What Education Do You Need to Become a Medical Assistant?

Most jobs in the medical field take years to train for. It is time that some people just don’t have. But what if there was a secure and meaningful healthcare career you could start in months? Would you be interested? If you’re ready to join a vibrant and growing industry in an essential role, why not turn your passion for health into a rewarding future as a medical assistant?

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants play a critical role in healthcare settings, performing both clinical and administrative tasks to support patients, healthcare providers, and administrators. They serve as a vital link between patients and their doctors, helping to ensure that patients get the care they need in a timely and effective way.

Job descriptions vary based on employment settings, but responsibilities typically include:


Medical assistants collaborate with the front and back-office teams to manage provider schedules. You’ll keep things running smoothly by:

  • Making appointments for routine office visits, diagnostic tests, and procedures
  • Adjusting appointment times, handling last-minute cancellations and no-shows
  • Triaging phone requests
  • Confirming appointments and reviewing any required pre-appointment preparation
  • Preregistering patients over the phone to save time at check-in

Rooming Patients

“Rooming” is the process of preparing patients for examinations. The goal is to save the provider time by performing essential clinical and recordkeeping tasks, such as:

  • Reviewing patients’ medical histories, including primary complaints and any changes in allergies, medications, or health status
  • Conducting health screenings, including vision and hearing tests, and mental health questionnaires
  • Helping patients change into a gown for physical exams
  • Taking vital signs; blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation level
  • Measuring patients’ weight and height to determine their Body Mass Index (BMI), a metric doctors use to diagnose illness, assess risk for chronic diseases, and calculate high-risk medication dosages
  • Collecting urine or stool specimens for testing following rigorous laboratory guidelines

Administering Medications

Medical assistants can administer most types of medications under a licensed healthcare provider’s supervision. The task includes:

  • Educating patients about their medications, including their purposes, potential side effects, interactions, and contraindications
  • Describing the administration process
  • Obtaining informed consent for treatment
  • Applying topical treatments, including ointments and patches
  • Giving injections, such as childhood immunizations, seasonal vaccines, and allergy shots

Drawing Blood

Drawing blood, or phlebotomy, is a routine procedure in many healthcare offices. As a medical assistant, you will:

  • Draw blood samples for diagnostic testing
  • Process specimens per laboratory guidelines
  • Perform in-house testing or prepare samples for shipment
  • Manage phlebotomy supplies and workstation sanitation
  • Counsel patients on home care for adverse effects, such as bruising and discomfort

Performing Diagnostic Tests

Medical assistants do a variety of diagnostic tests in office settings. It’s a convenience for patients and an important source of revenue for private practices.

You may perform:

  • ECGs, tracings of electrical activity in the heart
  • Urinalysis, a chemical and microscopic examination of urine
  • Blood glucose screening
  • Occult blood stool testing
  • Urine pregnancy tests
  • Strep screens
  • Fetal heartbeat monitoring
  • Tuberculosis testing

Assisting with Treatments and Procedures

Doctors rely on medical assistants for help with treatments and minor surgeries. It’s a hands-on role that includes:

  • Preparing instrument trays
  • Setting up emergency equipment
  • Positioning and draping the patient
  • Passing instruments during procedures
  • Monitoring the patient’s comfort, safety, and privacy
  • Offering physical and emotional support
  • Aftercare, including specimen collection, bandage changes, and suture removal

Infection Control

Medical offices are reservoirs for dangerous pathogens. Medical assistants safeguard patient health by:

  • Screening patients for symptoms of contagious disease
  • Sanitizing shared equipment and hard surfaces between visits
  • Sterilizing surgical instruments

Coordinating Referrals

Many patients are referred to a specialist by their primary healthcare provider. You’ll assist in the process by:

  • Obtaining insurance preauthorization on the patient’s behalf
  • Scheduling the appointment
  • Facilitating the flow of health and financial information between providers

Managing Inventory

Medical assistants manage inventory, ensuring that medical and clinical supplies are readily available. Responsibilities include:

  • Stocking shelves
  • Performing manual inventories
  • Tracking supplies with inventory software
  • Disposing of expired or recalled products
  • Placing orders

Billing and Coding

How involved medical assistants are in billing and coding depends on where they work. Some coding is integral to clinical duties while other billing issues are handled mostly by the back office. In general, you’ll participate by:

  • Verifying the patient’s demographic data and insurance coverage
  • Coding superbills – documents used to track the services rendered and supplies used during examinations and treatments
  • Collecting coinsurance payments
  • Filling out insurance claim forms
  • Requesting service pre-authorizations


Medical assistants serve as liaisons between patients, peers, and providers, coordinating communication within the office. Duties include:

  • Writing correspondence
  • Calling patients with lab results
  • Relaying messages between providers and colleagues
  • Phoning in prescriptions
  • Clinical documentation

What Education Do You Need to Become a Medical Assistant?

While some medical assistants hold associate degrees, vocational school training is the norm. Comprehensive yet career-focused, diploma programs are the preferred option for most students.

Students benefit from perks that only vocational schools offer from an intimate learning setting to career services that support graduates in the job hunt. There’s no better value in education.

What Do You Learn During a Diploma Program?

Medical assisting programs teach the front and back-office skills you need to be a team player in any medical office. The curriculum covers:

Medical Terminology

A grasp of basic medical terminology helps medical assistants communicate with patients, insurers, and medical professionals. Topics include:

  • Acronyms, abbreviations, and units of measure used in medical documentation
  • How to decipher complicated medical terms by breaking them down into prefixes, suffixes, and root words
  • Common conditions, tests, and medical slang
  • How to use a medical dictionary

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy and physiology are the studies of human body structure and function. Students explore:

  • Cellular structure — how the biochemical processes in cells support life
  • Tissue — the role of connective, epithelial, muscular, and nervous tissue
  • Organ systems — the 11 body systems, including their organs and function
  • Pathology — the cause and effect of disease and injury
  • Nutrition and therapeutic diets
  • Human growth and aging, including physiological changes and development benchmarks
  • Common medical conditions, injuries and treatments encountered in medical offices



Pharmacology is the study of how medications work. Concepts include:

  • Drug classifications — how medications, such as analgesics, antibiotics, anticoagulants, and bronchodilators, are categorized by use and effect
  • Side effects, interactions, and safety concerns
  • Dosage calculations — factors affecting how dosages are determined
  • Medication administration methods, including how to give subcutaneous, intramuscular, and intradermal injections
  • Managing serious adverse reactions, such as anaphylaxis
  • How to teach patients about their medications, including safety, storage, and self-administration techniques


Medical assisting students learn the art of phlebotomy, including the theory and practical skills needed to draw blood. Topics in this hands-on course cover:

  • Universal precautions — how to protect yourself, patients, and peers from bloodborne pathogens using personal protective equipment
  • Laboratory safety rules
  • Venipuncture — how to obtain blood from veins, practicing on simulators and volunteers
  • Phlebotomy equipment — the needles, collection tubes and other supplies required to draw blood
  • Sample processing — how to label, prepare, and ship specimens


Electrocardiograms are essential tests for diagnosing heart problems, including heart attacks, cardiomyopathy, and life-threatening dysrhythmias. Step-by-step, students learn to:

  • Position patients for testing
  • Place electrode pads and leads
  • Take and record tracings
  • Care for equipment, including calibration and troubleshooting
  • Identify abnormal readings

Medical Office Procedures

Medical offices are held to a higher standard than most businesses, so procedures vary significantly. Programs cover both the theory and practical skills necessary to succeed in a healthcare environment, including:

  • The healthcare revenue cycle — how medical providers are paid
  • Public and commercial insurance models
  • Medical coding systems — ICD-10, CPT and HCPCS
  • Billing — how to fill out insurance forms and submit claims
  • Basic accounting principles
  • Practice management software
  • Inventory and waste reduction strategies
  • Recordkeeping systems, including Electronic Heath Records (EHR)
  • Customer care — how to build rapport with patients
  • Setting up telehealth consultations
  • Regulatory compliance — the environmental, safety, privacy, and billing regulations integral to a medical assistant’s responsibilities

Clinical Procedures

Medical assistants participate in a broad range of clinical procedures. Programs offer a clear overview of:

  • Infection control principles, including medical and surgical asepsis
  • Sanitation, disinfection, and equipment sterilization techniques
  • Specimen collection
  • How to take vital signs
  • Intake interviews
  • Instrument selection for surgical procedures
  • Operative protocols, including instrument handling
  • Exam room equipment and supplies
  • Equipment maintenance, care, and calibration
  • Patient safety
  • Emergency response

Medical Law and Ethics

There are many legal and ethical issues to consider in healthcare facilities. Medical assisting students discuss:

  • Medical guardianship and healthcare powers-of-attorney
  • Advanced directives
  • Patient rights and responsibilities
  • Informed consent
  • Federal regulations for the security and use of health information
  • Billing restrictions and illegal practices
  • Mandatory reporting
  • Cultural competency
  • Communication and burnout issues
  • Ethical issues, such as euthanasia

Final Thoughts

Training for a healthcare career can seem like a dream to people who can’t spend years in a classroom. But not all roles require a college degree. With vocational training, you can become a medical assistant in less time than it takes for some flowers to bloom. Isn’t it time for you to blossom?

Medical Assistant Program

Ready to start a new career as a medical assistant? Gwinnett Colleges & Institute offers medical assisting courses to gain essential skills and training at multiple campuses from Lilburn, Sandy Springs and Atlanta/Marietta to Orlando, FL and Raleigh, NC. The core curriculum at these campuses focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back office medical assisting skills. These medical assisting courses will be the first step in starting a rewarding career.

Contact Gwinnett College today to learn more about becoming a medical assistant.