Medical Assisting Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Medical Assisting?

As our population ages, the demand for health care services continues to increase. Careers in health care are numerous, which means becoming a doctor or nurse isn’t the only way to land a job in this exciting field. Some positions require working directly with patients, while others are focused on completing behind the scenes tasks and duties. Earning a medical assisting degree is a way to do a little of both.

Medical assistants can find jobs in almost every type of health care facility. They are found working in hospitals, private physician’s practices, clinics, and more. For those interested in health care careers, earning a medical assisting degree is an excellent way to break into the field without breaking the bank.

Duties for medical assistants vary widely by the size and type of location at which they work. As a medical assisting major, you’ll learn the clinical and administrative skills needed for these entry-level positions. If you enjoy helping others live a healthier life, a medical assisting degree could be the first step toward a profitable career in the health care field.

Types of Degrees in Medical Assisting

Earning a medical assisting degree typically takes less time and financial resources than earning other types of health care related degrees. Medical assisting degree programs are an excellent way to gain the skills and career training needed to quickly enter the workforce without spending a fortune on school. Training and educational programs tend to focus specifically on the skills and knowledge needed to perform the job, rather than providing a broad education over topics that do not directly relate to the field. As such, most medical assisting degrees are found at the certificate and associate degree levels.

As a medical assisting major, you can expect to spend the majority of your time studying the career-related skills and knowledge that will prepare you for success. Online degrees in medical assisting are a popular way to complete any necessary educational requirements. Through online education, students have the ability to complete the classroom components of their education from the comfort of their own home. This also allows them to study at a time that is convenient for them, making online degrees perfect for those with prior work or family commitments. Many medical assisting students choose to pursue their education online while also holding down a full-time job. After finishing the classroom components, a short practicum or internship may be required to be completed at a local health care facility.

Undergraduate Certificates in Medical Assisting

One reason to pursue a career in medical assisting is that it doesn’t require a long-term educational commitment. Many medical assistants choose career training programs to prepare them for entry into the job market. Upon graduation, these programs generally award an undergraduate certificate or diploma in medical assisting. Unlike doctors and nurses who may spend several years in school, students can expect to earn a medical assisting certificate in about one year. While most states do not require medical assistants to be licensed, medical assisting degree graduates may wish to pursue further professional certification in order to make them more competitive while seeking employment. Typical courses at this level include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Introduction to Medical Terminology
  • Fundamentals of Medical Assisting
  • Basics of Insurance Coding
  • Laboratory Techniques for Medical Assistants

Associate Degrees in Medical Assisting

Students seeking more than basic career training may wish to pursue a medical assisting degree at the associate level. While still providing an educational experience focused on obtaining professional skills, associate degrees also provide students with a broad knowledge of other topics due to the requirement of general education courses. This more advanced degree may make graduates more attractive to potential employers than a certificate alone, giving them a leg up on other candidates in the job market. For students enrolled full-time, associate degree programs can usually be completed within two years of study. A clinical practicum is typically required. Common courses may include:

  • Introduction to Critical Thinking in health care
  • Introduction to Patient Care
  • Fundamentals of Medical Office Management
  • Sterilization Procedures
  • Ethics and Law for Medical Assistants

Bachelor’s Degrees in Medical Assisting

Because training for medical assistants is usually vocational in nature, bachelor’s degree programs in medical assisting are rare. For those programs offering a bachelor’s degree, the degree typically combines a general “health sciences” degree with prior medical assistant training. That means the actual medical assisting courses are typically taken at the associate degree level. Courses at the bachelor’s degree level focus more on general health science related topics. Some of these topics may include:

  • Living Healthy Lifestyles
  • Current Issues in health care
  • Introduction to Stress Management
  • Basics of Epidemiology
  • Leadership for health care Professionals

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Medical Assisting?

A medical assisting degree generally leads to a career as a medical assistant. Because most positions do not require any formal education beyond a career training program, many medical assistants choose to enroll in certificate or diploma programs to meet those requirements. Thus, a medical assisting major can usually find employment in a few select positions within the health care field.

Although similar occupations may require additional certifications or educational components, the following list of careers may be suited to those who have completed a medical assisting degree program:

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants work in a variety of health care facilities, helping doctors and nurses with patient care and administrative tasks. Although the size and type of facility in which they work may dictate their duties, medical assistants may be asked to record patient vital signs, prepare samples for testing in laboratories, and provide certain treatments ordered by physicians or nurses. Medical assistants also keep medical offices running smoothly by helping with administrative duties such as scheduling appointments for patients, recording patient information in their charts or files, as well as other office-related duties.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Although on-the-job training may be acceptable, most employers prefer hiring candidates holding a diploma or certificate from an approved training program.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Licensing is typically not required by most states. Professional certification is available through a number of different organizations and may help medical assistants improve their employment opportunities.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

Medical records and health information technicians are an important part of any health care facility. They enter important patient information and codes into a variety of electronic and computer programs. This information may be used for billing insurance companies, maintaining the patient’s medical history, tracking treatment outcomes, and more.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Most positions require health information technicians to complete a postsecondary certificate or diploma program.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Employers may seek to hire candidates who have earned special certifications, such as the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) designation, Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) designation, and more.

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants and orderlies work in a variety of health care settings and are vital to the day-to-day activities where they work. Both nursing assistants and orderlies assist nurses and physicians with providing for the basic hygiene and care of patients. Orderlies generally assist by moving patients, transporting patients by wheelchair, cleaning patient rooms and facilities, and restocking supplies. Nursing assistants work even more directly with patients. Some of their duties include assisting patients with toilet and bathing procedures, helping patients get dressed, and helping patients who may need assistance feeding themselves. Additionally, nursing assistants may be asked to measure and monitor a patient’s vital statistics.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Orderlies may need only a high school diploma to obtain employment. Nursing assistants must complete a postsecondary training program.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Orderlies are generally not required to meet certification or licensing requirements. Nursing assistants are required pass their state’s licensing or certification exam after completing a state-approved career training program.

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in hospitals and pharmacies. They are often tasked with greeting and welcoming patients, gathering and recording relevant patient information (such as addresses and phone numbers), answering phone calls, and completing customer transactions. They may also submit reimbursement claims to insurance companies for payment. Pharmacy technicians may also be responsible for keeping inventory levels stocked.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Pharmacy technicians usually learn through on-the-job training, requiring only a high school diploma to obtain employment.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Regulations vary by state, although pharmacy technicians may be required to pass state exams, complete a postsecondary training program, complete continuing education requirements, or more.

Medical Assisting Salaries and Career Outlook Data

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Medical Dosimetrists, Medical Records Specialists, and Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other331,790$46,590
Medical Assistants712,430$35,720
Nursing Assistants1,419,920$30,720
Pharmacy Technicians417,780$35,250

Medical Assisting Associations and Organizations

While not always necessary to obtain employment, medical assistants may choose to become professionally certified. Completing the professional certification process may help prove professional competence and make aspiring medical assistants more marketable to employers. Some organizations offering professional certifications include:

  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) – This association provides continuing education opportunities for medical assistants. They also administer a certification exam resulting in the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation.
  • American Medical Technologists – This organization provides continuing education opportunities and professional certifications for several allied health professions, including medical assisting. They offer the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) designation.
  • National health career Association (NHA) – The NHA offers career resources and professional certifications for various allied health professions. Medical assistants can earn the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) or the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) designation.
  • National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) – The NCCT is an independent organization offering professional credentials for various allied health careers. After meeting the necessary requirements and passing an exam, medical assistants can earn the NCMA certification.

Article Sources
  1. Medical Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, care/medical-assistants
  2. Medical Assisting, Ivy Tech Community College,
  3. Medical Assisting AAS Degree, North Seattle College,
  4. Medical Records and Health Information Technician, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, care/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians
  5. Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, care/nursing-assistants
  6. Online Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences: Medical Assisting (MA),
  7. Pharmacy Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, care/pharmacy-technicians
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