Whether you want to become a medical assistant as a permanent career or simply as a way of exploring the field of healthcare, there is a straight-forward path towards this goal. While assistants do need to take accredited coursework and pass a certification process to maximize their professional value, they don’t necessarily need to do this to land a job. Fortunately, it’s easy to get started and the process doesn’t require years of lengthy schooling like many other healthcare professions.

High School Diploma or GED

Anyone interested in becoming a certified medical assistant needs to have proof of graduation from a traditional high school program or accepted equivalent. Grades and performance are generally not an important factor in determining eligibility for assistant education programs. Participants who want to prepare themselves fully before starting their program can also take some basic training courses in first-aid, customer service and computer skills.

Enroll in an Accredited Program

Finding the right medical assistant programs that are fully accredited is the next step towards becoming certified. Some programs are geared towards fast certification, while others offer an opportunity to pursue a full associate’s degree. The type of program you select can impact job opportunities later on, so it’s a good idea to talk to professionals currently working in the industry about choosing the best academic pathway.

Build Practical Experience

Internships and professional shadowing are essential components of a medical assistant’s education. Shadowing an active professional for an extended period, also called an externship, is common practice in many educational programs. Internships may require a bigger personal commitment, but they also offer the opportunity to get hands-on experience and develop practical skills in a real medical setting.

Take the Certification Exam

Prospective medical assistants who are ready to pursue official certification need to take one of five exams depending on their career goals. These tests vary slightly in length, but all are composed of a series of multiple-choice questions. Participants are advised to carefully consult testing schedules and to study all material ahead of time. The American Association of Medical Assistants also offers information and additional resources to help test-takers prepare themselves to succeed on the examination.

Even though certification isn’t required by law in most of the United States, many employers throughout the healthcare industry prefer applicants who present professional credentials. Graduation from an accredited program and official certification helps exhibit the candidate’s core competency, practical experience and professional motivation.