Earning an Online Medical Assisting Certificate

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

National certificate programs set the bar for highly qualified medical assistants, ensuring applicants possess the skills and knowledge necessary to provide excellent patient care. Many employers require a professional certificate for entry-level jobs.

Prospective students can complete a medical assistant certificate online through vocational and technical schools, allied health schools, or community colleges. Many programs require a year or less to complete.

What Are the Requirements to Get a Certificate in Medical Assisting?

Students need a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent before enrolling in online classes for a medical assistant certificate. Some schools may also require the ACT or SAT for recent high school graduates. The tests help place students in general education courses, such as English or math, if part of the curriculum.

Because medical assistants work in physician offices, hospitals, or other medical practices, schools may require proof of certain vaccinations, such as Hepatitis A or the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and verification of a negative tuberculosis skin test. Some schools may require a background check and drug screen, especially if they feature clinical or internship requirements.

What's the Difference Between a Medical Assisting Certificate and Degree?

Earning your medical assistant certificate online serves as a direct path to entering the medical assistant field. However, a certificate often requires far fewer credits than an associate or bachelor's degree. Also, schools may not require the same general education courses as they do for degree-seeking students. Certificates offer a curriculum focused specifically on medical assistant knowledge and skills. Often, these courses involve hands-on learning experiences that students can complete at clinical sites in their local communities.

Earning a medical assistant degree may prepare students for more senior positions or more specialized roles within their medical office, such as those involving administrative procedures, pharmacology, or lab techniques. General education courses also provide a broader base of knowledge.

An associate degree often requires at least two years of study. Technical colleges and community colleges typically offer associate degrees, but these programs may not be available at four-year schools. While a certificate readies students to enter the field, a degree may advance a medical assistant's career and salary.

Online Medical Assistant Certificate Curriculum

Online classes for medical assistant certificates focus directly on the skills necessary to work in the field. Each part of the curriculum fits into the daily tasks required for medical assisting. Most programs do not require general education courses, though they often incorporate communication and writing skills within the core curriculum. Students may also specialize in clinical or administrative tasks or prepare to work in the office of a medical specialist, such as those working in women's care, podiatry, or optometry.

  • Anatomy and Physiology: In this class, students learn the proper names and purposes of various parts of the human body. The course includes the study of tissues, organs, and systems with discussion of how the systems work together for optimal health and wellness. Students also begin learning medical terminology needed for future careers. Instructors often utilize reading assignments with lectures and a variety of discussions, research papers, and special projects.

  • Insurance and Coding: The medical insurance industry uses a system of codes to facilitate billing. Doctors and hospitals must ensure they submit insurance forms accurately and completely to receive timely and full payment. The diagnostic codes serve as a universal language among providers, insurance companies, and government regulators, using the ICD-9-CM structure.

  • Examination Techniques: This course introduces students to basic patient care techniques. Students learn how to take a patient history, record basic vital signs, and prepare patients to see the physician. Learners explore clinical practice, procedures, and skills, including taking blood pressure, temperature, and weight. Students also learn health and safety standards, such as those regarding the disposal of medical waste.

  • Pharmacology: Students learn the basics of medication, including drug classification and how to identify controlled substances. The course covers types of drugs, how they work, and how they may interact with other medicines. Learners calculate proper dosages and study their obligation to report illegal activity related to drug controls and protocols.

  • Medical Law and Ethics: Everyone in the medical field must adhere to certain legal and ethical obligations to protect their patients' privacy while also ensuring their health and wellbeing. Students discuss case studies of situations involving ethical dilemmas and develop solutions based on research and review of legal requirements, such as reporting suspected abuse, and professional ethics.

What Can You Do With a Certificate in Medical Assisting?

The aging U.S. population and need for more preventative health services continue to drive employment in all areas of healthcare. Medical assistants can expect continued positive job prospects, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 29% rise in employment between 2016 and 2026. Medical assistants often find work in physician's offices, taking patient histories, preparing lab specimens, and charting patient health in electronic medical records.

Because certified medical assistants need less on-the-job training than high school graduates, many employers offer a higher starting wage. As medical assistants develop their expertise throughout their career, they add crucial institutional knowledge and perfect their skills, often qualifying for higher salaries over time.

Salary by Experience Level for Medical Assistants

  • Entry-Level (<1 Year):
    $25,400

  • Early-Career (1-4 Years):
    $27,420

  • Mid-Career (5-9 Years):
    $30,500

  • Experienced (10-19 Years):
    $32,320

Source: PayScale

Average Salary for Medical Assistants

2018 Median Pay: $33,610
Job Outlook: 29%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accreditation for Online Certificate Programs

Your education represents an investment in your future, so make sure your chosen program has achieved the proper accreditation to safeguard that investment. Accreditation serves as an independent form of quality assurance evidencing that a school offers a rigorous and relevant curriculum with appropriate student resources and qualified faculty members.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools serve as the primary accrediting agencies for online medical assistant certificate programs. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers its certified medical assistant credential only to graduates of accredited programs.

In addition to the programmatic accreditation, many schools attain institutional accreditation through regional and national agencies. Again, voluntary accreditation ensures students receive access to quality education. When taking courses for college credit, students should verify their school holds regional accreditation from a body such as from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Regional accreditation ensures your credits will transfer should you decide to change schools or degrees.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation do not accredit individual schools or programs. Instead, they ensure accrediting agencies adhere to standards of academic quality, accountability, and improvement. When individual programs meet the requirements of a recognized accrediting agency, students of that program qualify for federal student aid programs.