How to Become a Medical Assistant in California

How to Become a Medical Assistant in California

Are you interested in working in the medical field? As a medical assistant (MA), you can work alongside doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.

During your medical assistant career, you will cover two types of duties: administrative and clinical duties. Most medical assistants cover both types of duties during their career.

Why do people seek out a career as a medical assistant? For one, you get to help people in your community, and that gives many people a sense of purpose and satisfaction. From a practical standpoint, the demand for medical assistants is high. If you pursue this career, it is likely that you will have steady pay and hours, solid benefits, and a predictable source of income.

Certified medical assistants have many career paths open to them, and a wide variety of places that are looking for medical assistants. If you're considering how to become an MA, the streamlined medical assistant program at Campus, formerly known as MTI College, offers a fast-track route to certification in as little as 36 weeks.

In this guide, we will look at the necessary steps to become to become a medical assistant, and what you can expect at the onset of your career.

What is a Medical Assistant?

When contemplating how to become a medical assistant in California, it's essential to understand the diverse tasks you'll undertake, from supporting physicians in clinical procedures to managing administrative duties efficiently. Medical assistants work alongside physicians, performing a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks. There are many places medical assistant may work including: hospitals, outpatient facilities, ambulatory care facilities, medical offices, or clinics. Anywhere there are doctors or physicians, medical assistants are usually there to perform important tasks that help keep the medical office running smoothly.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

In a medical facility or hospital, medical assistants perform numerous tasks, both clinical and administrative. These important responsibilities often include:

Typical Medical Assistant Responsibilities

Scheduling appointments Measuring vital signs
Welcoming patients Arrange patient admissions
Manage medical records, billing or coding Preparing examination rooms
Sterilize medical equipment Drawing blood for testing
Input patient insurance information Perform basic medical exams and diagnostics
Moving medical records to EHRs Administer medications, under doctor’s supervision
Give injections, under doctor’s supervision Instructing patients about special diet or medications

How Do You Become a Medical Assistant?

Most hospitals or medical offices prefer candidates with formal training and a medical assistant certification. These steps walk you through the process of becoming a medical assistant.

1. Choose a Program in Which to Enroll

As you do research to choose a school and medical assistant program, keep in mind you must pick a program that is accredited by one of the two accrediting agencies. Without accreditation, you will not be able to take professional certification exams. Some of the accreditation agencies are:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)

Understanding how to become a medical assistant in California entails selecting an accredited program like Campus, ensuring your education meets the state's rigorous standards. For reference, the medical assistant program at Campus is accredited through ACCJC.

Factors that you should consider when choosing a medical assistant program are how graduates do on graduation, job placement, program accreditation, program cost vs return on investment, externship, and flexibility of the program (e-learning or online learning vs in-classroom learning).

Some programs are certification programs and others may be degree programs (associate’s degrees). Degree programs usually take two years, while certification programs can be completed in a year or less.

2. Complete an Externship

Exploring how to become a medical assistant involves gaining practical experience through an externship, a crucial step before pursuing certification. Most medical assistant training programs require completion of an externship before taking the certification exam. An externship is hands-on experience in a clinic or medical office that follows completion of classroom training.

An externship gives you the opportunity to work with professional medical assistants and get real-life experience in a clinical environment. This is a good time to ask questions of your mentors, develop and practice skills, and make personal connections and contacts in the medical field. Getting classroom learning lays the foundation of your training, but an externship gives you a chance to train in the field first-hand.

Most medical assistant schools will set up your externship with a local clinic or medical office as part of their training program.

3. Pass Your Exam and Get Certified

There are different exams that you can take to become a Certified Medical Assistant. To grasp how to become an MA, familiarize yourself with the various certification exams available, such as the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam. The exam that Campus prepares you for, the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam has 150-multiple choice questions. The NCMA exam is certified by the National Center for Competency Testing.

No matter which certification test you take, you’ll be tested on a wide range of medical assisting topics. Earning a certification credential lets employers know that you are knowledgeable and ready to work in a medical facility or hospital.

4. Prepare a Resume and Apply for Positions

Medical assisting is a quickly growing position, but if you have no previous work experience, it might pay to apply to a wide variety of medical offices. Be sure to not only apply to general physicians and doctor’s offices. Apply to different doctor’s offices, such as chiropractors, pediatricians, or podiatrists. You might also have more luck finding a job at a smaller, local office. From this first medical assisting job, you can build experience and work up to a medical assistant position at your desired facility.

Many vocational schools, including Campus, also have job placement programs. For the 2018-2019 award year, the job placement rate for Campus, formerly MTI College, was 100% (adjusted) and 78% (unadjusted). The unadjusted rate represents the percentage of total graduates who obtain employment in or related to their field of study. The adjusted rate represents the percentage of graduates who are actively looking for work and obtain employment in or related to their field of study. Checking jobs boards like Indeed, Glassdoor, and ZipRecruiter can also reveal job opportunities

Once you get a job interview for an open position at a medical office, be prepared for the interview process. Do some research on the medical facility itself. Practice questions and answers with a friend or reach out to an experienced medical assistant to find out what employers might ask.

After a number of interviews, you should be accepted to a position at a medical facility.

5. Start Your Career with a Job as a Medical Assistant

Congratulations, now you have landed your first job within the medical field. Soon you’ll be enjoying a nice salary, and most likely benefits as well, all while doing a job that helps people in the community. From here, you can gain experience, and if you are inclined to do so, work at branching into different career paths in the medical industry.

Are There Any Prerequisites to Enrolling in a Medical Assistant Program?

All medical assistant training programs require students to have a high school diploma or GED. There are no other formal prerequisites to enroll.

Are You Required to Become Certified as a Medical Assistant in California?

Medical assistants in California are not required to be certified in order to work. However, there are very specific requirements to bypass training in an accredited medical assistant training program. There are advantages to getting certified as a medical assistant, for one, it will be easier to find employment at a medical facility. Currently, only four states in the US require certification to work as a medical assistant.

According to the licensing and regulations set in place by the Medical Practice Act and enforced by the Medical Board of California, medical assistants must gain experience in one of two ways:

  1. Per Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations section 1366.3(a)(1), training under a licensed physician or podiatrist, who shall ascertain the proficiency of the medical assistant; or under a registered nurse, licensed vocational nurse, physician assistant, or a qualified medical assistant acting under the direction of a licensed physician or podiatrist who shall be responsible for determining the content of the training and proficiency of the medical assistant except that training to administer medication by inhalation shall be provided by a licensed physician or respiratory care practitioner; or
  2. Per Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations section 1366.3 (a)(2), in a secondary, postsecondary, or adult education program in a public school authorized by the Department of Education, in a community college program provided for in Part 48 of Division 7 of the Education Code, or a postsecondary institution accredited by an accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education under Sections 94130 or 94311 of the Education Code. A licensed physician or podiatrist shall serve as advisor to the medical assistant training program. The instructor in a public school setting shall possess a valid teaching credential issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The instructor in a private postsecondary institution shall meet the requirements of Sections 94310 and 94311 of the Education Code and any regulations adopted pursuant to those sections.

Please note that while medical assistant certification is not required for employment, this is still a path that makes most candidates choose to take.

For many medical hiring managers, when given a choice between an uncertified candidate and a certified candidate, the decision will often go to the certified medical assistant. It is almost always more practical for the medical facility to hire someone who is already trained vs someone who will require on-the-job training for an entry-level job. For this reason, many people entering the medical assistant field choose to go through an accredited training and certification program.

Skills Required to Be a Medical Assistant

Medical Assistants work around people, both staff and patients every day, so soft skills are a must. Having good organizational skills are also important. Here are some of the other crucial skills a medical assistant will need to succeed:

  • Communication skills
  • Positive attitude and friendly demeanor
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Computer savvy
  • Adaptability and ability to “think on feet”
  • Good listener
  • Attention to detail
  • Compassion and empathy

Medical assistants who work in specialized medical centers might need specific skills related to the specialty of the facility.

What Is the Job Outlook for Medical Assistants?

Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of jobs for medical assistants will rise over 18% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster job growth than the average for most jobs in the US, which is 7%. Medical assistants are actually one of the fastest growing jobs in in the United States for the next ten years.

Note: The data provided above are from a source unaffiliated with Campus, formerly known as MTI College, are for informational purposes only and represent the employment field as a whole. They are not solely specific to Campus graduates and, by providing the above information, Campus makes no representation, direct or implied, or opinion regarding employability.

What to Look for in a Medical Assistant Program

Do your due diligence before enrolling in a medical assistant program. Compare the curriculum, benefits, and tuition of different colleges and technical schools. The program you select should lead to a medical assistant Certification recognized by medical facilities and hospitals. Ideally, your program should be run by an accredited school or education institution. Many accredited vocational schools or community colleges with help you with Financial Aid.

Externship opportunities are a factor you should consider. Many noteworthy medical assistant programs will have externship roles at local clinics or medical offices that give you real-world experience. Ask prospective schools about their relationships with local medical facilities. It may be possible to get an externship in your preferred medical field.

Types of Medical Assistant Certifications Available

Some of the most common certifications for medical assistants are:

  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification
  • Nationally Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification

MTI College prepares students to pass the Nationally Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Exam. We also prepare them for all the above tests, except the CMAA (which is certified by CAAHEP).

You can read more about each of the certifications here.

What is the Average Salary for Medical Assistants?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for medical assistants in 2021 was $37,190 per year, nationwide. The average hourly wage in 2021 was $17.88 per hour nationwide. According to Glassdoor, the annual salary for a medical assistant in Sacramento in Q3 2021 was between 30k-43k, with a median salary of $63,138 (comprised of $36,741 of base pay and $26,407 of additional pay.)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

Many vocational schools and community colleges offer programs that allow you to pass the certifying exam. The program at Campus lets you become a certified medical assistant in about 36 weeks.

Is it Worth Becoming a Medical Assistant?

There are many upsides to becoming a medical assistant. It is an in-demand career growing much faster than the national average. You can become certified in less than a year, and most medical employers will not hire a medical assistant without formal training and certification. It is a fulfilling career that you can use as a stepping-stone to many different medical career paths. Because this is a position that is in demand nationwide, you can use your certification to go anywhere, and still be able to get a job that is nearly layoff-proof. This means you will be able to earn a living for many years to come. Many medical assistants also find the job rewarding because they get to help people on a daily basis.

Do Medical Assistants Earn More Than CNAs?

According to 2021 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants earn about $6,000 more per year on median average nationwide than Certified Nursing Assistants. Salaries may vary depending on the individual employers and job markets.

Is it Difficult to Become a Medical Assistant?

In Campus' Medical Assistant program, you will learn medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology. Each student in the Medical Assisting program is required to finish a 200‐hour unpaid off‐campus Medical Assisting Externship along with the standard course requirements in order to graduate. To become certified as a Medical Assistant, the classroom work can be completed in as few as 32 weeks, followed by a 4-week externship. This means you can become certified as a Medical Assistant in as little as 36 weeks.

What Is the Medical Assistant Curriculum at Campus?

For students taking the Medical Assistant program, these are the following classes:

MO111 Math for Medical Students
MO126 Medical Terminology with Anatomy and Physiology
MO130 Medical Office Practice
MO136 Introduction to Medical Billing and Coding
MO171 Clinical Assisting
MO181 Laboratory Assisting I
MO186 Laboratory Assisting II
MO190 Medical Assisting Certification Strategies
MO500 Medical Assisting Externship

Students that enroll in the Medical Assisting with Phlebotomy program will also take the above classes, with the addition of these classes:

PH100 Phlebotomy
PH500 Phlebotomy Externship

Can You Work While Attending Medical Assistant School?

It is possible to work as a medical assistant under the direct supervision of a physician while going to school. California does not require certification or registration, though most employers will look for certification. If you find a physician who will allow you to work while you complete your formal training, there is nothing that restricts this from happening.

Take the First Step Towards Becoming a Medical Assistant

The Admissions team at Campus can help you enroll, and answer any questions you have. Reach out today by filling out our contact form, and we can help you being the process of earning your Medical Assistant Certification.