A medical assistant is an individual trained in assisting a medical office in a clinical, clerical or combined role; this might include clinics, hospitals, or a number of similar settings. Preparation for a career in medical assisting does not always require an associate's degree in medical assisting. Rather, an individual can enter the field after completing a certificate from a vocational high school program, a vocational school or a community college, as do 75 percent of those who practice the career. To earn an associate's degree in medical assisting, an individual must apply to and attend a community college for a period of about two years. During that time, a student will study a combination of classes geared to prepare her in the basics of both healthcare and clerical responsibilities.
Medical-related classes often required for an associate's degree in medical assisting include some that would be necessary for a certified nursing assistant student such as human anatomy, basic physiology, psychology and medical terminology. Other classes include those that would also be required for a nursing's major. These include a basic laboratory science, pharmacology and medication administration and classes that emphasize patient communication. A certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is also necessary. Clinical experience is usually required by scheduled observation in clinics and doctors' offices.
An associate's degree in medical assisting also requires a significant amount of training in clerical skills and office management. Typing and basic keyboard skills are assumed. Required classes require transcription, general office management and basic accounting skills. Specific clerical classes related to the medical field include insurance billing, claims processing and the basics of medical law and ethics. Practice in both these areas as internships in physicians' offices is often required before an associate's degree in medical assisting is awarded.
Most states do not require graduates with an associate's degree in medical assisting to sit for a licensure examination. Medical assistants may take tests or submit applications depending upon the specific requirements of such national credentialing as the American Association of Medical Assistants™ (AAMA) and Association of Medical Technologists™ (AMT); however, many avenues for advancement into other fields are available to graduates with an associate's degree in medical assisting. A three-month series of classes and successful completion of an examination can allow medical assistants to also obtain certified nursing assistant (CNA) credentials and a state certification that essentially serves as a nursing assistant's license. Medical assistants are also well positioned to earn associate's degrees in nursing, as they would only be required to take the nursing core curriculum classes.