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2023 Best Online Medical Assistant Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 8/22/2023

Online medical assistant programs, available at the certificate and associate levels, aim to educate students in patient care. You can enroll in a medical assistant program to learn both medical office administration and clinical procedures for patient care. These include scheduling patients, billing insurance providers, measuring vital signs, and explaining physician instructions.

In small offices, medical assistants often handle a wide range of duties, whereas they may specialize in one particular area in larger healthcare facilities. In all cases, they work closely with doctors, nurses, and other practitioners to ensure that their patients' care experience is thorough and seamless.

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Online Medical Assistant Certificate Programs

The beauty of certificate programs is their brevity. Most certificates take no more than a year to complete with a full-time schedule, which means you can enter the workforce more quickly. To enroll in a certificate program, you only need a high school diploma or GED, whether attending online or on campus.

Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Medical Assistant Certificates

Visitors to our site are most interested in these schools
Rank School Annual Tuition Recommend Rate
# 1 #1 Purdue Global $14,358 72% (540 reviews)
# 2 #2 Liberty University $11,700 55% (343 reviews)
# 3 #3 South College $17,025 100% (2 reviews)
# 4 #4 Rasmussen University Online Not Provided 36% (179 reviews)
# 5 #5 Penn Foster - Healthcare Not Provided 50% (16 reviews)
# 6 #6 Penn Foster Career School Not Provided 46% (160 reviews)
# 7 #7 American National University $8,244 14% (7 reviews)
# 8 #8 Baker College Online $9,920 60% (95 reviews)
# 9 #9 Carrington College $34,050 0% (7 reviews)
# 10 #10 Daymar College $19,450 25% (4 reviews)

Online Medical Assistant Certificate Program Curriculum

Professors discuss the two sides of the medical assistant profession during a certificate program: administrative and clinical. You'll generally take 36-48 credit hours of classes on these topics.

Many online certificate programs have an externship requirement. Once you enroll, you'll work with a program advisor to find a placement site near your home, which can include a hospital, private medical practice, or urgent care center. An on-site supervisor will oversee your work and ensure that you complete the minimum time requirement.

Online Medical Assistant Associate Degrees

Program directors design these degrees to take two years of full-time study to complete either online or on campus. In reality, most associate students need longer to finish. Though recent data is scarce, the Urban Institute's research suggests that most enrollees take closer to four years to earn their diploma for a variety of reasons.

Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Medical Assistant Associate Degrees

Visitors to our site are most interested in these schools
Rank School Annual Tuition Recommend Rate
# 1 #1 Independence University $14,585 56% (125 reviews)
# 2 #2 Rasmussen University Online Not Provided 36% (179 reviews)
# 3 #3 Penn Foster - Healthcare Not Provided 50% (16 reviews)
# 4 #4 Penn Foster Career School Not Provided 46% (160 reviews)
# 5 #5 American National University $8,244 14% (7 reviews)
# 6 #6 Davenport University $19,338 75% (4 reviews)
# 7 #7 Daymar College $19,450 25% (4 reviews)
# 8 #8 National American University Online $10,575 40% (81 reviews)
# 9 #9 University of the Incarnate Word $32,576 100% (2 reviews)

Online Medical Assistant Associate Program Curriculum

In most cases, you'll take the same 36-48 credits of medical assistant classes that you would in a certificate program. You may also have room for one or two healthcare-related electives in your schedule, but this varies by school. You'll also take 30-40 credit hours of general education courses and complete an externship to gain hands-on experience.

Overview of Online Medical Assistant Degrees

Online medical assistant programs focus on the importance of keeping medical offices running smoothly. As a student of this discipline, you may learn administrative practices, basic anatomy, medical terminology, and even healthcare law. Many colleges and vocational schools offer medical assistant training online, including both certificates and associate degrees. Program graduates have gone to work as medical assistants for hospitals, doctors' offices, and assisted living facilities. You can also pursue professional certifications to improve your job prospects by demonstrating expertise in a specific subject area.

The medical assistant field is growing rapidly, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting an 16% increase in new jobs through 2031. Colleges are racing to keep up with enrollment demand by offering more online programs in the major. You can potentially qualify for many medical assisting roles by earning either a certificate or associate degree in the discipline, because both types of program cover the knowledge and skills required of professionals. However, associate degrees also contain general education courses that may transfer more easily to another college if you decide to pursue a subsequent bachelor's degree.

The medical assistant field is growing rapidly, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting an 16% increase in new jobs through 2031.

In general, the medical assistant curriculum focuses narrowly on training students for these roles and doesn't feature optional concentrations. You may end up specializing in either the administrative or clinical side during your medical assistant career, but you typically can't start preparing for this during your studies.

What Will You Learn in a Medical Assistant Program?

Medical assistant programs typically cover two distinct portions of a medical assistant's role: clinical patient processing and office administration. Coursework on biology and anatomy provides the basis for checking patient vital signs, asking intake questions, and handling blood and tissue samples for testing. For the administrative portion, faculty help prepare you with lessons on medical recordkeeping, office applications, and healthcare law, ethics, and confidentiality.

Medical assistant programs come in two forms: certificate and associate degree.

Certificates focus on knowledge and skills needed for medical assistant roles, whereas associate degrees also contain liberal arts classes that can teach useful skills, such as English composition and psychology. Neither certificates nor associate degrees have much room for specialization in their curricula, so concentrations are rare with this major. However, associate degree programs often culminate in an externship, which is a supervised period of work in a medical setting. Certificates may also have externships, but this is less common. Both types of programs usually require only a high school diploma or GED in order to enroll.

The following table breaks down the key differences between these types of programs:

Key Differences: Certificate vs. Associate Programs

You may be able to earn your certificate and begin working while you pursue an associate degree. However, you should make sure your credits will transfer into the associate program before committing so you don't repeat classes unnecessarily.

Common Medical Assistant Program Courses

The core curriculum is similar for most online medical assistant degrees and certificates. Below, we list some medical assisting courses you're likely to take if you enroll in either type of program.

Anatomy and Physiology

Faculty introduce the systems of the human body and the ways in which they interact. They typically discuss normal organ system health along with common disease pathologies that can disrupt their functions.

Clinical Billing and Reimbursement

This course describes the considerations and procedures particular to healthcare professionals, such as billing codes, medical insurance reimbursement, privacy regulations, and electronic health record software.

Healthcare Law

Professors introduce legal topics relevant to your role as a medical assistant, including major legislation such as HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act. They often discuss the lines between medical law and ethics, as well as the duties of confidentiality and retention of medical records.

Medical Office Applications

This course is a survey of both commonly used technology tools and soft skills needed in medical assisting, such as communication and organization. Lessons may cover scheduling, accounting, and business writing for clinics and doctors' offices.


Medical assistants can dispense medication in most states, so this course teaches the responsibilities inherent to that function. You'll study various drugs and their physiological effects on the body, along with the most common methods of dispensing them.

Where Can You Work as a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistant programs focus narrowly on preparing students for careers as medical assistants, but you can have different experiences within this field depending on where you work.

Read on for some descriptions of potential duties in different healthcare settings. All salary data comes from the BLS.

Workplace Settings for Medical Assistants

Is a Medical Assistant Program Worth It?

The answer depends on your circumstances and goals. We've compiled a few factors to consider as you weigh your application and enrollment decisions.

  • Financial Investment: These programs tend to cost less than four-year bachelor's degrees. For one thing, they take much less time to complete. For another, many options are available at public community colleges, which typically charge lower tuition than private schools or even four-year public colleges. But medical assistants earn relatively low pay — their median annual salary of $35,850 is about $6,000 less than the nationwide median for all jobs combined.
  • Time Investment: As discussed, you can complete a certificate in a year and an associate degree in two. This lets you enter the job market much sooner than if you pursue a bachelor's degree in a different discipline.
  • Job Outlook: The future is bright for this profession. The BLS projects a 16% growth in new jobs in the 2021-2031 period, twice the national average rate for all jobs. The reason stems from an aging population in the U.S., which affects the healthcare industry from the top down. To keep up, doctors have granted more duties and responsibilities to nurses, who, in turn, need to share some of their traditional functions with medical assistants and other trained professionals.

You also need to determine whether you want to study online or in person. Online learning is convenient and flexible but comes with fewer chances for informal networking. However, networking may not be a top concern for job seekers given the high demand for trained medical assistants.

Considering an online program? Learn more about the factors that matter most to online students pursuing a college degree.

FAQs About Online Medical Assistant Schools

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

It can take as little as one year of full-time study and four to five years if you study part-time. You may be able to complete a certificate program in 9-12 months and find a job soon after graduating. If you want to earn a certification to improve your employability, you might be able to take a certification exam before you graduate, but this assumes that your academic program includes a practicum or externship. Field experiences are more common in two-year associate degrees, and some certifying bodies require them before you can qualify for certification.

Do Medical Assistants Require a License or Certification?

There are no licenses for medical assistants, and states don't require certification because their clinical duties are more limited than those of other healthcare practitioners, such as doctors or nurses. However, some employers might only consider candidates who hold one of the five certifications for this profession.

How Much Do Online Medical Assisting Classes Cost?

This varies by institution. Many students enroll in medical assisting programs at public community colleges. According to the latest National Center for Education Statistics data, these schools average $3,800 per year for tuition and fees. Private schools cost significantly more, as do most four-year colleges.

How Can I Become a Medical Assistant?

In almost all cases, you need to complete either a certificate program or associate degree in medical assisting. It's generally helpful to earn a certification as a medical assistant but may not be required by every employer.

Do I Need to Get Certified as a Medical Assistant?

There's no legal requirement for medical assistant certification, but it can only help your ability to market yourself to employers. Some medical assistant programs advertise their curriculum as helping students prepare for particular certification exams. If you're interested in a specific certification, you might give more weight to schools that intend to help you sit for that exam.

Which Certification is Best for a Medical Assistant?

There's no definitive answer to this question because employers may have different preferences. However, the CMA credential from the AAMA requires you to graduate from a programmatically accredited program, indicating a high level of quality. You can also earn this certification at the entry level because it doesn't require work experience to apply.

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