Medical Assisting Schools and Programs

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Medical assistants play an essential role in healthcare. As part of a medical team, these versatile professionals work with nurses, doctors, and other support professionals to ensure that medical offices and facilities run smoothly and that patients receive excellent care.

Schools offer two main educational paths to medical assistant careers: a certificate/diploma or an associate degree in medical assisting. Vocational schools, community colleges, and online colleges and universities all offer medical assistant training.

The following guide offers information and resources to help you find the right medical assisting program. We cover certification requirements, salary and job growth, training, and career advancement.

Career Outlook | Program Choices | Specializations | Q&A

Career Outlook for Medical Assisting

Medical assistants enjoy promising job prospects. As of 2019, 725,200 medical assistants worked in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% job growth rate for medical assistants from 2019-2029 — much faster than the 4% national average for all occupations.

A medical assistant certificate or associate degree meets the educational requirements to land an entry-level position in the industry. Certificate and associate programs generally take less time to complete and cost less than a bachelor's degree. These benefits can make a medical assistant degree an excellent choice for students who cannot commit to a longer and costlier program.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% job growth rate for medical assistants from 2019-2029 — much faster than the 4% national average for all occupations.

With professional experience and postgraduate certification, medical assistants can climb the career ladder to more advanced roles. Earning a certification in specialties such as cardiology, neurology, or oncology can also help speed up career progression. In the following section, we look at salary expectations for different career levels and job locations.

Medical Assistant Salaries

As of 2020, the BLS reported median earnings of $35,850 per year or $17.23 per hour for medical assistants. However, many factors can affect the potential salary of professionals in this field, such as experience level, certification, and job location.

As of 2020, the BLS reported median earnings of $35,850 per year or $17.23 per hour for medical assistants.

The average pay for medical assistants at different career levels ranges from $13.75-$17.85 per hour. Certification can boost salary potential. The salary of experienced certified medical assistants averages $18.04 per hour as of 2021. The tables below provide salary figures for different experience levels for medical assistants and certified medical assistants.

Job location can also impact earning potential. According to the BLS, the average annual salary of medical assistants ranges from $33,700 in Texas to $46,610 in Alaska as of 2020. The interactive map below shows how medical assistant salaries vary by state.

Average Salary of Medical Assistants and Certified Medical Assistants by Experience, 2021

Experience Average Salary of Medical Assistants Average Salary of Certified Medical Assistants
Entry Level $13.81/hour $13.77/hour
Early Career $14.76/hour $14.76/hour
Midcareer $16.20/hour $16.33/hour
Late Career $17.10/hour $17.37/hour
Experienced $17.93/hour $18.08/hour

Source: PayScale, Medical Assistants | PayScale, Certified Medical Assistants

Find Medical Assistant Salaries in Your State


Paths to Medical Assisting: Program Choices

Most employers prefer candidates who have completed some form of postsecondary education, such as a medical assisting program. However, there are a few different paths that students can take to become medical assistants.

Although formal education is generally preferred, not all employers require it. Some medical offices offer on-the-job training for prospective medical assistants who hold a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Established healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, experienced medical assistants, and other allied healthcare workers, may provide supervision and training for entry-level medical assistants.

Many technical and vocational schools offer classes to help people obtain the skills they need to work as medical assistants. A certificate or diploma program typically takes a year to complete and includes classroom and clinical experiences.

Coursework in a certificate/diploma program covers the basics of medical assisting. Topics commonly include medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, record keeping, and medical administration.

Offered at most community colleges, an associate degree in medical assisting takes about two years to complete. Associate degree programs in medical assisting cover many of the same classes offered through certificate programs but include more extensive material.

In addition to core courses, students also take general education classes in English, math, and the humanities. This two-year degree can help students enter the field after graduation or serve as a foundation for a bachelor's degree in a related discipline. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Accreditation for Best Medical Assistant Programs

Attending an accredited school increases the value of a medical assistant degree or certificate exponentially. Institutions can hold regional or national accreditation (or both). Only colleges and universities that satisfy the most rigorous academic standards merit regional accreditation. Schools meeting lower standards can still obtain national accreditation.

Accreditation ensures access to federal financial aid for eligible students, enables smooth credit transfer across institutions, and fosters admission into advanced degree programs and postgraduate certification opportunities.

Earning a medical assistant credential from a CAAHEP-accredited program can enhance future job and education opportunities.

Industry-specific accreditation can also affect the value of medical assistant degrees and certificates. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP) sets the industry standards for medical assistant programs.

Earning a medical assistant credential from a CAAHEP-accredited program can enhance future job and education opportunities. When researching the best medical assistant programs, look for the CAAHEP stamp of approval.

Medical Assistant Student Resource Center

Programs combine online education with hands-on training. Medical assisting students have questions, and we have answers. The importance of training and how to get it. A guide to getting scholarships, grants, and funding for a medical assistant education.

Life As a Medical Assistant

Most medical assistants work in doctors' offices, though some work in hospitals, surgical centers, or long-term care centers. Because most medical assistants work in clinical offices, they frequently interact with patients, families, and other healthcare workers.

Some medical assistants work part time, while others work full time. Working hours can extend into the evenings and to weekends or holidays, particularly at hospitals, since healthcare is a 24/7 industry.

Although medical assisting can be a rewarding career, working in a medical clinic or hospital also involves considerable stress. Medical assistants may stand on their feet for many hours. Tired and emotional patients and family members may take their frustrations out on the staff. Medical assistants must be compassionate, patient, open-minded, and flexible.

Clinical Medical Assistant Specializations

Clinical medical assistants can specialize in a healthcare area. Working in these focus areas requires postgraduate certification. Below we describe four common medical specializations.


Medical assistants in this specialty help oncologists prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer and benign tumors such as polyps, lipomas, and fibroids. Typical medical assistant job duties in this concentration include performing ultrasounds and x-rays, assisting with radiation and immunotherapy, and administering genetic tests and chemotherapy.

Oncological medical assistants must possess extensive knowledge of cancer treatments, common symptoms, and survival prospects. They also need strong skills in active listening and stress management, along with maintaining a calm and compassionate demeanor. These practitioners use their skills and knowledge to provide compassionate patient care, teach coping skills, and manage difficult conversations.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Medical assistants specializing in obstetrics and gynecology help OB-GYNs perform medical examinations of women's reproductive systems. This concentration covers the treatment of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal stages. Frequent responsibilities include taking blood and urine samples, performing mammograms and ultrasounds, and assisting in childbirth and gynecological exams.

Medical assistants in this specialty learn how to prepare patients for surgeries such as tubal ligation, removal of ovarian cysts, hysterectomy, and abortion. These professionals must possess interpersonal aptitudes such as sensitivity, patience, ethical awareness, and emotional intelligence. They draw on their competencies to comfort, educate, and care for patients in vulnerable circumstances.


Medical assistants in this specialty assist endocrinologists in clinical and hospital settings. These practitioners work with patients with endocrine disorders such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Cushing's syndrome. Frequent responsibilities include taking blood and urine samples, administering hormone injections, performing wound care, and preparing patients for surgery (e.g., thyroidectomy).

Endocrinological medical assistants must possess an in-depth understanding of human hormone systems and endocrine disorders, including their effects on organs such as the heart, veins, and eyes. In patient interactions, these professionals draw heavily on empathy, communication, and interpersonal skills.


In this specialization, medical assistants work with neurologists in private practice and hospital settings. They frequently interact with patients with neurological symptoms like headaches, altered smell and taste, seizures, confusion, and cognitive decline. Many of the patients may have disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, or an acute spinal cord injury.

Typical job responsibilities include performing brain scans, taking blood and urine samples, and educating patients and family members about disease progression and possible treatments. This medical assistant specialty requires empathy, patience, and nonverbal communication skills. Healthcare employers also commonly expect professionals in this field to possess active listening, positive reinforcement, and stress management skills.

Medical Assistant Career Center

Everything students and medical assistants need to know about earnings and job growth in the field Understand the importance of getting certified and the steps required Choose the right program, gain crucial skills, and put it all to work A guide for new and seasoned medical assistants who want to elevate their careers

What's the Difference?

The medical assistant profession differs from other healthcare support jobs. Medical assistants handle more clinical and hands-on responsibilities than office workers like medical secretaries and medical office assistants.

However, medical assistants handle fewer advanced clinical duties than physician assistants. Physician assistants perform medical checkups, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications and treatments.

Below, we compare and contrast medical assistant jobs to related healthcare support careers.

Medical Assistant Medical Secetary Medical Office Admin/Assistant Physician Assistant
Medical assistants receive training to perform routine administrative duties and assist physicians with basic clinical tasks. Medical secretaries perform secretarial duties such as answering and directing calls, greeting patients, maintaining medical records, and ordering supplies. These professionals perform back-office duties such as scheduling appointments, updating calendars, maintaining databases and files, and arranging staff meetings. Physician assistants perform more advanced patient-oriented tasks such as examining, diagnosing, and treating patients. They work under the supervision of physicians.
Minimum education required: Formal training, postsecondary certificate or diploma Minimum education required: High school diploma Minimum education required: High school diploma Minimum education required: Master’s degree

Medical Assistant Program Q & A

How long will it take to become a medical assistant?

If you find a medical office that offers on-the-job training, you could begin working as a medical assistant in a few months. This option, however, is becoming less common and may apply only to those already working in a closely related field. A certificate program typically takes one year, while an associate degree in medical assisting takes about two years.

What's the difference between a medical assistant (MA) and a certified medical assistant (CMA)? Between a registered medical assistant (RMA) and a certified medical assistant (CMA)?

A medical assistant has completed the required coursework or received on-the-job training to function as a medical assistant. A certified or registered medical assistant holds certification or registration from a professional organization such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA).

Certification and registration provide validation of a medical assistant's skills and training. Although no federal or state government currently requires such designations, most employers prefer or require certification and/or registration through a state or national agency.

To become a certified medical assistant (CMA), you must be a graduate of an accredited medical assisting program. You must also pass a certification exam.

The ARMA grants registration to medical assistants in three categories:

  • Recommended by a representative of an accredited, affiliated medical assistant school.
  • Recommended by a physician employer after one year of on-the-job experience after graduation from an accredited but nonaffiliated school.
  • Recommended by a physician employer after completing three years of on-the-job training.

The ARMA does not require an exam for registration, but other organizations may require it.

What kind of courses will I have to take?

Medical assisting students take classes in medical terminology, medical law, bioethics, and professionalism in healthcare. Other topics include human anatomy and physiology, office management, medical coding and insurance, pharmacology, healthcare computing, and laboratory procedures.

Students pursuing an associate degree in medical assisting take similar courses, along with general studies courses in English, mathematics, and humanities.

What about online programs? Can I do all my coursework online?

Although schools offer online programs, you cannot complete all requirements entirely online. Because medical assistants perform clinical tasks, they must gain real-world clinical experience through an externship or practicum.

It's possible to complete most of the coursework online, but you will still need to learn the necessary clinical skills in a healthcare facility or hospital. Most online medical assisting programs help students connect with nearby healthcare facilities so they can conveniently complete the clinical portion of their education.

What are the technology requirements for an online MA program?

While the exact technical requirements vary from school to school, in general, you will need a computer with adequate memory, a fast processor, audio and video capabilities, an up-to-date web browser, and a reliable high-speed internet connection.

You may need to install and use certain software. Some schools, for instance, require students to use Microsoft Office or Open Office.

You may also need certain browser plug-ins, such as Adobe Acrobat and Quicktime. Contact your school to determine what equipment and technology you will need to successfully complete your online program.

How can I find a good online MA program?

Look for an accredited program. Accreditation signifies that the program meets certain minimum standards established by professionals in the field. Proper accreditation is a good indicator of quality.

To find an accredited medical assistant program, search the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs directory. You can search for programs in your home state, throughout the country, or online.

Find a program with a good reputation and a good job placement rate. The placement rate indicates how many of the program's graduates got hired as medical assistants. Many medical assisting schools now publish this information on their websites.

How much will it cost to become a medical assistant?

Program costs vary. Medical assistants who learn on the job may be paid for the time they spend learning. However, it is more common to enter the field after completing a certificate or associate program.

In general, a certificate program costs less than an associate program. It is wise to shop around, as the cost of a medical assistant certificate program or associate degree typically ranges from $3,500-$15,000.

Is financial aid available?

Grants, loans, and scholarships are available to eligible individuals who want to pursue medical assistant education. Grants do not need to be repaid and are often awarded based on financial need. Loans must be paid back with interest.

Scholarships do not need to be repaid. Most scholarships are awarded based on merit, but some also consider financial need.

To see if you are eligible for financial aid, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can do so online at

The financial aid office at your chosen school can guide you through the process, answer questions, and point you toward relevant grants and scholarships. It is also a good idea to conduct your own research and apply for as many scholarships as you can.

Do I have to pass a test to work as a medical assistant?

Not necessarily. Some medical assistants learn through on-the-job training. However, formal education through a medical assisting certificate, diploma, or associate program is the most common path to a medical assistant career.

Some medical assistants choose to take a certification exam after graduating from an accredited program. This exam is not required, and you may be able to find employment without becoming certified. Certification may increase your employment opportunities, however, as some physicians prefer to hire CMAs.

Featured Image: Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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