How to Get a Job as a Medical Assistant | 10 Steps

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Medical assistants work in doctors offices and clinics, performing both administrative tasks and direct patient care. If you're looking for a career in healthcare that allows you to help people, learn what it takes to get a job as a medical assistant.

[Featured image] A medical assistant enters patient information on a touch screen monitor in a hospital.

If you're interested in a medical career but nursing or medical school isn't quite the right fit, a job as a medical assistant could lead to a fulfilling future. Through a mix of administrative work and direct patient care, you'll help keep medical facilities running smoothly so doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can do their jobs.  

Read on to find guidance on what medical assistants do, what you’ll need to become one, and other key information you’ll want to know to work to be a medical assistant.

What does a medical assistant do?

Medical assistants are health care professionals responsible for the smooth operation of medical facilities and assisting physicians with patient care. They work with doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to ensure patients receive the care they need. 

Medical assistants may have dozens of duties to perform each day. Depending on where you work, they might include: 

  • Greeting patients who come in for appointments

  • Answering phones, emails, and messages from online portals 

  • Handling billing and insurance 

  • Maintaining patient records

  • Scheduling appointments and procedures 

  • Taking down a patient's medical history or list of symptoms 

  • Cleaning and restocking exam rooms 

  • Measuring and recording vital signs, like pulse, temperature, and blood pressure

  • Explaining new medications to patients 

  • Drawing blood or creating IV access

  • Performing basic diagnostic tests, like EKGs

  • Caring for wounds

  • Removing sutures 

  • Helping doctors and nurses with medical exams 

Depending on the state regulations where you live and the preference of the facility where you work, your tasks may focus solely on either administrative work or clinical work.

10 steps to becoming a medical assistant 

If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, the following steps can serve as a guide to your new career. 

1. Make sure you have at least a high school diploma or GED.

If you want to become a medical assistant, you'll need to finish high school or get your GED. This is required to get into most medical assistant programs.  

2. Work on your workplace skills. 

Your motivation for any medical career should be a desire to help others, but that just scratches the surface. In order to be a good medical assistant, you should also have the following traits:  

  • Organized 

  • Detail-oriented 

  • Ability to work on teams

  • Empathetic 

  • Good at both verbal and written communication 

  • Able to work under pressure 

3. Brush up on your computer skills.

For many medical assistants, part of your job includes administrative tasks. That means you'll be maintaining records, handling bookkeeping, taking care of billing, and scheduling appointments on a computer. Many doctor’s offices also use online portals to communicate with their patients. 

For this reason, you'll likely need to have basic computer skills, like familiarity with Microsoft Office.

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4. Find accredited medical assistant programs. 

Once you've decided you want to become a medical assistant, you'll need to research and apply to accredited medical assistant programs. These programs are offered both online and in-person through vocational schools, community colleges, technical schools, and, in some cases, colleges and universities. They typically take a year or two to complete, and they'll cover a variety of topics, ranging from anatomy and physiology to first aid. 

5. Complete an internship or externship.  

Many medical assistant programs require you to complete an externship or internship before you receive your diploma. Even if yours doesn't, you can consider completing one anyway. This gives you some hands-on experience in a clinical setting, so you can practice tasks like taking vital signs and performing minor diagnostic tests. Internships or externships can also make you more competitive as a job applicant.

Read more: 7 Internship Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

6. Get certified.  

While certification isn't always necessary, some states and employers do require it, and it can lead to a higher salary. You can become certified by fulfilling certification requirements, which often require exams.

Some common certifications include the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification offered through the American Medical Technologists. Some positions may also require you to be CPR certified.

There are many other certifications available. Check with your school to find out what it recommends, or take a look at job descriptions in your area to see if one is preferred over others. 

7. Network before you begin your job search. 

Before you start pouring over the internet to find a job, try networking first. This means reaching out to instructors, professors, and classmates as well as people you know personally with medical careers. You may even find that the place where you completed your internship or externship has a job opening. 

Read more: What Is an Informational Interview? And How to Make the Most of It

8. Don’t forget to think small.  

Though big hospital networks might be more recognizable, don’t forget to apply to smaller operations, like a local doctor's office. A smaller setting is more likely to make you responsible for several different types of tasks, which can be a great way to build experience.

9. Prepare for the interview.  

Prepare for interviews by anticipating questions. This allows you to come up with some good potential answers and have them ready to go when you meet face-to-face with the interviewer. Here are some questions you might encounter in a medical assistant interview:  

  • What experience do you have with medical settings? 

  • Why did you choose to become a medical assistant? 

  • How do you handle stressful situations? 

  • What would you do if you encounter a difficult patient? 

  • Why did you choose this office or clinic?

  • Are you certified in first aid and CPR? 

  • What computer or medical software experience do you have?  

10. Consider continuing your education. 

Many people choose to work as medical assistants while they attend training programs or degree programs for other medical careers, like paramedics, nurses, and doctors. Even if you want to remain a medical assistant, you can keep up with the ever-changing medical world by taking courses in your field.  

Next steps

Explore whether a career in medicine could be a good fit with an online course from a leading university, like Introductory Human Physiology from Duke University or Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us from the University of Pennsylvania. Or brush up on Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students with this course from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Related articles

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Medical Assistants, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm." Accessed March 14, 2022.

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