Medical Assistant Training Explained

The Crucial Importance of Hands-on Experience with Patients & Equipment

The field of medical assisting is growing rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job growth of 23 percent for medical assistants from 2014 to 2024, which outpaces other healthcare support positions by 4 percent. But unlike many other healthcare positions, medical assistants are not required to pursue formal education in order to begin working in their profession. However, training is still vitally important, as the job does require in-depth knowledge and certain skills that can only be obtained through hands-on experience. This guide focuses on medical assistant training, what aspiring assistants can expect from their hands-on learning, and resources that can help those who are pursuing this worthy career path.

Medical Assisting Training & Education: Complementary Methods for Learning

Training Education
Does not always include formal education. Includes training.
Most employers require formal training. Most states and some employers do not require formal education.
Focused on learning the hands-on skills enabling the medical assistant to do the job effectively. Focused on learning the theory behind the job.
Can allow someone to begin work immediately, because learning can be done on-the-job. Facilitates learning by doing. Some time must be spent in the classroom before hands-on training can begin.
Physical points of training can’t be learned through education. For instance, a person can be educated on how to properly give an injection, but they don’t really do it until they go through training. Formal education enables students to learn the “whys” of the job.

The Importance of Medical Assistant Training

Though formal education is not required for medical assistants, many employers prefer it – and that might be due to the fact that higher education for the job also includes vital hands-on training. Medical assistant education and training together is considered important for a variety of reasons:

#1

The healthcare field changes rapidly, offering new and innovative techniques and treatments, and medical assistants must be right on top of what is best for their patients and for the employer as well.

#2

Formal education cannot teach some important aspects of medical assisting, such as what to listen for when taking a blood pressure reading or how to properly assess a patient’s medical history.

#3

According to O*Net Online, medical assistants fall into Job Zone 3, which means that medium preparation is needed. This means that employees might need one or two years of training to begin work and will also receive on-the-job training.

#4

Many of the tools used in the job require hands-on work in order to become familiar with them. These might include hypodermic needles, blood pressure cuffs, nebulizers, otoscope sets and more. Technologies used also require hands-on training; these might include accounting and medical billing software, scheduling software, electronic medical records and the like.

#5

A survey of medical assistants found that 84 percent are in constant contact with others, 83 percent have daily telephone conversations, 76 percent have face-to-face discussions with team members, and 66 percent work in very close proximity with others (as you might expect from taking vital signs). This close contact requires strong interpersonal and communication skills, some of which can only be learned over time and exposure to the office atmosphere.

Where is Medical Assistant Training Available? How is it Acquired?

Medical assistant training is available in a wide variety of places. Here are just a few ways aspiring medical assistants can find the training they need.

On the job

This is a common way to get medical assistant training. In fact, even when students pursue formal education, this on-the-job training is still a requirement. New hires can expect to get a crash-course in everything from the use of blood pressure units to the software that keeps the schedules accurate.

A non-degree program

A certificate or diploma program lasts anywhere from a few months to a year, and provides students with a basic understanding of medical assisting. This often includes some educational courses as well as hands-on training that will prepare students to handle what will be expected of them throughout the course of their career.

An associate degree program

The formal education provided in this program comes along with a healthy dose of hands-on training. Many programs require internships or other work experience in order to graduate, so those who earn the degree might also have an edge when it comes to moving into an entry-level job, as they already have a variety of useful hands-on skills.

Internships

Though internships are a typical part of associate degree programs for medical assisting, internships are also available to those who are not enrolled in degree programs. Hospitals, clinics and the like might offer unpaid internships to those who have an interest in medical assisting or a related career; these provide significant on-the-job training.

The military

Few places offer training as thorough as the Armed Forces. Those who learn the ropes of medical assisting in the military might work in clinics and military hospitals. They might receive some formal education as well.

High school dual credit course

Why not get started early? These courses available for high school students open doors to medical assisting programs while providing some hands-on training that will hold them in good stead when they look for a job. In fact, this might prepare students to move into the profession immediately upon graduation from high school.

Components of Medical Assistant Training

Medical assistants quickly learn that training is important. Their abilities, skills and knowledge are routinely tested on the job. These are some of the key points that will be honed through ongoing medical assistant training.

Abilities Required
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Excellent communication
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Technical skills
Skills Acquired
  • An understanding of medical terminology
  • An ability to complete medical-related tasks
  • Identifying instruments
  • Understanding and use of electronic medical records
  • Administering medications, including injections
  • Proper recording of patient information
  • Drawing blood and sending specimens to the right place
Tools & Technology
  • Eye charts or vision cards
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Blood pressure units
  • Nebulizers and accessories
  • Audiometers and accessories
  • Otoscopes
  • Metric rules
  • Alcohol analyzers
  • Dictation machines
  • EKG units
  • Enema kits
  • Lancets
  • Suture removers
  • Tourniquets
  • Vacuum blood specimen containers
Technology
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Accounting software
  • Network conferencing software
  • EMR software
  • Medical procedure coding software
  • Calendars and scheduling systems
  • Office suites
  • Categorization, classification and filing systems
Tasks Learned
  • How to use a blood pressure unit
  • How to give injections
  • How to take vital signs (respiration, heart rate, etc.)
  • How to handle in-office medical emergencies
  • Running all office programs and tools
  • Understanding medical charts
  • How to draw blood (depending upon what the state allows)
  • How to use medical monitors (EKGs, blood sugar monitors, etc.)

Interview with a Medical Assisting Expert

Patricia Angeles discusses medical assistant training.

Many states don’t require formal training. Why should a medical assistant pursue training anyway? 

Having worked in the field for over nine years, I have come to realize that my formal training gave me a solid base to build my career upon. I have great respect for people who jump in without training, as it is a very detail oriented profession and is usually fast paced. Not only do you have to cater to your patients but to your doctors as well. You have to have the ability to think quick, retain memory and use common medical knowledge to problem solve. Though all of these can be obtained through experience, many offices choose formally trained medical assistants because they have gone through internship and know how a typical medical office setting operates. When I was fresh out of internship and newly hired, my formal training looked great on my resume and helped me stand out from the crowd.

What was the most difficult part of training for you, and how did you overcome it?

The most difficult part for me was externship. I had gone to one of the most laborious and “raw” clinics. Meaning, I trained on site for three days, then after three days, I was expected to draw medication, know insurance processes and juggle assisting three doctors at a time. This seemed overwhelming at first, but because I went through a great school, had amazing teachers and was hands on in class, I was able to handle my externship well. When I got stuck, I had my notes and my references as well as my teacher (who was a doctor) to assist me. I also asked questions, no matter how many they were, so I was able to be on my own without my on site supervisor.

Any advice you might offer those who are curious about becoming a medical assistant?

Always keep learning. Being in the medical field is a learning experience, no matter how long or what role you play. If are curious and voracious for knowledge, you will go far.

Always stand out from the crowd. I’m praised for being pro-active and adaptable to any situation. This allowed me to stand out because I actively look for things to do and ways to improve processes and workflows. It goes through the grapevine pretty quickly and soon enough it’ll reach the right people. But your negative critiques go through it faster. Always be professional and be proud of what you do, as it will show in your work.