat patients. They may order laboratory tests and provide patients with information on their tests, but medical assistants cannot analyze the tests or interpret the results. They also cannot prescribe medications.

Is a medical assistant the same as a phlebotomist?

No. While these two professions have overlapping responsibilities, such as drawing blood from patients, they differ. Phlebotomists specialize in drawing blood, including preparing the instruments ahead of time and the samples for laboratories afterward. They typically need a specialty certification for employment.

Medical assistants have a much more diversified role with more patient involvement in medical clinics and offices. Conversely, phlebotomists typically work in hospitals and laboratories. In some states, medical assistants can obtain phlebotomist certifications for a more connected role between the two professions.

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