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Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Medical Assistant

Posted Monday, Apr 26, 2021 by Altierus

Medical assistants are part of the support staff at clinics and physicians’ offices. They perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep their office or department running smoothly and ensure patients are seen promptly by the physician or nurse on duty.

Duties of a Medical Assistant

What do medical assistants do?

Medical assistants carry out a mix of clinical and administrative duties. These can vary depending on the individual employer and state laws regulating medical assistants, but usually include:

  • Welcoming patients to the practice or department
  • Answering and making phone calls
  • Calling in referrals or prescriptions on behalf of a patient
  • Preparing exam rooms and assisting the physician during an exam
  • Measuring patients’ height, weight and blood pressure
  • Collecting patient blood samples and preparing them to be sent to the lab
  • Updating patient records
  • Assisting with bookkeeping or ordering supplies
  • Removing stitches, administering an injection or dressing wounds as directed by a physician or nurse

You can read more about medical assistant duties in our article, “Do Medical Assistants Draw Blood? (And Other Questions)” or our article “A Day in the Life of a Medical Assistant”.

Are there different kinds of medical assistants?

Medical assistants can sometimes be classed as clinical medical assistants or administrative medical assistants.

  • Clinical medical assistants will focus mostly on assisting with medical exams, lab sample collection, and other tasks that help with diagnosing or caring for a patient.
  • Administrative medical assistants will focus on patient record management, bookkeeping, making phone calls, and similar tasks.  

Most medical assistants perform both clinical and administrative tasks.

Where do medical assistants work?

In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 57% of medical assistants worked in doctors’ offices. 15% worked for hospitals, 8% in outpatient care clinics, and 4% worked in chiropractors’ offices.[1]

Are medical assistants and physicians’ assistants different?

Yes! Medical assistants provide administrative support and perform basic clinical tasks. They usually have a post-secondary certificate or diploma, but not a degree.

Physicians’ assistants (PAs) can examine, treat and diagnose patients under the direction of a physician. Depending on the state where they practice, PAs may also prescribe medication and order tests, such as x-rays. According to the BLS, PAs in most states must hold a master’s degree and obtain a license to practice.[2]

You can learn more about the difference between these two occupations in our article, “

How to Become a Medical Assistant

What do you need to know before becoming a medical assistant?

To apply to our medical assistant diploma program, you need to be a high school graduate or hold a GED. We don’t require you to have taken specific prerequisites, but it can help if you have a good grasp of math and science concepts, as well as attention to detail.

How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

Typically, it takes less than a year to train for a career as a medical assistant. At Altierus, you can train to become a medical assistant in as few as 10 months of study. If you choose to pursue certification, you may need a few more months to prepare for your exam after you graduate (see below for more information).

Do you need a degree to become a medical assistant?

You do not. As mentioned above, you can qualify to pursue medical assistant jobs after earning a post-secondary diploma.

In some states, it is possible to become a medical assistant with on-the-job training. However, employers are likely to prefer candidates with formal training and certification.  

Do medical assistants need certification?

You don’t need to have certification to get a job as a medical assistant. However, earning certification can help you stand out when you begin applying for medical assistant roles after graduation.  

Two of the most common certification programs available for medical assistants are:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) administered by American Medical Technologists

When you train to become a medical assistant with Altierus, we will help you prepare for one of these certification exams.

Why Become a Medical Assistant?

How much do medical assistants earn?

Nationwide, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for medical assistants was $34,800 in May 2019. The bottom 10% of medical assistants earned less than $25,820, while the top 10% of earners made more than $48,720.[3]

Salaries vary according to employer and location. Altierus offers its medical assistant diploma program in Florida, Georgia and Texas, where salaries were as follows:

What Medical Assistants Make in Florida (May 2019)[4]

  • Median: $33,340
  • Bottom 10%: $26,080 or less
  • Top 10%: $42,880 or more

What Medical Assistants Make in Georgia (May 2019)[5]

  • Median: $32,990
  • Bottom 10%: $24,000 or less
  • Top 10%: $43,200 or more

What Medical Assistants Make in Texas (May 2019)[6]

  • Median: $31,980
  • Bottom 10%: $23,020 or less
  • Top 10%: $42,640 or more

What are some pros and cons of a becoming a medical assistant?

Pros: As a medical assistant, you have the opportunity to make patients’ visits to the doctor or hospital more pleasant and efficient. You’ll be trained to perform a wide variety of tasks, from paperwork to drawing blood. You can also be ready to pursue a career as a medical assistant without spending years in college—our medical assistant diploma program can take as few as 10 months.

Cons: While most medical assistants work office hours, some who work at clinics that are open 24/7 may be asked to work nights and weekends, too. Also, because medical assistants work in healthcare, they may have to deal with patients who are upset, severely injured or in serious distress.

Is it worth it to become a medical assistant?

If you like helping people and are interested in medicine, training to become a medical assistant can be a great way to get on the path to a fulfilling career. Plus, demand for medical assistants is projected to grow quickly over the next ten years. The BLS projects that job openings for medical assistants should grow by 19% over the 2019-2029 period—much faster than the 4% growth rate for all jobs.[7]

Training to become a medical assistant can teach you in-demand skills that make a difference for others. We’d say that’s definitely worth it!

Learn More About Becoming a Medical Assistant

Request more information about Altierus Career College’s medical assistant diploma today!


[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-3

[2] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-4

[3] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-5

[4] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/31-9092.00?st=FL&g=Go

[5] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/31-9092.00?st=GA&g=Go

[6] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/31-9092.00?st=TX&g=Go

[7] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-6

Train for a career as a Medical Assistant

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