Is It Better to Have an Associate’s Degree or a Certificate for Medical Assisting

Is It Better to Have an Associate’s Degree or a Certificate for Medical Assisting

Posted By Staff Writer on June 14, 2019

You’re busy. Are we right?

You’re busy but you’ve decided it would be worth the time, money, and effort to improve your situation regardless. That’s outstanding and making that decision is the first step toward the life you want—and you should be proud. Give yourself a little applause. You deserve it.

So you want to help people? Great! Always had a natural proclivity toward medicine? Outstanding! Luckily, the medical field is full of careers and jobs, all of which vary in terms of the years you’ll need to study them. One of the most versatile medical jobs you can qualify for in the shortest amount of time is as a medical assistant. But here’s the thing: you can qualify as an MA through a couple of ways. One is to study in a college for two years and earn your medical assisting Associate’s degree. The other is to earn a certificate which takes only about a year.

Sounds pretty cut and dried. After all, you’re busy. The certificate may well be the shortest path from A to Z, so that’s the best option, isn’t it?

But easiest and quickest do not necessarily mean best. You know that or you wouldn’t be stepping up to change your life like this. After all, it’s going to take some hard work. Read on to find out more about medical assisting and the difference between pursuing an Associate’s degree and a certificate. After all, you want to put your time and effort into the program that would be best for your future, right? You’re too busy for anything less.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants are usually trained with both clinical duties and administrative responsibilities. The American Association of Medical Students lists the following duties for medical assistants1:


  • Drawing blood
  • Taking down a patient’s medical history
  • Assisting physicians during exams
  • Talking with patients about procedures
  • Collecting laboratory specimens
  • Removing sutures
  • Changing dressings
  • Conducting basic laboratory tests
  • Preparing and administering prescriptions as directed by supervising physician


  • Updating old patient records and filing new patient medical records
  • Working with computer applications
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Welcoming patients
  • Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Filling out insurance forms
  • Answering telephones
  • Working with billing, correspondence, and bookkeeping

As you can tell, a medical assistants wear a lot of different hats. They work with patients both medically and professionally. In a lot of ways, they’re the liaison between patients and doctors, working to keep patients informed and to answer any questions they may have.

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical assistants exist practically wherever people come in to get medical help from professionals. They can be found in outpatient clinics, hospitals, family practices, etc.

With this wide range of locations to work, it’s no surprise that medical assistants are in high demand. According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, the job of a medical assistant is growing a great deal faster than other jobs.1 This is due to:

  • The elderly: People are living longer than ever these days. As such, there is an increasing number of older people in need of medical assistance.
  • Technology: Medical advancements are being made at an exponential rate. As this continues, hospitals and other medical facilities will need medical assistants who can work the machines for patients.
  • Increase in number of care facilities: As the number of elderly increases and medical technology continues to advance, more and more care facilities or outpatient clinics will spring up. And where new medical facilities are being created, new jobs for medical assistants will be generated as well.

Should I Get the Certificate or an Associate’s Degree?

A job as a medical assistant will allow you to work in the medical field without dedicating years and years of your life to study and going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. But you’re still left with the choice between qualifying as an MA through a certificate or a two-year Associate’s degree. How are you supposed to choose?

We’ll break down some of the distinctions associated with the two options: the different things you’ll learn with each and the sorts of jobs each will qualify you for.

What Will I Learn with a Certificate vs. a Medical Assisting Associate’s Degree?

A certificate in medical assisting will qualify you as a certified medical assistant or CMA. As a CMA, you’ll be trained in concepts and areas relevant to the field you’ll be entering. This will include study in areas such as anatomy, physiology, medical transcription, etc.

If you go the route of the two-year Associate's degree, you’ll learn similar skills. With a two-year degree, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have to do an internship, where you will have the opportunity to apply your in-class learning to a practical, real-life job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that, depending on which state you will be working in, you may have to pass a certification course to qualify as a CMA.2 In essence, the certificate is faster. Yet, if you choose to go with the Associate's degree, it will enable you to pursue further study should you choose. And with the credentials of an Associate’s degree, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll be hired. Employers like educated employees. And employees who go to school, even if only for a couple of years, actually do have an edge on others.

Earning the certificate will enable you to do all the administrative tasks: file and code forms, update patient records, etc. You’ll also be able to perform a few clinical tasks, such as taking and recording a patient’s vital signs.

If you hold an Associate’s degree, all the administrative responsibilities will be part of your duties as well as an increased number of clinical responsibilities. With an Associate’s degree as a medical assistant, you will be able to draw blood, sign a prescription refill, and under supervision, prepare and give medications to patients.

See What Independence University Can Offer You

Becoming a medical assistant might just be the best fit for you. Even if you’re still on the fence about the certificate or two-year degree, take a look at the medical assisting Associate's degree available to you through Independence University today!



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