Top Online Medical Assistant Programs

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants (MAs) are the people who greet you at the front desk of a doctor’s office. They help out in other health care teams too. Some of what MAs do is take care of office tasks. Things like setting up appointments. Yet other skills involve simple patient care duties. Things like taking down your vital signs.

Often the role a medical assistant plays varies on where they work. But they are always supervised by a licensed health care provider. No matter where the job, MAs have a lot to offer. Because of this, their skills are in demand. Reports show a surge of 29 percent job growth over the next few years. If you’re thinking about it, you’ll want to find out how to prepare

Medical Assistant ResponsibilitiesWhere Medical Assistants WorkTypes of Medical Assistants
  • Record Patient History
  • Answer telephones
  • Arrange lab services
  • Enter & update electronic health records
  • Schedule appointments
  • Measure vital signs
Most Medical Assistants (57%) work in physicians’ offices. Others work in hospitals, outpatient care centers and in chiropractors’ offices.
  • Administrative medical assistants
  • Clinical medical assistants
  • Ophthalmic/Optometric Assistants
  • Podiatric Medical Assistants

preparing for a career as a medical assistant

Medical Assistant Programs

Online Medical Assistant programs help students learn the basics of health care. Some courses study the body and its systems. Others focus on medical words and their meaning. You may also become familiar with the names of different drugs and lab tests.

Time spent in the lab is more hands-on. These courses are all about using tools of the trade. Things like preparing blood samples for the laboratory. Or, learning how to use specific software like electronic health records (EHRs).

You'll also study how to deal with patients. This may mean learning how to measure vital signs. Or, the friendly ways to greet patients and check them in. As a result, you’ll have a deeper sense of how to communicate with clients in an ethical and professional manner.

It’s likely you’ll also study some of the day-to-day office procedures. These courses often ready you to schedule appointments. Also, things like how to assist with patient insurance claims and use medical coding.

Some schools have course plans that serve as study guides. They often ready grads to take industry exams. Apart from classes, your program may require you to do an externship. This is one way to apply classroom learning in real time. As an online student, you may be able to do this in a nearby clinic or doctor’s office.

Look through some partner programs below to see a few popular choices.

Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate: A focus on how to manage an office. You’ll likely study patient privacy and data security. This may suit the student who has strong people skills and prefers office tasks.

Medical Billing and Coding Certificate: This may suit someone who likes to use computers. You’ll likely focus on software and systems. Courses may ready you to take the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) or CCS certification exam offered by AHIMA – American Health Information Management Association.

A.S. Health Sciences - Medical Administrative Assistant:Courses may prepare you to take the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) exam. Pursuing a full degree also leaves the door open to future studies. You may decide later to work towards a degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Health Science or a Health and Wellness Bachelor’s Degree-Completion Program.

Medical Office Administration Certificate:Study the ins and outs of insurance processing and other office tasks. May also ready grads to sit for Certified Medical Administrative Specialist (CMAS), Certified Coding Associate (CCA), National Certified Medical Office Assistant (NCMOA) exams.

What Types of Classes Will I Take?

We've compiled a sample course plan to help you get an idea of what you may study in a medical assistant program. Since each school has unique courses, make sure to look at their syllabus. This way you’ll see if it agrees with your goals.

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • First Aid
  • Laboratory Techniques
  • Insurance Processes
  • First aid
  • Record Keeping
  • Patient Relations

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Diploma and certificate medical assistant programs may last between 10 months and 1 year. Full-time students pursuing an associate’s degree often take about two years. Students who’ve earned a certificate may be able to complete their degree quicker.

Medical Assistant Programs That Could be Completed in 18 Months or Less

School# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Rasmussen College38April 01, 20199 months
Ultimate Medical Academy61 - 62Multiple18 - 21 months
Trident University36Multiple12 months

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Medical Assistant?

Some schools have two prices for online medical assistant programs. One for in-state and the other for out-of-state residents. Recent data lists the average out-of-state tuition as $16,685. This cost is on the rise by 6.39 percent. The average in-state tuition which is $3,604 is also increasing (by 6.29 percent).

At college, you'll pay for the credits you complete. In other words, if you pursue a certificate, it may cost less than an associate's degree. Certificates need fewer courses.

Many schools offer ways to save. Military and veteran students are often able to get a lower rate. Or, they may have credit transfer policies. This means using prior credits, so you'll have less to do and pay for. Make sure to also know what the fees are to graduate. Course materials are extra too.

Apart from these expenses, you may need to pay to take industry exams. Plus, you’ll pay a fee for your certification – and to recertify. The CMA exam may cost $125 if you’re a member of the AAMA or a CAAHEP or ABHES completing student or recent graduate. You can check these figures on agency web sites.

School# of CreditsCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Trident University36$1,158$13,900
Purdue University Global57$371$21,147
Ultimate Medical Academy61$404.75$24,690

Top Online Medical Assistant Schools

Last check, the largest share of institutions with Medical Assistant programs are Public, 2-year institutions. Those schools awarded 77,811 degrees to students. The majority (99.9 percent) of these were associate’s degrees.

School2017 Grads total/degrees awardedTuition (Out of State)
San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia1,132$16,606
Vista College868$15,450
Ivy Tech Community College701$4,055
ECPI University664$15, 051
ASA College488$12,728
Hunter Business School431$8,368
Delgado Community College367$8,368

Medical Assistant Certification

Can you be a medical assistant without certification? That depends on the state. In some states, MAs have to graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, or both. In other states, formal education is not required. That said, today's employers tend to prefer graduates of medical assistant programs.

To set yourself apart, you may pursue post-degree certification. It's voluntary but shows others you have dedication and standard skills. Plus, standards are changing. As such, certified MAs may have a wider scope of duties than others. You should contact your state board of medicine for more details.

What certification should a medical assistant have?

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) is well-known. It is available through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). To be eligible you’ll need at least a high school diploma. Graduating from an AAMA-approved school is also a must. The two agencies who accredit medical assisting programs are:

  1. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  2. Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)

CMA applicants also need to complete a practicum (unpaid, supervised). The credential is valid for 60 months, so you’ll have to recertify.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) – The American Medical Technologists offers the RMA exam. You’ll need to meet one of four eligibility paths: (1) education, (2) military, (3) work experience, (4) instructor. The RMA credential is good for 3 years and then you’ll need to recertify.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) – The National Center for Competency Testing offers the NCMA exam. To take it, you’ll need to be a current student or graduate of an NCCT authorized school. Others with two years of work or some military experience may also be eligible. Once you have the NCMA, you’ll need to keep your status active.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) – The National Healthcareer Association offers the CCMA and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) credentials. Once you have passed your exam, the certification will be active for two years. To stay current, you’ll need to complete continuing education and renew.

Do you hope to work as a medical assistant in a certain kind of medical office? If so, you may choose to pursue one of the following:

Medical Assistant Careers

There are 3.98 people in the medical assisting workforce. This number is growing by 5.25 percent. On average, most workers are 43.2 years old and female.

Top States for Medical Assistant Jobs

The states with the highest employment level of medical assistants are:

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
California89,910$36,630
Texas58,090$30,880
Florida54,220$31,980
Pennsylvania28,260$31,980
New York25,140$36,220

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?.

MEDICAL ASSISTANT (MA) VS. CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (CMA)

It’s possible to become a medical assistant, or MA, without certification. In some states, all you need is a high school diploma to get started working in a doctor’s office or other health care practice. But whether or not certification is required in your state, you’ll likely find that certified medical assistants, or CMAs, are highly preferred.(i)

Medical Assistants 

There are several types of medical assistant careers that may spark your interest.

  • Administrative medical assistants do many of the front office tasks like scheduling and answering the phones
  • Clinical medical assistants do basic lab tests and may have more responsibilities around patient care (prepare for x rays, draw blood etc.)
  • Optometric medical assistants may help an ophthalmologist in surgery or assist in an optometrist office
  • Podiatric medical assistants help foot doctors and may make castings of feet or help a podiatrist in surgery

Average annual salary (2017): $32,480 ($15.61/hr.)i

Job Growth to 2026: 29% (Much faster than average)

Typical entry level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Medical Secretaries

Medical secretaries know their way around legal terminology and office tasks. Some of their work involves patient scheduling, billing, and keeping medical charts in order. They may also serve as the right arm to a physician, taking care of correspondence and emails.

Average annual salary (2017): $37,870 ($18.21/hr.)ii

Job Growth to 2026: -5% (decline)

Typical entry level education: High school diploma or equivalent

i bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-1 | ii bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm#tab-1