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

Updated By Staff Writer on March 23, 2020

You’re busy, but you’ve decided you want to pursue some sort of job path in the medical field. You’ve made a great choice—the medical field is full of careers and jobs, each with different qualifications. So if you think you’d like something that doesn’t take as much time as medical school and earning a doctorate degree, one of the best jobs to consider is a medical assistant.

It’s a versatile job that doesn’t take years to qualify for, and you can earn it a couple of different ways: either with a certificate or diploma program that takes about a year, or an Associate’s degree in medical assisting, which takes about two years.

But which option should you go with? Is one better than the other? Read on to find out more about the difference between pursuing an Associate’s degree versus a certificate for medical assisting.


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


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


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. The following are a few reasons why:

  • 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 the 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.


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 with a diploma or a two-year Associate’s degree. How are you supposed to choose?

A diploma in medical assisting will help get you started to meet the qualifications to become a Certified Medical Assistant. Once you have completed a medical assisting diploma program, including externship, then you can sit for a certification exam. You’ll be trained in basic concepts and areas relevant to assisting a physician, like anatomy, physiology, drawing blood, and running EKGs.

If you go the route of the two-year Associate's degree, you’ll learn similar skills. With a two-year degree, you get and a more well-rounded general education that could lead to promotion.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that you may have to pass a certification exam depending on which state you will be working in. At colleges like Independence University, part of your coursework includes preparation for a certification exam, and the cost of this exam is covered by Independence University. With the credentials of an Associate’s degree, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll be hired. Employers like educated employees. Employees who choose a more well-rounded education have an edge over their competition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that an Associate’s degree is the best option for you. 


Let’s break down the similarities and differences between both a diploma and an Associate’s degree for medical assisting.

Length of Education Path

The medical assisting education path does not require a two-year Associate’s degree. The diploma route takes about a year to complete. It’s rigorous and intense due to the amount of information learned and knowledge gained in such a short period of time. This education path is designed to get you through the door to quickly start your career as a medical assistant.

If you go the route of the two-year Associate’s degree, your experience will take about two years, and courses won’t be as fast-paced as the diploma route. 

Depth of Knowledge Gained

Because the diploma program takes only about a year and an Associate’s degree two or more, there will be some differences in the depth of knowledge gained in each. Going the diploma route means you will learn a brief overview of everything necessary to qualify as a medical assistant. It’s a streamlined system that will put you through the courses and classes you absolutely need to move on to a job as a medical assistant.

An Associate’s degree in medical assisting goes more in-depth. You’ll take all the necessary courses for medical assisting like with the diploma route, but you will also take general education courses in other areas of study such as math, communications, etc. These are part of a longer form of education and are meant to round you out as an individual.

Amount of Experience Gained

It’s difficult to predict exactly how much experience you’ll gain going with either option, but both the diploma and Associate’s degree are designed to provide you with the experience you need—in the case of the diploma just the bare minimum amount and with an Associate’s a little more than the bare minimum.

The diploma path will get you just enough experience to start your journey on the path to becoming a medical assistant. Because the diploma route is shortened to fit into a year’s worth of study, you might miss out on some key, core experiences that you would otherwise find with pursuing an Associate’s degree. Getting an Associate’s degree will likely allow you more time for gaining experience because you’ll have that extra year. However, both will require hours of volunteering and getting hands-on experience in the medical assisting field. 

Employability/Earning Potential 

Breaking into the field of medical assisting doesn’t necessarily require an Associate’s degree. Most states don’t have a formal education requirement for someone to be hired as a medical assistant. That being said, many employers will prefer a candidate who has completed a medical assisting program. Whether they’re satisfied with the one-year diploma or the two-year Associate’s degree is up to them. However, taking the time to earn a two-year degree can set you up to pursue further education and have a greater hiring potential down the road.  


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