Medical team checking paperwork

How to Prepare for Medical Assistant School

Prepare for Medical Assisting School and Gain Certification

Medical team checking paperwork

Imagine working in a physician’s office or clinic, helping patients prepare to see a doctor—and even performing clinical tasks like taking vital signs and updating medical records. If this sounds interesting, you might enjoy a career as a Medical Assistant (MA). Appearing on our list of the Best Entry-Level Medical Jobs in 2022, a career as a Medical Assistant offers an attractive average salary* and a higher-than-average.

Before you begin your career as an MA, you’ll need to prepare for Medical Assistant school—including how to choose one, what to expect, and how to study to pass one of the many specialized licensing exams for MAs. But it all starts with finding the right accredited school and program.

This guide provides you with a good foundation, plus the tips and resources you’ll need to choose a Medical Assisting school with absolute confidence. As you consider your options, you may want to read about what makes Brook line College’s  Medical Assisting program a great choice.

Why Become a Medical Assistant?

Helping patients feel comfortable and relaxed as they prepare to see their doctor. Handling administrative duties like updating medical records. Performing simple clinical procedures. These are some of the duties Medical Assistants perform every day in physician’s offices, hospitals, or other healthcare facilities. Some of the other tasks MAs typically perform include:

  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Record patient history and personal information
  • Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure
  • Help physicians with patient examinations
  • Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests
  • Enter patient information into medical records

Keep in mind that your duties may vary by the type of facility you work in. For even more details on this career, read our article on How to Become a Medical Assistant.

Another reason to choose this medical career is its very strong job outlook. In fact, overall employment for MAs is projected to grow by 16% over the next decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. One factor contributing to this projected growth is that Medical Assistants are part of the expected shortage of more than 3.2 million healthcare workers in the U.S. over the next five years,

The BLS reports, as of May 2021, the average salary* for MAs was over $37,000, with the top 10 percent earning more than $48,000. On top of a good salary*, becoming an MA is also a solid foundation for moving on to other popular healthcare jobs, like Certified Nursing Assistant, Registered Nurse, and Physical Therapist Assistant.

Find the Right Medical Assisting Program for You

If this sounds like a great career for you, first, you’ll need to get accepted into Medical Assistant school. Finding the right school for you may require searching. That’s because you can discover MA programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities.

As you search various programs, consider whether you’d prefer to attend a smaller, more intimate school or college rather than a more prominent university. Also, think about whether an on-campus experience, an online-only program—or a combination of each is best.

Although licensing is not required in most states, many employers prefer to hire certified MAs. The type of certification you need varies depending on what kind of facility or location you plan to work. If required, you’ll need to pass a certification exam in the state you plan to work (more on that later).

The length of MA programs can vary, depending on whether you’re seeking a diploma or a degree. Most diploma programs take about a year to complete. Another option is to complete an associate degree program, which usually takes about two years of school.

However, some diploma programs can be completed in a shorter time. For example, the Medical Assisting program at Brookline College can be completed in as little as 9 months. A one-year MA certificate program ranges anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. For an associate degree, in-state resident costs can reach $5,400 per year, and non-residents will pay up to $10,800 per year.

Female healthcare worker in a hospital corridor

How to Get Into Medical Assistant School

To apply for Medical Assisting school, you’ll usually provide your personal information and official high school transcripts and complete any required prerequisites. You may also need to meet with a school representative or take an entry exam.

Some schools require prospects to apply by specific deadlines to get into programs that start only once or twice a year. For example, Brookline College offers MA programs at several campuses, but the program start dates are usually the same for each campus. Medical Assisting requirements will vary by school, but you should plan to apply for admission at least two months before you start school.

If you don’t get accepted to your preferred MA program—or miss the next enrollment date—don’t worry. You can apply again at the following program deadline or consider other programs.

What Are the Medical Assistant School Prerequisites?

You may wonder what to study before Medical Assistant school. Prerequisite coursework (and GPA minimums) will vary by school, but high school students interested in Medical Assisting can prepare early by taking classes like biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Important qualities for prospective MA students include analytical, interpersonal, and technical skills. It’s also helpful to be detail-oriented. Ask the school counselor or program advisor for a complete list of required prerequisites.

Some programs may require you to take an entrance assessment exam or take part in an interview. For example, Brookline College requires that prospective students pass the TEAS exam (Test of Essential Academic Skills), a comprehensive exam to determine a student’s readiness for school.

The TEAS exam tests students in four subject areas: Reading, Math, Science, and English/Language Usage. More challenging questions are given more weight, but the score needed to pass varies by school.

Is Medical Assistant School Hard?

Like most programs, MA school requires a commitment to attend classes, study, take exams, and complete a clinical internship. Although your program may only take about a year, you’ll want to spend that time wisely by prioritizing studying. You’ll find that MA school is not too difficult as long as you are committed to keeping up with your studies.

Although it may be a full year of classes and studying, it’s manageable. Even if you don’t do your best on every assignment or exam, you can still make up for it and come out ahead. With a solid plan and a good attitude, you’ll be on your way to earning your diploma.

Medical Assistant School Success Tips

Succeeding in Medical Assistant school is easier when you focus on the essentials. That means choosing the right school for your needs, getting familiar with the school’s program, and creating a study plan to navigate your way through to graduation. Following are seven Medical Assisting school tips to help you succeed:

1. Create a Plan and Stick to It

As you create a study plan for attending class and labs, doing homework, and preparing for exams, make sure you set aside blocks of time where you can realistically accomplish these tasks. Follow through on your plan and stick to your schedule. But make sure also to schedule time for recreation, exercising, and getting enough sleep each night. Studying is important, but so is finding a balance that will keep your body energized and your mind sharp.

2. Take Advantage of Your Resources

Remember, you chose your program because it has the instructors, facilities, clinical capabilities and other resources you need to succeed in your career. Don’t pass up any opportunities to ask questions, sign up for labs, and access online materials or study aids. Raise your hand and be proactive in getting a complete education you searched so hard to find.

3. Get to Know Medical Terminology

You’ll learn important terminology that Medical Assistants, Physicians, and other healthcare workers use daily. Terms like hypotension, embolism, or neutrophils may not be everyday words outside a clinic or doctor’s office. Still, these words will be part of your daily language as a Medical Assistant. Master these terms and definitions as part of your studies.

Two medical students comparing notes

4. Study with Classmates

Your fellow MA school students are in this experience with you. You may be given team assignments, lab groups, and opportunities to create study groups with classmates. Use these opportunities to learn from others, ask questions, and share ideas. You’ll also build communication skills, manage relationships, set priorities, and discover many other valuable skills along the way.

5. Don’t Worry About What You Can’t Control

You can’t always control who your instructors will be, which clinical labs you’ll be assigned, or what distractions may come up during the year. But you can also control many things—like when you’ll study, how you’ll interact with others, and how much sleep you’ll get each night. Try to focus on the things you can control, and don’t stress too much about everything else.

6. Prepare for an Externship

Depending on the Medical Assistant school you choose, you’ll probably experience an externship as part of your program. This means you can learn what it’s like to work as a Medical Assistant in a real doctor’s office, clinic, or another medical facility. When given this opportunity, show up on time, work hard, and be eager to learn valuable on-the-job skills based on what you learned in your program.

7. Plan Ahead for Certification

You may already know which Medical Assistant certification you want to pursue after finishing your program. Visit the website of the organization that offers the credential, become familiar with the certification exam content, and follow the suggested steps for preparing for your certification exam.

What Certifications Are Available for Medical Assistants?

You may have heard of the most popular certification, the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). But that’s just one of many certifications available to recent graduates of an accredited program. The best certification for you will depend on the type of office or facility you plan to work in (doctor’s office, hospital, podiatrist’s office, etc.) and how much clinical work you’ll be performing in your role instead of administrative work.

Below are five of the most popular MA certifications for increasing your knowledge and skillsets and advancing your career:

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Passing the CMA (AAMA) exam demonstrates that a Medical Assistant has been educated and tested in a wide scope of general, clinical, and administrative responsibilities. The CMA certification is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Be sure to read our tips on How to Pass the CMA Exam.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

Passing the RMA exam certifies MAs through a comprehensive set of both administrative and clinical skillsets. The American Medical Technologists (AMT) provides this certification, which signifies a respected, rigorous credential that highlights a keen knowledge of quality patient care and expertise. To set yourself up for success, dive into our tips on How to Pass the RMA Exam.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

Passing the NCMA exam certifies MAs with well-rounded clinical and administrative skills. The NCMA certification may be the best option for those who wish to work in medical practices such as physicians’ offices or outpatient clinics. This certification is offered through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Not sure where to begin? A good place to start is by reading How to Pass the NCMA Exam.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

Passing the CCMA exam certifies MAs and helps them access better career opportunities with a stronger clinical focus. The CCMA certification is geared toward those who wish to be more involved with clinical procedures than with overall office administration and is offered through the National Healthcare Association (NHA).You can read our guide on How to Pass the CCMA Exam to help you prepare.

Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC)

Passing the PMAC exam distinguishes MAs with the standard for excellence in the profession of Podiatric Medical Assisting. This test is designed for podiatric Medical Assistants employed in a podiatry office that are in good standings with the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA). For more tips on how to study  and pass ,read How to Pass the PMAC Exam.

For more details on each of the above certifications, read our more detailed article on the best Medical Assistant certifications for your career.

How to Study for Your Certification Exam

Deciding the best way to study for your certification exam will depend on which exam you are preparing to take. For example, preparing for the CMA exam may include

reviewing the content outline for the CMA exam and then taking the AAMA Computer-Based Testing Tutorial. This practice exam gives candidates a good idea of what they can expect when they take the real exam.

Medical Assistant helping a patient complete paperwork

Get Started on Your Medical Assistant School Search Today

If becoming a Medical Assistant and gaining certification from one of the governing organizations listed above sounds like an attractive career choice for you, it may be time to start your search for a Medical Assistant school. With a very strong job outlook over the next decade and many options for employment in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and clinics nationwide, you could be starting your new career in about a year.

With the information you’ve picked up in this guide, you’re ready to choose a Medical Assistant school with confidence. To get started on your search, take a few minutes to read about what makes Brookline College a great choice.