Accredited Online Medical Assistant Certifications
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For those interested in working in a medical setting and assuming a mix of administrative and clinical responsibilities, becoming a medical assistant can be a rewarding choice. These healthcare professionals take on varied tasks such as taking vital signs; assisting doctors with basic patient exams; maintaining medical histories in charts; preparing samples for laboratory testing; and depending on the state’s practice environment, even giving medical injections to patients. Also, since medical assistants typically require only one to two years of postsecondary education, it’s relatively quick to enter this role compared with other medical professions.
There’s also evidence that opportunities for medical assistants will increase substantially in coming years. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) reported that positions in this field would swell 23 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding 138,900 fresh openings nationwide. This is much more robust than the average growth projected across all U.S. occupations during that same decade (6.5 percent).
So how does a person enter this in-demand medical career? While certification is not required everywhere, some aspiring medical assistants enroll in a program which takes one to two years to complete; it’s important to note that completing an accredited program is a prerequisite to qualify for the certification exam through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Only then can a medical assistant use the designation CMA (i.e., Certified Medical Assistant). Also, the majority of accredited medical assistant programs are offered on physical campuses, but there’s a growing number of distance-based options in this field as well. These programs generally combine web-based lectures, assignments, and exams with in-person training or externships at approved facilities close to a student’s home. These program pathways boast greater convenience and flexibility, accommodating people in rural areas or those with specific time commitments preventing them from attending a traditional, on-campus program.
This guide explores online medical assistant programs, including the expected coursework, costs, and accreditation information.
Is an Online Medical Assisting Certification Program Right for Me?
To some, an online medical assisting program is appealing as it allows for completion of a program without needing to attend all classes in-person; to others, it may seem daunting since it lacks the structure of a traditional program. Prior to applying, aspiring medical assistants are strongly advised to consider their unique circumstances and whether an on-campus or distance-based program would be more appropriate for their training.
To begin, an online medical assisting program may be the best option for those rural students who wish to pursue an education, yet who don’t live close enough to a physical campus. Also, online programs are more suitable for people with full-time employment, childcare responsibilities, or other time-intensive tasks, as many online programs allow the students to work at their own pace and perform their duties around their own daily schedule.
However, those considering a web-based pathway should note that certain elements of a traditional classroom environment will be lacking in an online program. For example, online programs may lack a structured daily schedule and consequently, students in these programs must be highly self-motivated in order to succeed. In short, committing to an online medical assisting program takes discipline, independence, and strong organizational skills.
Admissions Requirements for Online Medical Assisting Programs
While admissions requirements to online medical assisting programs vary, they generally reflect similar criteria to their on-campus counterparts. Here’s a list of real admissions requirements drawn from online program around the country. Candidates must:
- Submit a completed application and fee
- Be at least 18 years old
- Send official transcripts from a high school or GED program
- Show proof of prerequisite classes (e.g., biology, chemistry)
- Have proof of immunizations to work in a healthcare setting
While uncommon, admissions committees may ask for additional materials such as a personal essay, test scores, or candidate interviews.
Curriculum & Specializations
Although the specifics vary by medical assisting program, here are some common courses:
- Anatomy, physiology, and pathology
- Medical office software
- Basic insurance
- Medication administration
- Office practices
- First aid
- Patient relations
- Clinical and diagnostic procedures
- Laboratory techniques
- Medical law and medical ethics
- Record-keeping and accounting
- Career development
- Medical terminology
In some cases, students can pursue a specialization in medical assisting to prepare them for specific medical environments. These include internal medicine, emergency medicine, podiatry, family medicine, geriatrics, OB/GYN, cardiology, urology, and other areas. Furthermore, some medical assistants may be more oriented toward administrative tasks and others may lean toward clinical responsibilities.
As mentioned in the introduction, while graduating from an accredited program may not be necessary to secure employment as a medical assistant, it is necessary to qualify for voluntary professional certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), a credential which can enhance one’s employment and salary prospects. The two main accreditation entities for medical assisting programs are the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). These organizations weigh several factors such as the quality of a program curricula, student outcomes, program administration, and other variables.
Accredited Online Medical Assistant Programs
The majority of CAAHEP- and ABHES-accredited schools have traditional, on-campus programs, although there are a few exceptions. As of June 2017, here is a full list of accredited online programs in medical assisting.
The ABHES-accredited online diploma program through Herzing University of Brookfield, WI typically takes 12 to 16 months of study and comprises 43 credits. In addition to taking courses on healthcare-related subjects, students must also complete classes on personal and professional development. Courses include computer software applications in healthcare; pathophysiology and pharmacology; keyboarding; medical terminology for healthcare professionals; insurance claims, processing, and adjudication; and healthcare system and operations. Please note that Herzing also offers a bachelor of science (B.S.) in healthcare management, an associate of science (A.S.), and an associate of applied science (A.A.S.) in medical assisting. Interested students are encouraged to contact Herzing with tuition inquiries.
The CHCP of Houston, TX offers an ABHES-accredited online certificate in medical assisting. This typically takes 16 months to complete and includes instruction in medical clinical procedures; medical insurance and managing medical records; medical law and ethics; career development skills; medical terminology; and other subjects. Please note that due to state authorization laws, this program may only be available to Texas residents. This program costs $19,990 total.
Other Online Medical Assistant Certification Programs
Rasmussen University Online
For aspiring medical assistants who want to join the field but aren’t interested in professional certification through the AAMA, here is a list of additional online medical assistant programs.
Through Purdue University Global, students can pursue a certificate in medical assisting entirely online. The university offers multiple start dates throughout the year, and the program requires 58 credits, which can be finished in a single year. Furthermore, Purdue University Global retains a number of skilled faculty members to help students during their online studies. To calculate how much this program costs, please use the program cost estimator at the link above.
At the U.S. Career Institute, students can pursue a medical assisting certificate program on their own schedule in as few as four months. Students complete five separate units of study in this program, each of which covers a different subject in the field of medical assisting. The U.S. Career Institute also asserts that all examinations are open-book so that students have the necessary knowledge in front of them as they are tested. This program costs $979 if paid in full.
Ashworth College also provides an online diploma program in medical office assisting, which teaches the fundamentals of administrative assisting. Notably, this program prepares graduates for the National Healthcareer Association’s (NHA) Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification exam. This program costs $699 if paid in full.
Aspiring administrative medical assistants may find the online program at Grantham University to be one of the most flexible options. This certificate requires the completion of only 17 credits, and has weekly start dates so that individuals may begin at any point throughout the year. It costs $265 per credit-hour and boasts significant discounts for military personnel.