Medical Assistant Training and Education

Training to be a Medical Assistant

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Medical Assistant Training and Education

ORBIS Staff volunteers and local hospital workers…—ORBIS UK (Flickr.com)

Medical assistants work in a wide variety of medical facilities and perform many administrative and clinical tasks. They work for physicians, chiropractors, podiatrists, orthodontists, and other medical practitioners and assist with many of the routine jobs that keep a medical practice running smoothly. Their duties vary from one office to the next, depending on the type of practice, how large it is, and where it’s located. Typically, though, medical assistants will interact a lot with patients, from taking their medical history and vital signs to scheduling appointments to giving injections and prepping blood samples.

The Skinny on Medical Assistant Training

The educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant are fairly minimal overall. In fact, most states have no formal requirements beyond a high school diploma, so often assistants simply learn through on-the-job training.

In most cases though, employers prefer assistants who have graduated from a formal education program. In addition, some states do require certified training before a medical assistant can perform more advanced tasks like taking x-rays, giving injections or drawing blood.

Starting Early

Even if you choose not to pursue certification or a training course in the field, you can still get a head start on your career by taking applicable courses in high school. Advanced placement courses in biology, chemistry and anatomy will give you a solid foundation as you begin to work with patients. And if you do go into an educational program, getting this early start will definitely help to shorten the learning curve and put you ahead of the game.

On-The-Job Training

If you are able to find a job right out of high school, you will begin working under the instruction of a physician or a more experienced medical assistant. They will teach you about the terminology, the instruments and the various procedures that are performed in that particular office. They will also instruct you in proper interaction with patients, record keeping, and other daily tasks that you will be expected to perform. Depending on the practice, your training period could take between three to six months before you’re proficient.


Education

As we’ve mentioned, however, most employers will prefer to hire certified medical assistants. In fact, many are insisting that their medical assistants earn certification from the AAMA (American Association of Medical Assistants) or one of the other similar certifying institutes – and these institutes typically require graduation from an accredited training program. In addition, the proper certification and education can make a difference in your starting pay grade, so it’s really worth your while to get the training before looking for a job.

There are a number of formal education options for aspiring medical assistants. Many postsecondary institutions like vocational schools, technical institutes, junior colleges, community colleges, and even online colleges offer educational programs for medical assistants.

An educational program will provide you with the skills and knowledge you will need in a busy doctor’s office. You’ll learn how to perform routine clinical tasks like:

– Collecting and preparing blood or other laboratory specimens

– Performing basic lab tests

– Drawing blood and giving injections

– Taking x-rays and electrocardiograms

– Removing sutures and changing wound dressings

– Sterilizing medical instruments

– Proper disposal of contaminated supplies

You will also learn how to interact with patients and doctors in the course of your work. Patients are often nervous or uncomfortable upon arrival and you will need to know how to put them at ease. Your job will also include instructing patients in how to take care of themselves after the doctor has done his job. You may need to teach them about a special diet or how to take a medication. You’ll also learn how to interpret and understand a physician’s instructions and be able to apply them correctly and efficiently.

Each course may be slightly different, but a typical training program for medical assistants will include topics like:

– Medical terminology

– Basic human anatomy and physiology

– Human body planes

– Infection control

– Emergency care

– Specimen collection and lab safety

– Phlebotomy (blood collecting)

– Medication injections

– Measuring pulse

– CPR

In addition, you will learn the skills needed to keep a physician’s office running smoothly and efficiently. You will learn about medical office professionalism, patient communication, and basic medical law along with more routine tasks like scheduling appointments, medical billing, filing insurance claims and recording patients’ medical history.

Certification

Several associations offer certification for medical assistants. Most of the programs require students to be at least 18 years of age before applying for certification. Some require graduation from a formal education program like the one described above; others simply require students to pass an exam.

The AAMA (American Association of Medical Assistants) is the most widely recognized institute, and is considered to be the gold standard in medical assisting certification. In order to be certified by the AAMA, a student will need to complete a training course in one of the accredited medical assisting programs. The program will include courses like those described above as well as a practicum which provides hands-on work experience. Once your training is complete, you may apply for and schedule your exam appointment.

Once you’ve passed the AAMA exam, you will receive a certificate and your CMA credential. Graduates are expected to keep this credential current by recertifying every 60 months. This can be done either through testing or through continuing education.

Other institutes that offer certification include:

– The American Medical Technologists

– The National Center for Competency Testing

– The National Healthcareer Association

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