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Do You Need a Degree as a Medical Assistant?

If you’re considering a career as a medical assistant, one of the first questions you may be asking is whether you need a degree to pursue this profession. The answer is no. There are no formal educational requirements to become a medical assistant. However, it's worth noting that having a degree in this field can help you stand out from the competition and potentially afford you higher salaries and better benefits.

While a high school diploma is needed to become a medical assistant, some employers may prioritize or even require candidates to have completed a postsecondary education program. These programs can range from certificate programs, which can usually be completed in less than a year, to associate degree programs, which may take two years to complete. These programs can provide you with a more in-depth understanding of medical terminology, anatomy, and clinical procedures, helping in your day-to-day work.

Many medical assistants learn on the job through training and experience. Employers may also provide training, which can cover tasks such as taking patients’ vital signs, recording medical histories, and assisting with medical procedures.

Keep reading for all the relevant information you need in order to become a medical assistant—including details on salary expectations, and job outlook—so you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right career path for you. 

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants work alongside physicians, mainly in outpatient or ambulatory care facilities, such as medical offices and clinics. They’re responsible for performing both administrative and clinical tasks to support the work of doctors and nurses.

On the administrative side, medical assistants oversee tasks such as recording and updating medical histories and contact information in patient files, scheduling patient appointments, and managing communication between patients and healthcare providers. They may also be responsible for managing medical records, filing insurance claims, and billing patients.

In the clinical setting, medical assistants conduct various patient care procedures, including taking vital signs, preparing patients for exams, drawing blood, administering medications, and collecting lab samples. It’s crucial for medical assistants to have technical expertise and proficiency in handling medical equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and EKG machines to ensure accurate patient vital sign measurements.

To succeed in this role, medical assistants must be detail oriented because they’re responsible for entering all patient data accurately in their records. This information is important for doctors and insurance companies to refer to when making medical decisions and processing claims. Additionally, medical assistants should have excellent communication skills to interact with patients, healthcare providers, and other healthcare team members. 

What Are the Requirements for a Medical Assistant?

There are several qualifications and skills you should possess to succeed as a medical assistant. 

  • You must pass at least one certification exam from a reputable organization, such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This accredited certification makes you more desirable to employers and shows that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the job. (Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards and industry requirements.)
  • Get at least two years of experience working in the healthcare field. This will provide you with a solid command of medical terminology and clinical procedures. It will also give you a chance to learn how best to serve patients and work well with physicians and other healthcare professionals.
  • Develop superior customer service skills. This includes being able to remain calm under pressure, being empathetic and compassionate towards patients, and having excellent interpersonal skills. A high level of professionalism is also critical, as medical assistants are responsible for handling sensitive patient information and working within ethical and legal guidelines.
  • While not required, having a bachelor's degree in a medical field from a medical assistant program is often preferred by employers because it demonstrates superior knowledge and dedication to the profession. However, it's worth noting that many professionals enter this field with a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Responsibilities of a Medical Assistant

As a medical assistant, your responsibilities will vary depending on the type of medical facility you work in and the specific needs of the patients you serve. Here are some of the most common responsibilities of medical assistants:

  • Record patient medical histories and ensure accuracy of patient information.
  • Communicate treatment procedures and offer basic medical advice to patients.
  • Prepare patients for exams by measuring vital signs and updating medical records.
  • Assist healthcare providers during exams and minor procedures.
  • Collect and prepare laboratory specimens for testing purposes.
  • Conduct basic laboratory tests such as blood glucose monitoring and urinalysis.
  • Educate patients on medication use and special dietary requirements, as advised by healthcare providers.
  • Administer medications, including injections and vaccinations, under the direction of licensed healthcare providers.
  • Facilitate prescription refills based on physician instructions.
  • Conduct phlebotomy procedures to draw blood for diagnostic purposes.
  • Conduct electrocardiograms (EKGs) to evaluate the heart's electrical activity.
  • Provide wound care and dressing changes as necessary to promote healing.

These may vary depending on state regulations and the policies and procedures of the medical facility you work in. As a professional in the healthcare field, it's important to stay up to date on industry best practices and regulations to ensure that you are providing safe and effective care to patients.

Salary and Job Outlook for Medical Assistants

According to, the average annual pay for medical assistants is $38,432 as of October 2022. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many factors, such as education, certifications, skill set, and years of experience. Some medical assistants may earn more than $41,500, while others may earn less than $35,430.

Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow by 16% between 2021 and 2031, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On average, about 123,000 openings for medical assistants are projected each year over the next decade. As the number of older Americans grows, demand for healthcare professionals and medical services also rises.

Becoming a Medical Assistant

While a degree is not required to become a medical assistant, having a bachelor's degree in the medical field can increase your chances of getting the job you want and earning a higher salary than your peers without a degree. 

If a bachelor's degree sounds like the right path for you, WGU is a great option to explore. At WGU, you can earn a degree online and at your own pace, which is ideal for those who are already working or have other commitments. WGU's health information management or healthcare management degrees are excellent precursors to a medical assistant career, designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in this field, including hands-on training and clinical experience.

Some of the advantages of WGU's healthcare programs include flexible scheduling, personalized support from faculty and staff, and a curriculum that is aligned with industry standards and best practices. Graduates of WGU's healthcare programs are well-prepared to enter the workforce and make a positive impact in the lives of their patients. Learn more and get started on the path to a rewarding career in healthcare!

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