Are you curious about becoming a medical assistant but don’t know where to start? Have you heard about online programs that teach medical assisting and wondered if they might be an option for you?
Well, this article will give you information about a career in medical assisting as well as examine the advantages and disadvantages of online learning, which is a good option for some students. Read on to learn if an online medical assistant diploma or degree is the right choice for you.
Advantages of a Medical Assisting Career
Medical assisting as a profession is a great place to be right now. Growth in medical assistant jobs is expected to exceed both total employment and jobs within the healthcare sector over the next decade.
Another plus for medical assisting is the flexibility that comes with the career. Medical assistants work in both clinical and administrative capacities, and some perform both kinds of tasks in their workplaces.
If you prefer to spend your days offering hands-on patient care, you can select a job that is purely clinical. On the other hand, if you would like to manage a medical office or assist another person in that role, you can also be an administrative medical assistant. This is a nice option for people who don’t want to be on their feet all day or for people who prefer to work more behind the scenes than always with the public.
Medical assistants are rarely bored, as their duties can have such a wide variety. While administrative medical assistants handle scheduling, insurance claims, filing, office supplies, and accounts, clinical medical assistants perform tasks like:
- greeting patients and preparing them for exams
- taking patient histories and vital signs
- helping patients with forms
- assisting advanced practitioners (physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) with exams, procedures, and diagnostic tests
- giving immunizations
- sterilizing equipment and prep rooms
- phoning the pharmacy about prescriptions on behalf of the prescriber
- handling specimens for testing
However, if you enjoy one aspect of the job, such as taking x-rays or drawing blood (phlebotomy), you may be able to find a position doing just those tasks.
Medical assistants also work in specialty areas. If you have an interest in geriatrics, OB/GYN, pediatrics, cardiology, pulmonology, orthopedics, or dermatology, for example, you can also pursue jobs in these areas. In addition to your basic training to become a medical assistant (which we’ll address later), you’ll get on-the-job training for tasks particular to these specialties, like taking EKGs, helping with prenatal exams, or assisting with splints and casts.
Pathways to Becoming a Medical Assistant
One of the biggest advantages to a career in medical assisting, hence its own section here, is the number of pathways to obtaining work in this field. All you need to begin is a high school diploma (or its equivalent).
Although it’s less common today, it is possible to find medical assisting jobs where the employer conducts all the training, meaning you don’t have to enroll in a formal program. This is usually a good option for someone who either has a medical background already or has a family member willing train them or connect them to a colleague in need.
Most medical assistants these days go through either a brick-and-mortar college program or complete their training online. There are also hybrid programs that mix in-house and online training.
With both options, you have the choice of a one-year medical assisting diploma or a two-year Associate’s degree in medical assisting. There are benefits to each path. The one-year diploma is shorter and less costly, but the two-year degree may open up more jobs to you.
A one-year program can be ideal for someone that already has an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in another subject. A two-year program is perfect if you think you might like to ultimately get your Bachelor’s degree, as many of the credits will transfer, and you’ll basically be halfway to a Bachelor’s with your Associate’s degree.
With both types of study, you will need to complete an internship or externship to receive hands-on training with real patients (under supervision) and to learn more about how real-life medical offices function in different areas of medicine. With online clinical medical assistant programs, this outside work is especially important, since most students work on their own up to this point.
Pros and Cons of Online Learning
Online classes for medical assistant work have a number of things going for them. Many students that aspire to a career in medical assisting need to work until they find a job. Studying online means they can arrange a schedule to accommodate both work and education.
This is also an advantage for students that need to be home with children during the day or have other similar responsibilities that necessitate studying during off hours. If you are the parent of young kids, an online program can be a less stressful and reasonably priced way to move into a new career.
Don’t just think about the cost of tuition when you budget for medical assisting coursework. You need to factor in things like childcare, commuting, and loss of work. You may have to pay for parking or purchase meals while you are at school, when these could be had for free at home.
Online classes are also ideal for self starters who don’t need a lot of supervision in their courses. Perhaps you typically move faster through academic work than your peers, and you get bored waiting for others to catch up. Online medical assisting curricula are well suited for people who may need a little more time to learn the material, particularly if healthcare and medicine are new to them. You can relax and take your time with your coursework when you study online.
There aren’t a lot of cons to online classes, but they should be mentioned. Obviously, studying online doesn’t give you the human interaction you get with an in-house program. If you frequently raise your hand in class and like questions answered immediately, you may become frustrated with distance learning.
Also, when you’re in a conventional college class, you have the opportunity to meet other people with whom you might like to form a study group or who can offer tips for finding work after graduation.
The biggest disadvantage to the remote study of medical assisting is that you have to wait until your internship or externship to get any hands-on experience, which can be tough for people who aim to be clinical medical assistants. It’s important when doing your internship or externship to get as much practical exposure as possible. Prior to that, look for course with lots of video content, so you can watch people doing common medical assistant tasks, rather than just reading about them.
Requirements Beyond Online Coursework
In addition to an internship or externship, you will likely be required to become certified or registered once you complete your coursework, whether with a traditional program or an online one. This shows that you can meet national standards for medical assisting knowledge and skills, and it’s currently required by many employers.
Becoming certified will boost your confidence with real patients and show people you are committed to a career in medical assisting. Certification or registration is quite common in many healthcare professions, like emergency medical technician (EMT) or nursing assistant (CAN).
Your academic program may track you to certify or register through a particular agency, or it may be left up to you to choose. All credentials through these four entities entail paying a small fee and taking an exam:
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
You’ll learn before you even sign up for a medical assisting diploma or degree if your academic institution requires you to pass a specific exam. Often the programs are entitled “Certified Medical Assistant,” so you know that’s the ultimate goal when you finish. Having your institution walk you through all the steps you need can be a tremendous help.
Landing a Job After School Ends
Online programs are becoming much more common than in days past, and many employers view them equally with conventional medical assisting programs, especially if you complete a highly regarded online curriculum.
As well as earning high grades, you’ll want to make sure you complete certification or registration after your courses. And naturally, you’ll want to excel during your internship or externship, so employers see how well you handle yourself with real-life patients. A letter of recommendation from your internship or externship host is always a great way to put yourself ahead of other job competition. In fact, many medical assistants go on to work for the very institutions where they completed their internships because they did so well.
The other way to gain an advantage over other job candidates as a medical assistant is to get some healthcare work experience while you’re in school. Although you may not get wages for it at the time, volunteer work can pay off later when you land your ideal job. Think about places and events in your community, like free clinics and fun runs, where your donated time would be appreciated. And if you pursue a medical assisting program online, you’ll be able to arrange your schedule perfectly to participate!
- Medical Assistant Professional provides relevant and helpful articles about schools, training, jobs and more.
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