Accredited Online Medical Assistant Programs Guide
Medical assistant programs prepare aspiring medical assistants to pass state exams and meet other state requirements. These programs can be completed in two years or less at a technical or vocational school as well as junior and community colleges.
Though licensure requirements vary by state, those pursuing a degree in medical assisting can take advantage of the flexibility of an online degree.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for medical assistants to be hired with no experience and receive on-the-job training. As the healthcare system increases in complexities, employers seek candidates with the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful in their positions. Medical assistant programs and state exams have been created to help prepare aspiring medical assistants for work in the healthcare system.
State exams are required to jumpstart your career as a medical assistant.
The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam. Passing this exam guarantees to an employer that candidates have a current and thorough understanding of the healthcare and medical industry. The AAMA certification is quickly becoming the entry-level standard in the medical assisting field–not yet a mandate.
3 Types of Medical Assisting Degrees
Online Medical Assisting Certificate
- Focused program made up of core clinical courses, without many of the general education and liberal arts classes included in an associate degree program
- May not be eligible for transfer credit if you decide to further your education in the future
- Often the least expensive programs, due to lower number of credit hours
- Can be completed in as little as 9 months
Online Medical Assisting Diploma Programs
- Entry requirements may include H.S. diploma or equivalent
- Typically last 12-18 months (as little as 8-9 months)
- Nearly identical to certificate programs
- Self-paced study mixed with real-time elements
- Credits may not transfer
- Courses focus on clinical and administrative skills
Associate of Applied Science Degree in Medical Assisting (AAS)
- Can be earned in two years or four semesters
- ~65 credits (50 core course credits, 15 general studies elective credits)
- Average of 30 more credit hours than certificate programs
- Includes more general, liberal arts, clinical, and administrative classes
- Credits easily transfer toward a bachelor of science degree, if further education is sought
- Eligible to take the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination and/or Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination once degree is earned
- Offers top-level earnings and more lucrative positions
- Offers immediate employability once degree is earned
3 Specialties and Areas of Concentration
Medical assistants tend to seek specific training in order to better serve their employers. This training involves one of three categories:
Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA): This focus mainly deals with patient care, side-by-side with a physician.Clinical medical assistants assist with minor procedures and examinations, chart vital signs, explain treatments and procedures to patients, and document vital signs, among other things. In small offices, CMAs often help with maintaining and ordering supplies, answering phones, scheduling appointments, working on insurance claims, and more. A two-year degree or certificate course are required to jumpstart your career as a formally trained CMA. Most online courses include real-world “practice” and study that prepare them for this field.
Administrative Medical Assisting: Administrative medical assistants, or medical secretaries, perform administrative tasks for hospitals and clinics. Responsibilities include, but are not limited to, managing front desk operations, interviewing patients for case histories in advance of appointments, processing insurance payments, accounting and billing, maintaining supplies for and appearance of the office, and other functions. Administrative medical assistants often manage basic business operations for health care facilities. There are no formal educational requirements to jumpstart your career as an administrative medical assistant, but most employers will mandate at least a high school diploma for employment. Certification can be attained through an institution that is accredited by one of the two medical assistant accreditation bodies, the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Specialized Medical Assisting: As physicians become more specialized, there is an increasing need for specialized medical assistants. Specialty certifications allow medical assistants to concentrate their medical training to a narrowly focused medical field. Specialized assistants become healthcare team members. Certifications are available trough the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
Students can choose from a variety of options and specialties with online programs and expand their school options beyond their own state lines. Knowing which programs meet your state’s licensure requirements is key to finding a top program. The list below outlines the top medical assisting programs online.
School data was compiled from IPEDS and the College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Our rankings aim to objectively assess online medical assisting programs according to affordability, academic quality and student satisfaction. The following criteria was used to make our assessment:
Each School Must
- Be an accredited public or private, not-for-profit institution.
- Offer an online associate in Medical Assisting degree program
- Submit an annual report to the National Center for Education Statistics.
All eligible institutions are ranked on a 100 point scale. A perfect score of 100 is earned by ranking #1 for all ranking factors.
ACADEMIC QUALITY – 60%
- Full-Time Retention Rate – 20 %
- Part-Time Retention Rate – 20 %
- Graduation Rate – 20 %
AFFORDABILITY – 40%
- Average Net Price – 20 %
- Percentage of Enrolled Students Receiving Financial Aid – 20 %
Schools on our list demonstrate a commitment to high-quality affordable education for their students. We are pleased to announce the outcome of our assessment with the ranking below.
Top 10 Accredited Online Medical Assisting Programs
#1 Keiser University – Ft. Lauderdale
Keiser University is ranked as one of the top colleges in the South, by U.S. News & World Report. It offers several campus locations in the state of Florida, and includes online courses as well. Keiser offers one of the best medical assisting degree programs available. This degree readies students to work under physicians performing tasks such as testing blood sugar levels, providing injections, and helping with minor surgeries. Students will also learn to perform x-rays, run blood tests and other laboratory functions. Additionally, students also learn how to properly communicate with patients, the proper method of maintaining patient records and other administrative duties. Although the highest priced online medical assistant program, Keiser University also offers the highest full-time and part-time retention rates and graduation rate.
- Net Price: $26,328
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 93%
- Full-time Retention: 92%
- Part-time Retention: 64%
- Graduation Rate: 67%
#2 Olney Central College
Olney Central College is part of the Illinois Eastern Community College system, (OCC). All of the OCC schools have a set of values that encourage responsibility, honor and truth, fairness, respect and self-respect and compassion. This college offers an online medical office careers degree. The specialities offered in this degree include Medical Office Assistant, Medical Coding Associate and Medical Transcription. With one of these degrees, students will be ready for employment in medical clinics, hospitals, doctor’s offices and even insurance companies. Students may also find employment with local health organizations. These programs focus on administrative medical duties such as medical reimbursement. Classes also focus on the clinical side, as well as anatomy. Olney offers the most affordable medical assistant program online.
- Net Price: $1,793
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 93%
- Full-time Retention: 63%
- Part-time Retention: 42%
- Graduation Rate: 49%
#3 Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Clarion University was founded in 1867 and serves roughly 5500 students. This university has received over 30 awards based on accreditations, teaching and student performance. Clarion University offers an Associate of Science in Allied Health, which can only be completed online. This degree is suited for students who already have some training in allied health fields such as paramedic technology, medical assisting, medical lab, as well as several other careers. This degree is meant to help students progress in their medical career. The program requires 30-credit hours of courses with health concentration, as well as 30 credit hours of general education and 30 credit hours for clinical training.
- Net Price: $17,972
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 66%
- Full-time Retention: 74%
- Part-time Retention: 57%
- Graduation Rate: 49%
#4 Minnesota West Community and Technical College
Minnesota West Community and Technical College has received several accolades, including Top 150 U.S. Community College, recognized by Aspen Institute. Other awards include Number One Community College in Minnesota, Top Online College 2017, Military Friendly School 2017, among others. MWCTC offers an online medical assistant degree. It also offers a Medical Administrative Secretary A.A.S. degree. With this degree, students are eligible to work in hospitals, doctor’s offices and more. This degree focuses on the clerical side of the medical field. Students in this course will learn medical office procedures, word processing, medical insurance and business communications. Students also learn general medical knowledge and terminology. Minnesota West offers the third cheapest online medical assistant program on our list.
- Net Price: $9,426
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 64%
- Full-time Retention: 63%
- Part-time Retention: 45%
- Graduation Rate: 44%
#5 Alexandria Technical & Community College
Founded in 1961. Alexandria Technical & Community College has a history of keeping up with changes and offering what students need. Currently, this college offers a Medical Administrative Specialist program that is completely online. This program also ranks as one of the best medical assistant programs online. Students will learn advanced computer functions, medical terminology, anatomy, communication, how to use electronic health records and much more. To earn the degree, students will also work with a medical office mentor, in a capstone course to meld the major topics included in this program. Students are equipped to apply for jobs in hospitals, medical clinics, private practices and more.
- Net Price: $13,235
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 51%
- Full-time Retention: 71%
- Part-time Retention: 38%
- Graduation Rate: 61%
#6 Minnesota State Community and Technical College
The mission of MSCTC is to help students develop the skills they will need for their future. In other words, to help students learn with purpose. This school offers medical assistant online degrees for Medical Office Assistants as well as Medical Administrative Assistants. In each of these programs, students will learn patient billing, scheduling, record keeping and general office functions. The administrative assistant degree includes some leadership courses, preparing the student for administrative roles right after graduation. Students will also learn medical terminology as well as ethical practices in both programs. Upon graduating, students are equipped to work in doctor’s offices, medical clinics and hospitals.
- Net Price: $10,004
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 49%
- Full-time Retention: 63%
- Part-time Retention: 48%
- Graduation Rate: 36%
#7 Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical
The vision of Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical is to serve individual as well as regional needs for lifelong learning and career development. This school does this by focusing on technical and career oriented education. MSCST boasts a 94% job placement rate and even offers students a chance to earn a medical assistant degree completely online. This school also allows students to earn an associate degree for Medical Administrative Assistant. In this course, students will learn medical office procedures, healthcare documentation, business communication, medical transcription and more. As a graduate of the program, students are educated for employment in extended care facilities, outpatient clinics, medical centers as well as insurance companies.
- Net Price: $13,201
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 54%
- Full-time Retention: 61%
- Part-time Retention: 57%
- Graduation Rate: 31%
#8 Kirtland Community College
Serving nine different counties, Kirtland Community College is the largest of it’s kind in the state of Michigan. In order to keep up with the needs of students, this school offers several degrees in the health science field, including a medical assistant degree. KCC also offers a degree in Health Information Technology, which is fully online. This course teaches students how to do billing and coding, maintain medical records, as well as various clerical duties. The degree focuses on new federal regulations of how billing information and medical records are to be tracked. Graduates will be educated for careers in specialty doctor’s offices, the health department, hospitals and even the government. Kirtlan Community College offers the second most affordable online medical assistant program on our list.
- Net Price: $7,452
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 56%
- Full-time Retention: 54%
- Part-time Retention: 35%
- Graduation Rate: 29%
#9 Guilford Technical Community College
Since 1958, GTCC has been training professionals for a career of their choice. This school had a humble beginning with only 42 students. However, that number has grown to over 40,000 students annually, with five campuses. This school honors values of excellence, integrity and collaboration. This school provides a medical assistant degree with a focus in Medical Office Administration. This course teaches students to coordinate information, provide statistics, billing and coding functions and more. Students will be able to manage manual and electronic medical records, process medical codes, decipher medical billing claims and have an in-depth knowledge of medical terminology. Graduates will be educated for careers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care and more.
- Net Price: $10,483
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 62%
- Full-time Retention: 52%
- Part-time Retention: 41%
- Graduation Rate: 17%
#10 Barton County Community College
Since 1998, Barton County Community College has been providing students with the education needed for upstanding careers. This school sees more than 17,000 students on an annual basis. It offers online learning, with it’s medical assistant degree being one of the top courses in all of Kansas. BCC also offers online degrees in Medical Lab Tech as well as Medical Administrative Tech. Medical Lab Tech students will learn things such as chemistry, immunology, psychology, anatomy and more. This degree allows students to retain employment as lab managers, cruise ship hospital techs, infection control specialists and more. Medical Administrative Techs will learn business law, accounting, payroll procedures and more. This degree is for someone who is interested in the healthcare field, but does not want direct interaction with patients.
- Net Price: $9,519
- Percent Receiving Financial Aid: 33%
- Full-time Retention: 55%
- Part-time Retention: 29%
- Graduation Rate: 21%
Medical Assistant Certification Guide
Certified medical assistants are important parts of health care teams as they ensure that patients are well taken care of. While most certified medical assistants work in physicians’ offices, you’ll also find them in other health care practitioners’ offices, hospitals, and outpatient care centers.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can enter this growing profession, read on!
Career Outlook for Certified Medical Assistants
As the health care industry continues to grow, there is a strong need for well-trained, certified medical assistants; years ago, these positions were obtainable for those with only a high school diploma, but times have changed, and most employers now prefer candidates who have both training and medical assistant certification.
Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that medical assistants will see excellent job growth over the next 10 years; medical assistants with the best prospects will be those with certification and/or experience. Technological advances, an aging population, and the need to replace medical assistants leaving the profession mean that this will be a health care job sector that will continue to grow.
The BLS also reports that median annual wage of medical assistants as of September 2017 was $32,850; the middle 50% earned between $26,860 and $37,760, with earnings varying by location, experience, and skill level.
Job Responsibilities of Certified Medical Assistants
The duties of medical assistants range from administrative to clinical, so you should be prepared to perform any or all of the following tasks:
- Greet patients
- File and update medical records
- Fill out insurance forms
- Schedule services at hospitals and laboratories
- Answer the phone and handle emails and correspondence
- Schedule patient appointments
- Perform various bookkeeping and billing tasks
- Assist doctors during exams
- Take patients’ vital signs
- Record medical histories
- Provide information to patients regarding diets, treatments, and procedures
- Prepare patients for x-rays, exams, and other procedures
- Sterilize and arrange medical equipment
- Distribute medications
- Remove stitches
Training for Certified Medical Assistants
Those interested in becoming a certified medical assistant have two basic educational paths to choose from: certificate/diploma or associate’s degree. Completing either of these paths may qualify you for medical assistant certification, but be sure to read program descriptions carefully to be sure you will be eligible.
- Certificate/diploma medical assistant programs: Offered through community or career colleges, courses in a certificate or diploma program deal with the knowledge and training required to be a certified medical assistant; that is, you will not have extra, more general academic requirements. A certificate/diploma medical assistant program takes between nine months and a year to complete; because this is considerably shorter than an associate’s degree program, these types of programs are also less expensive.
- Associate’s medical assistant degree programs: Offered through community or career colleges, associate degree programs will require general liberal arts courses in addition to those necessary to become a certified medical assistant. These programs take about two years of full-time study to complete and are more expensive than certificate or diploma programs, but there are at least three big advantages: (1) You may be able to apply your credits to a bachelor’s degree program; (2) You will be a more well-rounded job candidate; and (3) You may command a higher starting salary.
Upon completion of an accredited medical assistant training program, you will become eligible for medical assistant certification. It is essential that you make sure a program will make you eligible for certification as employers are increasingly accepting only those who are certified. Certification as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) is offered by the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and by the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT), among others.
Choosing the Right Medical Assistant Certification Program
In order to make sure you’ll be eligible for certification, when choosing your school, you should make sure it is accredited by one of the two major accreditation bodies for medical assistant certification: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Some other factors you should consider when choosing a medical assistant degree program include the following:
- Your future career aspirations (especially whether you would like to continue your medical studies later)
- How much time and money you have to devote to your studies
- Whether you are eligible for financial aid
- Whether the school will help you find a job and how well they have helped other graduates
Are you ready to get started on the path of becoming a certified medical assistant?
Choosing a Medical Assisting Program
How do I choose a good program?
All programs are not created equally. In order to get a respected education, you should look for brick-and-mortar or online programs that meet certain criteria. All good programs, including the best online medical assistant programs, have institutional accreditation, require internships and offer job placement resources.
How important is accreditation for medical assisting degree programs?
There are 2 types of accreditation, and it is important for you to understand the differences between them before you look for programs online or at traditional schools. The first type is institutional accreditation, which is awarded to universities, colleges or technical schools as a whole. The second type is program accreditation, which is granted by professional organizations to specific programs within a university, like a business program.
No matter what subject you study, you should always attend a school that is institutionally accredited. It is especially important to make sure that your school is accredited if you are interested in attending medical assistant online programs.
However, program accreditation requirements are somewhat less clear. You do not need to graduate from a specially accredited program in order to get a job as an administrative or clinical medical assistant. But if you want to become a certified medical assistant, your program must be accredited. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 2 accrediting agencies in this field. Therefore, you should look for medical assisting programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
You can find an accredited medical assistant program online or at a brick-and-mortar school. And since there is no difference in the standards for online programs for medical assistant and brick-and-mortar medical assistant programs, you can view program accreditation as a stamp of approval whether you are looking for medical assistant schools online or not.
Will I have to do an internship or get hands-on training?
All high-quality medical assistant programs, including online programs, will require you to complete an externship, which is a short-term internship. The externship is offered at the end of your program in your final term so that you can practice the skills that you have learned in a practical setting and graduate with confidence in your abilities to perform on the job. Externships can vary somewhat according to your school and your workplace. But generally speaking, medical assisting externships consist of at least 160 hours of supervised work experience in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or clinic. You should pay close attention to whether your school offers a chance to build your hands-on skills if you are interested in obtaining a medical assistant online degree. Externships are important regardless of the school that you attend, but they are essential if you choose to attend an online medical assistant program. Even the top medical assistant programs online cannot effectively teach you to all of the hands-on clinical skills that you need in order to excel as a medical assistant. Therefore, you should only attend a medical assistant online program if it places you in an externship.
Will my medical assisting program help me find a job as a medical assistant?
Some schools offer career resources to help students find jobs after graduation. Typically, students complete externships with clinics that are affiliated with their school. The business relationship between schools and clinics gives students work experience and a foot in the door.
Naturally, a positive externship experience will boost your resume greatly. In fact, you may be hired by the same clinic directly after completing your externship. But that is not a guarantee, so you should begin networking with others in order to secure a job. To start networking, you should become active in professional organizations like Linked In, which can help you reach out to other medical assisting and allied health professionals.
There are also a variety of professional organizations that you can join to enhance your credibility and find out about job offers in your area. The top organization is the American Association of Medical Assistants, which offers information on recruiting medical assistants as well as information about average salaries and benefits.
There are five medical assistant certifications: CMA, CCMA, CMAA, NCMA, and RMA. The most important of these is the CMA, and you should only pursue the other certifications if your employer specifically requires it.
The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential is awarded by the American Association of Medical Assistants when students pass its CMA certification examination. This is considered a baseline for establishing your professionalism to employers and will increase your chances of getting a job. The CMA helps employers protect against medical malpractice plaintiffs who may attempt to discredit a healthcare organization that otherwise employs an unlicensed healthcare worker. Increasingly, most healthcare employers are requiring this certification. To take the CMA you must be a graduate of the CAAHEP or ABHES accredited programs.
After earning your credential, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) requires recertification every 60 months. You can recertify by earning continuing education (CE) credits or by retaking the examination. If you choose to recertify by examination, you can learn what is required in the AAMA online handbook.
If you would rather recertify through further study, you must earn 60 recertification points by taking approved medical assistant classes through colleges or on the continuing education page of the AAMA website. You can start by visiting the AAMA’s e-Learning Center to complete your training online. Additionally, you can take advantage of its online self-study courses, which cover a variety of topics in medical assisting.
The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential is awarded by the American Medical Technologists. You are eligible to take this examination only after you have worked as a medical assistant for five years or more. Some employers require registered medical assistant status, so upon your five-year anniversary, you can attain this certification. You should only do so if you can confirm a salary increase with your current employer or if you plan to change jobs to a new employer that requires RMA.
The American Medical Technologists (AMT) regulates recertification through its Certification Continuation Program (CCP). AMT recertification guidelines state that medical assistants must meet CCP requirements every three years. In addition, you should expect to an annual renewal fee in order to maintain your RMA certification.
AMT also provides a series of web-based educational opportunities that members can utilize. Their STEP Online continuing education program gives you access to printable academic articles and online tests through which you can earn CE credits.
CCMA or CMAA
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) come from the National Healthcareer Association. Unless the healthcare organization for which you are applying requires the CCMA, it is not recommended you pursue this certification.
Even so, both of these certifications also require continuing education to maintain them. To recertify, you must either participate in a continuing education medical assistant training program or retake the certification exam. If you recertify through continuing education, you must earn at least ten of your CE credits every two years from its own Continuing Education Program, where all of its CE programs are available in an online format.
The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) credential is offered by the National Center for Competency Testing. Again, unless the healthcare organization for which you are applying requests it specifically, the NCMA is not recommended.
The NCMA certification is issued by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), which offers an online continuing education test that you can take annually to keep your medical assistant certification current. NCCT offers over 70 downloadable CE courses. After completing each course, you can take an online test to earn CE credits.
Study for Your Certification Exams
These print and online medical assistant study resources can help you prepare for your certification exam, whether this is your first time attempting certification or if you just need a refresher before recertifying. The key to success is preparation, so utilize the medical assistant study resources listed below to increase your chances of passing your exam.
Free Medical Assistant Study Resources
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant Study Guide – Specifically created for administrative medical assistants, this guide provides a comprehensive discussion of the key elements of medical office management like communication techniques, scheduling appointments, processing mail, working with health insurance, medical terminology and more. After you have reviewed all of the information it contains, you can take a practice exam to test your knowledge and assess which areas of medical assisting you still need to study.
National Healthcareer Association Clinical Medical Assistant Online Study Guide – This online study guide published by Virginia College allows you to create your own digital notecards to study for medical assistant exams at no cost to you. Additional features of this interactive guide are spelling quizzes, practice tests, and educational games to make studying simple and enjoyable.
MA Exam Help – Maexamhelp.com is a website devoted to helping prospective medical assistants pass their exams with minimal stress. The free resources made available on this site include practice quizzes, study notes, digital flashcards, lectures notes, medical terminology dictionaries, and a brief history of medicine, plus links to other study sites.
Medical Assistant Resources Material You Can Purchase
These resources are considered the most valuable in the industry, based on interviews with medical assistants in North America, who found them of value in honing their medical assisting knowledge.
ATI Allied Health Clinical Medical Assistant Online Tutorial – This online tutorial, published by ATI Allied Health, is based on CMA certification tests from previous years, so you can be sure it will provide you with questions that prepare you for the actual exam. For instance, you can use the interactive quiz to test your knowledge on medical history, the vital signs, the parts of a prescription, specimen collection, and legal considerations for medical assistants. Note that this valuable resource is provided at a cost of $40.00.
Certified Medical Assistant Exam Secrets Study Guide – Once you have studied the material on the CMA exam, you can use this textbook to prepare yourself for the formatting of the exam. Learn to be a better test-taker and discover how you can give yourself an edge by using the strategies explained in this resource.
Kinn’s The Medical Assistant Study Guide and Procedure Checklist Manual Package – The most comprehensive study resource available, this book, published in 2010, was written by a collaboration of authors including certified medical assistants, allied health instructors, and healthcare writers. It covers all the topics that you will need to know in order to become a medical assistant. The field is broken down into 11 units, including Administrative Medical Assisting, Health Information in the Medical Office, Assisting with Medical Specialties, and Diagnostic Procedures. This extremely comprehensive study review is available for $42.95.