Medical assistants are not required to earn certification. However, certified assistants show they have met a certain standard of knowledge, and this can enhance their careers. Certification may also help distinguish applicants from the competition in getting hired. Medical assistants may be administrative medical assistants, clinical medical assistants or specialized assistants, such an ophthalmic medical assistant, optometric assistant or podiatric medical assistant. An estimated 62 percent of medical assistants are employed in physician offices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Certification distinguishes a formally trained or experienced assistant from an entry-level assistant. Medical assistants can obtain their certification through a number of associations, including the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT) and the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The process varies depending on the association. Assistants may also earn certification in a specialty.
Certified medical assistants commonly earn higher pay then assistants that are not certified. According to PayScale, the hourly pay rate for medical assistants varies by credentials and the type of certification. Certified medical assistants earn an hourly rate ranging from $10.75 to $14.52, as of 2011. Salary will also vary by skill, specialty, education, employer type and geographical location.
Medical Assistant Qualifications
Medical assistants need to complete a one- to two-year program or obtain on-the-job training. While there are no specified education requirements to become a medical assistant, applicants must have at least a high school diploma. A one- to two-year postsecondary program may result in a certificate, diploma or an associate's degree, all of which can help candidates land a job. Course work covers anatomy, medical terminology, physiology and transcription, accounting and insurance processing. Students also learn clinical and diagnostic procedures and laboratory techniques, as well as pharmaceutical principles.
Medical assistants looking for employment have excellent job prospects, as the field is expected to grow 34 percent by 2018, according to the BLS. The job outlook for medical assistants with formal training or education, especially for those who have earned certification, is expected to be best. Employers will commonly choose a certified and formally trained assistant over those who do not have such credentials.