Allied Health
January 16, 2024

How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant | Education and Requirements

A detailed primer on the education and certification requirements for becoming a medical administrative assistant.

Checkmark ShieldReviewed by

How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant | Education and Requirements

Behind every successful healthcare facility is a team of skilled medical administrative assistants who ensure seamless operations and exceptional patient care. From maintaining patient records to managing billing and insurance processes, these professionals are an integral part of any healthcare setting.

Medical administrative assistants are an integral part of any health care setting, ensuring that the behind-the-scenes operations run smoothly and efficiently. These professionals are responsible for managing patient records, scheduling appointments, handling billing and insurance processes, and providing exceptional customer service to patients. As the demand for health care services continues to grow, so does the need for skilled and dedicated medical administrative assistants.

If you're considering a career in health care administration, this step-by-step guide will walk you through thow to become a medical administrative assistant, including educational requirements, certification options, and the kills and qualities you need.

Job Responsibilities and Work Environment

Medical administrative assistants work in a fast-paced environment and must be able to multitask and prioritize their workload. They must also be able to establish and maintain positive working relationships with patients, health care providers, and insurance companies. Professionals in this role must be detail-oriented, organized, and have excellent communication and customer service skills. The ability to keep up with the latest technological advancements is also beneficial in this field.

Examples of work duties for medical administrative assistant may include:

  • Handling office correspondence
  • Using computer systems to accomplish tasks
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Answering phone calls
  • Updated electronic medical records
  • Coordinating reports
  • Billing
  • Using office software

Medical administrative assistants usually work full-time hours, although part-time and evening/weekend schedules may be available. Much of their work is performed in an office setting, although duties may occasionally require time in other areas, such as patient rooms or the lab.  

Medical administrative assistants may experience high levels of stress due to the high demands of the job and the constant pressure to be accurate and organized. They must also be able to handle difficult or hostile situations with patients, health care providers, and insurance companies. To prevent burnout, medical administrative assistants should prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, rest, and relaxation. Additionally, taking regular breaks throughout the day can help reduce stress levels and maintain overall job satisfaction.

Steps to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant

A solid educational foundation is crucial for aspiring medical administrative assistants. The journey starts with obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent. During high school, students should focus on building a strong foundation in English, math, and science, as these subjects are essential for success in health care administration. It's also helpful to take courses in keyboarding, computer applications, and business to gain relevant skills for the job.

Once you've completed high school, you can choose to further your education by enrolling in a post-secondary program. There are two primary routes to becoming a medical administrative assistant: certificate or diploma programs and associate degree programs.

Certificate or diploma programs usually last between nine months to a year and cover medical office procedures, medical terminology, and basic computer skills. These programs often provide hands-on experience through internships or externships, allowing students to gain practical skills in a real-world setting. By completing a certificate or diploma program, aspiring medical administrative assistants gain a competitive edge in the job market.

On the other hand, associate degree programs typically take two years to complete and provide a more comprehensive education. These programs cover a broader range of subjects, such as medical law and ethics, medical billing and coding, and health information management. Earning an associate degree can lead to more advanced career opportunities and higher earning potential.

Continuing education is essential for medical administrative assistants to stay abreast of industry trends and best practices. This may involve taking relevant courses, attending workshops, or participating in webinars. By staying up-to-date with the latest developments in health care administration, professionals can maintain their skills and provide the best possible service to their employers and patients.

Prepare for and Pass Certification

While obtaining certification is not always required, becoming a certified medical administrative assistant can significantly boost your employability and earning potential. Certification demonstrates your commitment to the profession and verifies your skills and knowledge.

There are two primary certification options for medical administrative assistants: Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) and Certified Medical Administrative Specialist (CMAS).

The CMAA certification is offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) and requires applicants to possess a high school diploma or equivalent and have completed a training program or have relevant work experience. The exam consists of 110 questions covering medical office procedures, patient communication, and medical records management. To maintain CMAA certification, individuals must complete 10 continuing education credits every two years.

The CMAS certification, offered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT), requires applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent, have completed a health care training program, and have at least one year of relevant work experience. The exam consists of 200 questions covering medical office management, insurance processing, and medical terminology. CMAS certification must be renewed every three years, with a requirement of 30 continuing education credits. The certification currently costs $135.

Preparing for certification exams involves studying materials such as textbooks, online resources, and practice tests. Additionally, staying organized, pacing yourself, and finding a study group can increase your chances of exam success.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Medical Administrative Assistant

To excel as a medical administrative assistant, you must possess a combination of technical skills, soft skills, and personal qualities.

Technical skills are the practical abilities required to perform the tasks associated with the role. Familiarity with medical terminology is crucial, as is the ability to navigate electronic health records systems. Medical billing and coding knowledge is essential for handling insurance claims and payments. Basic computer and software skills are also necessary for efficiently managing patient records and communicating with health care professionals.

Soft skills, such as communication, organization, and problem-solving, are critical for medical administrative assistants. Effective communication is vital for interacting with patients, health care providers, and insurance companies. Organization and time management skills enable professionals to juggle multiple tasks and prioritize their workload. Problem-solving abilities are essential for addressing issues that may arise, such as billing discrepancies or scheduling conflicts.

Personal qualities, including attention to detail, empathy and compassion, adaptability, and professionalism, contribute to a successful career in health care administration. Meticulous attention to detail is crucial for accurately managing patient records and insurance processes. Empathy and compassion help create a positive patient experience, while adaptability allows professionals to adjust to changes in the health care industry. Lastly, maintaining a professional appearance and demeanor demonstrates commitment to the job and fosters trust with patients and colleagues.

Internships and Externships Build Professional Networks

Obtaining practical experience and cultivating a professional network are vital steps in becoming a medical administrative assistant. Internships and externships provide valuable hands-on experience and can lead to potential job opportunities. To find and secure an internship or externship, research local health care facilities, tap into your school's resources, and network with professionals in the field.

Building a professional network is essential for career growth and job search success. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and engage in online forums to connect with other professionals in health care administration. Networking can lead to mentorship, collaboration, and potential job opportunities.

Wage Expectations and Job Outlook

The median annual wage for medical administrative assistants was $38,500 in 2022. Professionals with relevant experience and certifications tend to earn higher wages. Additionally, wages will vary depending on the employer, geographic location, and the individual's level of responsibility.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 8% growth in medical administrative assistant jobs from 2021-2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. The growing demand for health care services will likely increase job opportunities in the field, as well as the need for skilled administrative professionals.

Job Search and Career Advancement

When searching for a job as a medical administrative assistant, utilize online job boards, tap into your professional network, and work on creating an effective resume and cover letter. Tailor your application materials to highlight your relevant skills and experience for each position.

Prepare for interviews by researching common interview questions and practicing your responses. Dress professionally, arrive on time, and be prepared to discuss your qualifications and interest in the role.

The administrative assistant role is related to other health care administrative roles, such as medical billing and coding specialists, medical secretaries, and medical records technicians. Professionals in these roles must have a similar strong foundation of educational and technical skills, with the added skills sets specific to their job.

Cross-training is an important part of a medical administrative assistant's career development. Cross-training enables professionals to expand their skills and knowledge base, thus increasing their marketability and potential for advancement.

Advancement opportunities may include taking courses in medical billing and coding, medical law and ethics, or medical transcription. Additionally, many employers offer additional training opportunities, such as seminars or workshops, to help professionals hone their skills and stay current with industry trends.

Conclusion

Becoming a medical administrative assistant involves a combination of education, certification, skills development, and networking. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can embark on a rewarding career in health care administration and make a meaningful impact on patients' lives.

FAQs

How Much Do Medical Administrative Assistants Make?

The median annual wage for medical administrative assistants was $38,500 in 2022.

What’s the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Medical Administrative Assistant?

The most notable difference between medical assistants and medical administrative assistants is that medical assistants help provide patient care, while medical adminstrative assistants do not.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Medical Administrative Assistant?

It typically takes two years to complete an associate's degree program, but certificate programs typically last from nine months to one year.

More Resources

How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician | Requirements and Certification
Learn how to become a sterile processing technician and ensure patient safety. Discover job duties, requirements, and salary in our comprehensive guide.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do? Job Description and Responsibilities Explained
Medical assistants are responsible for of clinical, administrative and patient education in hospitals and other health care facilities. We dive into what it takes to succeed as a medical assistant.
How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) in 6 Steps
Explore the comprehensive guide to becoming a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). Dive into the roles, responsibilities, and benefits of a CMA, state-specific certification requirements, and steps to kickstart your healthcare career.
Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.