medical assistant

Medical Assistant Career Advancement


Updated By Staff Writer on April 16, 2021

Becoming a medical assistant is a great career on its own, but it can also be the perfect entry-level position for anyone interested in healthcare. Whether you’re just starting to look into becoming a medical assistant, or you’re a veteran wanting to know where you can improve, use this medical assistant career guide to learn where you can go next in your career.

What’s on This Page

Here’s what you need to know about how you can advance your career as a medical assistant step by step.

  • Attend a Medical Assisting Training Program: Start your medical assistant career with a program from an accredited institution. These programs give you a good foundation and an opportunity to learn what you need to succeed.
  • Get Certified: Certifications are available from a wide range of agencies. Once you finish your training, sitting for certification is expected. You may be able to wait a few months between finishing your training to get certified, but you should take the certification exam as soon as possible so what you learned is still fresh in your mind.
  • Get Experience: The first few years of your career with certification are going to be at an entry-level position in a medical office or facility. During this time, learn as much as you can, be willing to take any additional training that is offered, and seek to take on an increasing level of responsibility. As you work, take note of your likes and dislikes in the medical field. Find areas that you excel in, as well as other areas you’d rather avoid.
  • Dive into Specializations: After about four years of experience, you have enough time under your belt to look for where you can specialize. It’s possible to have numerous certifications and specializations. Each additional certification or specialization can broaden your medical horizons and improve your career as a medical assistant.
  • Consider More Education: After about five to seven years of experience, some medical assistants have been exposed to other interesting medical careers. At this point, it seems like a natural time for a change. Further education and training might change your career path in healthcare, but thanks to your foundation as a medical assistant, the fundamentals are already in place. Choose an area that truly captures your interest and be prepared to work hard to meet your goals.

How to Advance Your Career as a Medical Assistant

What is the next step after becoming a medical assistant? It’s possible to broaden your horizons as a medical assistant without having to go back to school for a new degree. Here are a few medical assistant career goals and objectives that can open doors to further your career as a medical assistant. Some of these do require additional training or on-the-job experience, but they are often supplemental courses that build on what you already know, rather than starting over from the beginning.

Earn Certifications

A lot of medical assistants never become certified simply because it isn’t required. However, you can stand out from the rest of the crowd and further your career by getting one or more certifications. Generally, those with certifications have better options for employment and can distinguish themselves in a pack of applicants for job openings.

Here are a few of the certifications you can earn as a medical assistant:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
  • Certified Paraoptometric (CPO)
  • Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA)
  • Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC)
  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA)

Specialize

With a specialization, a medical assistant is able to work in more specific practices and fill different roles in their facilities. Typically, these specializations come with work experience and/or additional training. Specialties include:

  • Allergy
  • Cardiology
  • Chiropractic
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Gerontology
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics / Gynecology
  • Oncology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Podiatry
  • Plastic surgery
  • Urology

If you have learned that administrative roles are more your specialty, there are nonclinical areas you can specialize in as well. These include:

  • Medical Billing and Coding
  • Medical Administrative Assistant

Become an Instructor

With a few years’ experience under your belt, you might consider becoming an instructor. Some schools or programs are more interested in having instructors who have years of experience over those with advanced degrees, so it’s possible for you to still get the job. Most schools require at least three years of experience in the field.

Learn a Second Language

Medical assistants can be the first point of contact between patients and their healthcare. But what happens when the patient isn’t a native English speaker? How do they get the healthcare they need or express how they are feeling when they can’t communicate? Learning an additional language gives you the chance to help even more patients, making them feel more comfortable and helping the practice run smoother.

Consider learning Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, or Tagalog as your second language, as they are the most common non-English languages in the United States. Depending on where you live, there might be a specific community that you can help by learning their language.

Alternative Jobs for Medical Assistants

Just because you’ve earned your medical assisting degree doesn’t mean you have to become a medical assistant. Here are a few related jobs you can apply for with a medical assisting degree.

Medical Claims Examiner

Medical claims examiners work with health insurance companies. They determine coverage and act as the insurer of the insurance companies. Every insurance claim is reviewed and examined by a medical claims examiner to ensure that all requirements are fulfilled before approval. Depending on their appraisal, medical claims examiners then approve payment of a claim or facilitate further investigation.

Phlebotomy Technician/Phlebotomist

Phlebotomists draw and prepare blood for medical testing, transfusions, or donations. They collect blood via venipuncture, finger pricks, or heel pricks in the case of infants. They can work in hospitals, clinics, outpatient care facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donation centers. Keep in mind that many states require certification to be a phlebotomist.

Medical Office Assistant

A medical office assistant is responsible for handling office duties and ensuring that a medical clinic or practice runs smoothly. They focus on clerical duties like transcribing patient records, keeping accounts updated, billing patients, and filing claims with insurance companies.

Career Advancements beyond Medical Assistant

Some view medical assistant jobs as the first step to a much deeper and rewarding career in healthcare. Here are a few careers that can be your next step, but will require you to go back to school for a new degree.

Nursing

If you are passionate about helping others, nursing could be a rewarding career for you. Compared to a medical assistant, a nurse works directly with patients in a clinical setting providing basic care. There are some medical assistant to nursing programs to help you transition into your new career.

Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN)

LPNs and LVNs provide patient care directly to their patients and are overseen by a registered nurse. They ensure basic patient comfort, check vital signs, and keep track of information in the patient’s chart.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses perform all of the responsibilities of an LPN or LVN, but they can also administer medication and treatments and offer educational advice to patients and the public. It is possible to transition from an MA to an RN with either an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor’s degree generally means the nurse is qualified for more complex procedures and can manage other nursing staff.

Respiratory Therapist

A respiratory therapist is a specialized medical professional who focuses on the function of the lungs. They work alongside doctors and nurses and practice in a wide range of medical facilities including emergency rooms, therapy offices, and maternity wards and may work evening and weekend hours. They are specialized in helping patients with asthma, emphysema, lung trauma, pneumonia, and other diagnoses. To become a respiratory therapist, you must complete an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in respiratory care, as well as licensing after passing a national exam. While it is optional to do a two-year Associate’s degree program, many employers favor candidates with a Bachelor’s degree.

Surgical Technician/Technologist

A surgical technician is one of the necessary personnel in any operating room (OR). Their job is to anticipate the needs of both the patient and the surgeon to make sure every operation goes smoothly. They are the first person in, and the last person out, of the OR.

Before surgery starts, a technologist gathers and arranges all of the equipment and surgical tools needed while maintaining the OR’s sterile environment. During the surgery, surgical technologists become a “third hand” to the surgeon. They help prepare medications, assist in retracting tissues, and pass surgical tools throughout the operation. After the operation is finished, surgical techs are responsible for counting all tools and instruments to ensure nothing is left behind in a patient, suture the incision and apply sterile dressings to the area, and dispose of items like needles and gauze. Since surgery is ongoing, you may be on-call during evenings, weekends, and holidays.

To become a surgical technician, there are two options: you can either complete a quick certification or diploma program or earn an Associate’s degree.

Radiologic Technologist

Also known as “rad techs,” they perform diagnostic imaging procedures such as X-ray examinations, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans. There are even some radiologic technologists who specialize in specific techniques like cardiovascular-interventional radiography, mammography, or sonography. Most radiologic technologists hold at least an Associate’s degree and are typically licensed or certified.

EKG Technician

Electrocardiographs (EKGs) help doctors identify cardiovascular problems. An EKG technician explains the test to patients, then performs it to monitor heart performance and the patient’s blood pressure. To become an EKG technician, you will need to finish either a certificate program, an Associate’s degree, or a Bachelor’s degree.

Medical Office Administration

If clinical work as a medical assistant isn’t what you prefer, a medical office administrator focuses more on the clerical and administrative duties of healthcare. They keep doctors’ offices and hospitals functioning and can work in a wide range of roles and facilities.

Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) work under the supervision of physical therapists to help patients regain their full range of motion and strength. They also help educate the patient and their family about what exercises and stretches they can do to continue their rehabilitation and answer any lingering questions they might have. To become a PTA, you must earn an Associate’s degree in physical therapy as well as pass a state licensing exam (unless you live in Colorado or Hawaii, where no exam is required).

Physician’s Assistant

Physician’s assistants (PAs) are professionals who are able to diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and serve as a primary healthcare provider for many patients.

To become a PA, you must first complete a four-year undergraduate Bachelor’s degree and then a two-or three-year Master’s degree program. In addition to this, you’ll need at least one year of medical experience.

Are There Any PA Schools That Accept Associate’s Degrees?

It is possible to apply to PA schools with an Associate’s degree, but you’ll be in direct competition against people who have completed baccalaureate degrees. Getting into a PA program is highly competitive, with most applicants getting turned down. In 2019–2020, 27,283 people applied to PA school, and only 8,802 of them were accepted into a program. If you want to improve your chances of getting into PA school, it helps to have a Bachelor’s degree in natural sciences like biology or chemistry. You also should have a high GPA and years of hands-on clinical experience. While it’s possible to apply with only an Associate’s degree, there’s a lower chance you’ll be accepted into a PA program.

Start Advancing Your Career Today

Becoming a medical assistant can be the first step in a rewarding healthcare career. If you’re interested in starting your Medical Assisting degree, click here to start your application. If you’d like to learn more about a medical assisting career, click here to read more on what your future career might hold.