Online Medical Assistant Programs Combining an Online Education with Hands-on Training

With a computer and an Internet connection, aspiring medical assistants can begin their professional education from almost anywhere. But because medical assistants perform clinical and administrative tasks, online medical assisting students also have to venture into real-world health care environments to complete their education.

Medical assistant programs online usually follow a hybrid or blended approach, requiring a combination of web-based and in-person learning. Students can avoid attending classes on campus, but have to complete a clinical experience at a local health care setting under the supervision of a qualified health care professional. Online medical assistant programs can help their students find appropriate clinical settings.

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Advantages of Online Medical Assistant Education

Online classes are a good fit for motivated adult learners. Many online medical assistant programs have rolling start dates, or multiple start dates, throughout the year, so students don’t have to wait for the traditional start of the school year or semester to begin their education. Online education also makes education more accessible so that nearly anyone can learn how to be a medical assistant.

Online medical assistant programs offer maximum flexibility. Because course materials are online, students don’t have to worry about getting to school at a certain time for class. Students don’t need to waste time commuting either, especially those facing a long, tough drive during the winter months. It's possible to log in and complete work at the times that are most convenient for students — and their families.

Action Plan: How to Choose an Online Medical Assistant Program


Students should determine what kind of medical assistant education they're looking for: a post-secondary certificate or an associate degree program in medical assisting. A certificate may take less time to complete, while an associate degree can offer a more well-rounded educational approach that some employers prefer.


In order to qualify for most medical assisting professional certifications, students should seek out an accredited program. An accredited online medical assistant program provides courses intended to adequately prepare future medical assistants to successful pass a certification test. In order to be accredited, a program must meet certain minimum standards that have been established by professionals who work in the field. For example, to earn the designation of Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), a student must be a graduate or near the completion of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program.

Find an accredited online medical assistant program at the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs website.


It's a good idea to look up at least five of the accredited programs and examine the admissions requirements and prerequisites, program cost, required courses, and potential financial aid and academic support. Reach out to the programs that seem the most interesting and speak to an admissions counselor, who should be able to answer questions about the program. Another suggestion is to talk to former students and graduates of the program.

How Does Online Education Differ from Classroom Instruction?

Because online education is so flexible, it requires a great deal of personal accountability and self-motivation. Online education works best for adults who are willing to do whatever it takes to advance their education – even if “what it takes” is logging onto the computer after tucking the kids into bed after a full day of work. The best online programs mirror campus programs in many ways, with a few differences.

  • With distance learning, students can usually “show up” whenever it is convenient for them. Because the coursework is online, they can generally access it any time, and from anywhere.

  • The digital learning experience may include watching a pre-recorded or live streaming video or reading and working with online, interactive text.

  • Communications with the teacher — and perhaps with classmates — take place electronically. Instead of raising their hand to ask the teacher a question, students shoot the instructor an email or online message.

  • Often, students are able to progress at their own speed, taking the time they need to digest a complex concept or a new list of medical terms.

Online Medical Assisting Programs: The Tools That Make It Possible

Assisting providers in a medical setting requires hands-on training. While online medical assistant programs vary in how the curriculum is structured and what learning tools are made available, some schools offer the following to their students:

Comprehensive online learning portal with customized dashboard and links to learning and training materials. Students can create to-do lists and see what tasks are coming up.

Books and learning aids such as stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs

Practical Demonstrations: Some schools offer live webcam instruction of patient assessment and care.

Hands-on training: look for programs where externships are required. Hours vary, some schools require approval of externship and at least 200 hours devoted to externship. A future medical assistant can practice these skills in a health care facility – most likely, in a doctor’s office near their home. Online medical assistant schools can help students find and establish a relationship with an appropriate clinical setting. During the clinical portion of their studies, students work closely with a health care professional who can help them learn on-the-job skills and perfect their clinical technique. This supervisor also shares observations of student progress with the school's faculty, making an important contribution to the overall educational process.

In Depth: Online Associate Degree in Medical Assisting

Not all medical assisting programs are identical, but many resemble each other in skills and knowledge learned and time to graduation. The following breakdown of an online associate degree program in medical assisting provides a quick look at what students can expect to encounter from start to finish. Students seeking a postsecondary certificate in medical assisting without obtaining a degree may also take several of the following courses, with the exception of the general coursework.

General Coursework
Class Estimated Credits
English Composition 4
Computer Skills and Applications 3
Introduction to Biology 4
Introduction to Psychology 3
Elective 3
Semester One
Class Estimated Credits
Introduction to Allied Health 2
Ethics and Law in Medicine 3
Medical Terminology 3
Anatomy I 3
Anatomy II 3
Mathematics for Business 3
Elective 3
Semester Two
Class Estimated Credits
Medical Coding 3
Pharmacology 3
Writing for Business 3
Medical Transcription 3
Insurance Claims & Reimbursement 3
Elective 3
Semester Three
Class Estimated Credits
Communication (Interpersonal) 1
Medical Records 3
Nutrition 3
Clinical Procedures Theory 3
Clinical Procedures Lab 1
Externship 5

Note: Notice the inclusion of both the clinical procedures lab and the externship. These help students gain the requisite hands-on training needed to begin working as a medical assistant after graduation. See “Gaining Clinical Experience” below for more detail.

Medical Assisting FAQ

What medical assisting certifications are available?

While numerous medical assisting certifications are available, there are five recognized by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)

For in-depth information on medical assistant credentialing, visit our Guide to Medical Assistant Certification.

How much do medical assistants earn?

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants earned a 2014 mean annual wage of $31,220 nationwide. Medical assistants in the 90th percentile earned $42,760, and those in the 10th percentile earned $21,540.

The five top-paying states for medical assistants in 2014 were:
The five top-paying industries for medical assistants are as follows:
How is the future job outlook for medical assistants?

As is the case with healthcare support occupations in general, job outlook is expected to be very good for medical assistants over the next several years. The percent change in employment 2014-2024 is projected at 23 percent for medical assistants, which is categorized as “much faster than average” for all occupations, according to the BLS. The five states with the highest level of employment for medical assistants in 2014 were:

State Employment Employment per
Thousand Jobs
California 81,240 5.37
Texas 55,620 4.95
Florida 40,770 5.32
Pennsylvania 23,860 4.22
New York 23,780 2.70

Medical Assistant Resources

Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools

Search for a particular health education school by entering the ABHES identification number or school name. Distance education programs are also included.

American Association of Medical Assistants

Learn all about the Certified Medical Assistant accreditation, including details on the exam, continuing education, membership and current events at this website.

American Association of Medical Personnel, Study Guide

Here you’ll find comprehensive study guides for registered medical assistant exams.

American Medical Technologists

AMT is an internationally recognized certification agency for a variety of medical support careers, including medical assistants and medical technologists.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Assistants

The BLS is the number one authority on salary, job outlook, and job descriptions for thousands of jobs, including medical assistants.

Explore Health Careers, Medical Assistant

This website, sponsored by the American Dental Education Association, offers details on a variety of healthcare support careers, including medical assistants. Learn about working conditions and more.

Medical Assistant, U.S. News & World Report

This page includes medical assistant career details, including upward mobility and job satisfaction.

Medical Assistants Resources and Training on Immunization

Medical assistants are commonly on the front lines of immunization administration. This site offers up-to-date information on vaccine administration and more.

Payscale, Medical Assistant

Learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about medical assistant salaries, including how location, experience, and employer can all affect salary earnings.

The Medical Board of California, Medical Assistants

This authority site for medical careers in California details the rules and regulations for medical assistants in the state. A quick search should help students find the same information for their state.

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