Explore Medical Assisting Programs & Careers

Online Medical Assistant programs introduce students to the basics of healthcare. Aspiring medical assistants study anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Time spent in the laboratory also helps to build key skills with clinical procedures.

If you’ve been thinking whether you should look for a medical assistant school, now is a perfect time to earn a medical assistant degree online. Employment for medical assistants is growing at the speed of 29% - much faster than average.We’ll go through some key points to familiarize you with the industry.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants (MAs) carry out administrative and certain clinical duties under the direction of a physician. While they often work in physician’s offices, hospitals and healthcare facilities, tasks may vary.

On the administrative side, MAs might:

  • Greet patients and log them in
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Maintain electronic health records (EHRs)
  • Take care of billing, coding and insurance

On the clinical side, MAs might:

  • Take and record vital signs like height and weight
  • Document medical histories
  • Prepare patients for their examination
  • Collect blood or other specimens and prepare them for the laboratory

What Are the Requirements to Become a Medical Assistant? i

Can you be a medical assistant without certification? That depends on the state. Some states may require assistants to graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, or both, in order to practice. In other states, formal education is not required.

However, employers may prefer candidates who have completed some form of a postsecondary medical assistant program. When in doubt, contact your state’s board of medicine for more information.

preparing for a career as a medical assistant

Common Educational Paths to Becoming a Medical Assistant

Three of the main paths to becoming a medical assistant are listed below. We also placed some statistics from O’Net next to each category. These figures represent the percentage of medical assistants at each educational level. ii

  1. Medical assistant certification (postsecondary) – 65%
  2. High school diploma plus on-the-job training – 10%
  3. Medical assistant degree (Associate’s) – 18%


Medical assistants are not required to be certified in most states. However, employers may prefer to hire certified assistants.

Medical Assistant Degree vs Diploma/Certificate

What is the difference between a medical assistant degree and a certificate? How long will it take to become a medical assistant? Should I get an associate’s degree or certificate in medical assisting?

An associate degree and a certificate or diploma in medical assisting are similar. To begin with, as you now know, they each may be viable paths towards becoming a medical assistant. Also, many programs help graduates prepare for industry certification exams. Yet despite some overlap, there are some key features that set the two apart.

The choice between a degree or diploma may impact your future. As such, we suggest you review the similarities, differences, and overlap before you make this important decision.

Online Associate Degree in Medical Assisting

Medical assistant degree programs that lead to an associate’s degree may take between one to two years to complete with full-time study. If you plan to study part-time, you need to allot more time.

Pursuing an associate degree may require students to take about 20 classes (90 credits). Curriculums often entail general education classes such as mathematics, computer office applications, and humanities. Medical assistant degree students may also take courses on the following subjects:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Law, ethics, and confidentiality
  • Medical terminology
  • Clinical lab techniques
  • Administrative procedures
  • Pharmacology
  • Medication administration

In addition to classroom and laboratory portions, students may also be required to complete an internship or clinical studies in order to attain their degree.

Upon successful completion of a medical assisting associate degree, graduates may pursue a career as a medical assistant, either in a clinical or administrative capacity.

Furthermore, those students who have studied a certain field of medicine (e.g., podiatry, ophthalmology) may be eligible to pursue careers as specialized medical assistants. iii

Graduates of accredited online medical assistant degree programs may also be able to transfer earned credits forward into a bachelor’s program. Even if it isn’t in sight now. With more education, you might want to prepare for other healthcare occupations such as registered nurse, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner.

Online Medical Assistant Certificate

Medical assistant programs that lead to a diploma or certificate may take about 1 year to complete full time. These programs may also require clinical work or an internship depending on the school’s requirements.  This may add additional time in the end, so plan ahead.

Students who are pursuing a diploma or certificate in medical assisting may need to take about 57-course credits. Course plans vary but may include the following types of classes, among others:

  • Medical law and bioethics
  • Medical terminology
  • Diseases
  • Medical office management
  • Professionalism in healthcare

After completing a medical assisting diploma, graduates may be eligible to pursue a career as an administrative or clinical medical assistant. This may be dependent upon the specifics of the course load that the student takes. However additional education may be required to assist in a specialist’s office or to sit for some national certification exams.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) 

If your goal is to work towards certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), make sure to look for accredited medical assistant programs online. The AAMA looks for graduates from programs approved by either:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)

To achieve a certification, applicants must pass an exam. Other specifics and standards vary. For instance, you may need to be eighteen years old before you apply.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA) accredits five certifications for medical assistants: iv

  1. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
  2. Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
  3. National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
  4. Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
  5. Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

Some medical assistant schools may also partner with an association (such as the NHA). Graduates from such programs may, for instance, NHA certification prep materials and a voucher to cover the cost of the CCMA exam.

How to Become a Medical Assistant Online

An online medical assistant school offers a convenient and potentially more affordable way to gain knowledge, skills, and credentials. Formats vary from one college to the next, but here are some features to look for.

On-demand learning – you set your pace. Access instructors and coaches through text, phone, and email or chat with fellow classmates online.

Mobile-friendly. Web-based learning platforms offer 24/7 access to courses. Study on the go, on a laptop, after work, it’s up to you.

All-inclusive. You’ll need textbooks and manuals. Some medical assistant schools include program materials and career support in their tuition.

Proctored exams. Distance learners – like campus students - may be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These tests will assess the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You may get to choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Hands-on training. Your program may require an externship where you may gain hands-on, real-world experience. This makes a great addition to your resume or job applications.

Is an Online Medical Assisting PROGRAM FOR YOU?

The first step to pursuing a career as a certified medical assistant is to earn a degree or diploma from an accredited medical assistant program. Requirements vary depending on the organization offering the certification, but you’ll probably also have to pass an exam before you can become certified. Administrators in your medical assistant program should be able to tell you exactly what you’ll need to complete in order to achieve certification.


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 Assistant Careers

Below, some fast facts about what one might earn as a medical assistant and some comparison career choices.

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.)v

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.)vi

Job Growth to 2026: -5% (decline)

Typical entry level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Get Matched with an Online Medical Assistant Program

Now that you have the low-down on how to become a medical assistant online, Education Connection can help match you with online colleges that offer medical assistant programs. Our service is free, and we are ready when you are.

Resources: i bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4 |  ii onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9092.00 |
iii bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-2 | iv http://www.credentialingexcellence.org/ncca |
v bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-1 | vi bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm#tab-1 | onetonline.org/link/summary/43-6013.00