Medical Assistant: 10 Steps to Becoming One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Medical assistants provide patient care and perform administrative tasks in doctors' offices and clinics. If you're looking for a healthcare career that doesn't require you to attend medical school, consider becoming a medical assistant.

[Featured image] A medical assistant assists a doctor with an x-ray viewing.

Medical assistants help healthcare professionals, such as physicians, provide patient care and ensure that medical facilities operate smoothly.

If you're interested in a healthcare career but nursing or medical school doesn't feel like quite the right fit, then a job as a medical assistant could be right for you. Through a mix of administrative work and direct patient care, you'll help keep medical facilities operating efficiently, so doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals can do their jobs.  

Read on to find guidance on what medical assistants do, what you’ll need to do to become one, and other key information for becoming a medical assistant.

What is a medical assistant?

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

What does a medical assistant do?

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

  • Assisting nurses with clinical duties

  • Answering phones, emails, and messages from online portals 

  • Maintaining medical 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 

  • Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens or performing laboratory tests on patients

Depending on the facility where you work, your tasks may focus solely on either administrative or clinical work.

10 steps to becoming a medical assistant 

Being a medical assistant can be a rewarding career for those looking to help others without spending years in medical school. If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, then the following steps can help guide you to your new career. 

1. Finish secondary school.

If you want to become a medical assistant, then you'll need to finish schooling up to the 12th class. Typically, these qualifications are the minimum for acceptance into most medical assistant programmes and certification, although some colleges may have medical assistant programmes set up for those who have completed the 10th class.

2. Work on your workplace skills. 

Medical careers are all about helping others in need. To be a good medical assistant, you'll likely need the following skills to help both patients and other healthcare professionals:  

  • Organised 

  • Detail-oriented 

  • Ability to work on teams

  • Empathetic 

  • Good at both verbal and written communication 

  • Able to work under pressure 

3. Sharpen your computer skills.

Administrative tasks are a part of the job for many medical assistants. That means you'll maintain records, handle bookkeeping, and schedule appointments on a computer. Many doctors’ 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.

4. Find accredited medical assistant programmes. 

Once you become a medical assistant, you must research and apply to accredited medical assistant programmes and choose your speciality. You must also take an exam to become a Speciality Certified Medical Assistant. 

There are options to take degree courses up to the master's and even doctorate levels to advance your career. 

5. Complete an internship.

Some medical assistant programmes require you to complete an internship as part of your course. Even if yours doesn't, you might consider completing one anyway to gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting, so you can practise tasks like taking vital signs and performing minor diagnostic tests. Internships or externships can also make you more competitive as a job applicant.

6. Get qualified.  

It is essential that you pass an entrance exam to be accepted to the course of your choice, as well as meet all entrance criteria. Certificate programmes are the minimum requirement for a career as a medical assistant and take six months to two years to complete. You may benefit from taking additional qualifications such as a diploma, degree, or even a doctorate. 

7. Network before you begin your job search. 

Before looking over the internet to find a job, try networking first. This means contacting instructors, professors, classmates, and people you know personally with medical careers. You may even find that the clinic where you completed your internship has a job opening. 

8. Apply to big and small healthcare facilities. 

Though big hospital networks might be more recognisable, apply to smaller operations, too, like local doctors’ offices. A smaller setting is more likely to make you responsible for several tasks, which can be a great way to build experience. Decide which works best for you, but be open to unexpected opportunities.

9. Prepare for the interview.  

Prepare for interviews by practising your answers to typical questions. You'll think of good potential answers and be ready when you are face-to-face with the interviewer. Here are some questions you might encounter in a medical assistant interview:  

  • What experience do you have in a medical setting? 

  • Why did you choose to become a medical assistant? 

  • How do you handle stressful situations? 

  • What would you do if you encountered 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 programmes or degree programmes 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 a medical career by taking an online course from a leading university, such as Introduction to Healthcare from Stanford on Coursera. Or, develop a better understanding of clinical terms and abbreviations used by healthcare providers through the Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students online course.

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