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What it Takes to be a Medical Assistant

By Allen B. Ury

Medical Assistants remain in strong demand in most parts of the United States with employment growth expected to be much faster than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-13 Edition.  Becoming a professional Medical Assistant is a possible career choice for people who would like to enter the burgeoning health care field without the rigors or expense of actual medical training.

So what does it take to become a Medical Assistant?  Here are some guidelines:

  • The Right Personality.  Health care is a demanding field, one that is best suited for disciplined individuals who are able to handle a high degree of responsibility, detail and organization.  (We are talking about people's health and lives, after all.)  A Medical Assistant needs to be able to take instruction and, when necessary, criticism without becoming nervous, defensive or confrontational.  A Medical Assistant also needs to have good rapport, empathy and communications skills, even with patients who may be fearful or resistant.  (No one likes going to the doctor!)
  • The Right Training.  Although most states do not require Medical Assistants to have formal training, most employers look more favorably on applicants who have completed a Medical Assistant training program, preferably one accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).  Training usually takes nine to 10 months.  Look for programs that are convenient to where you live or work, have flexible schedules (especially if you're already working or have a family), are taught by experienced Medical Assistants and have strong student support and career development divisions.
  • Certification.  Again, certification is not mandatory, but certified Medical Assistants tend to have an easier time finding positions than those who are not, and also tend to command higher salaries.  Certification is offered by such professional groups as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT).
  • Continuing Education.  Once you are employed, it's wise to read professional journals to stay current with developments in your field, as well as take some continuing education courses to increase your marketable skills.   Many of these continuing education courses are available online, so you can take them at your own pace and on your own schedule.

Medical Assisting can be a challenging and rewarding career.  If you are ready to invest in what it takes to acquire the knowledge, skills and background employers seek, you should be able to enjoy a bright future in this growing and prestigious field.

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Medical Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm (visited May 21, 2013).


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