September 2, 2011 - 12:47 pm
The demand for medical assistants remains high nationwide. Approximately 217,800 medical assistant jobs are expected to be created across the U.S. between 2008 and 2018, according to O*NET Online, the Internet-based employment resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. This makes medical assisting a great field to consider if you are looking for a career with long-term potential.
However, to take advantage of these career opportunities, you need a specialized education. The good news is that many universities, community colleges and private for-profit colleges offer medical assistant career education programs that can qualify you for entry-level positions in this field. But not all medical assistant schools are created equal. Before you can go to school, you need to do your homework.
How do you find the medical assistant school that is best for you? Here are some factors to consider:
Location – Your first practical consideration is a simple geographical one. You will want a medical assistant school that is convenient to where you live or work. Also take into account factors like access to public transportation (if you need it) or parking availability (if you have your own car).
Your goals – Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of my education?” Are you looking to earn a bachelor’s degree? An associate degree? Or do you just want to get professional training without the general education courses required for most B.S. and A.S. degrees? Your answer will determine how long you must commit to your education. For example, most bachelor’s degree programs require at least four years to complete. At the other end of the spectrum, some career education programs that offer a diploma or certificate of completion can have you out the door and in the workplace in as little as a year or less.
Class schedules – Here’s another simple, practical matter to look at: Do the school’s class times jibe with your family or work commitments? When it comes to class schedules, some schools are more flexible than others, especially if they have a lot of adult students. Look for a medical assistant school that is willing to accommodate your needs, not one that demands you conform to its requirements.
Accreditation – Only consider medical assistant schools whose programs are validated by an established national or regional accrediting organization. Any school worth considering should have such accrediting information easily accessible on its website.
History – How long has the school been around? You probably want a medical assistant school that has been around long enough to establish strong community ties, and even more important, good relationships with local employers.
Reputation – Speaking of local employers, what is the school’s image within its local job market? Is this a medical assistant school physicians and health care facilities look to when hiring entry-level medical assistants? It may be worth your time to do an Internet search of what people in your community are saying about the school, and contacting local health care facilities directly to inquire about the school’s professional reputation.
Class sizes – With education costs skyrocketing, many schools are compensating by trying to cram as many people into their classrooms as possible. (This is particularly common at the community college level.) If you are the kind of student who often requires help along the way, you should look for a medical assistant school where class sizes are small enough that you can get the attention you need when you need it.
Admission availability – And speaking of overcrowded classes, many schools offering medical assistant programs are now so full that they have increasingly stringent entrance requirements, long waiting lists, or both. If your goal is to get the education you need as quickly as possible, look for medical assistant schools that allow you to enroll in a timely fashion.
Faculty – Who teaches the school’s medical assistant program? Are they experienced educators? Do they have any actual background in medical assisting outside the classroom? The best instructors are those with both teaching experience and time spent in the “real world” so they give you both an academic and practical education in the field you wish to enter.
Job hunt support – If you are getting your education to prepare for an eventual career, then it makes sense to go to a school that offers some kind of career services support upon graduation and that will help with your medical assistant career development options. What percentage of graduates eventually get jobs after a year? How does the school help facilitate this? What services do they provide? Is there an extra cost for this?
Cost – Finally, there’s the bottom line. How much will your education cost you – not in terms of just tuition, but also books, housing, transportation expenses, etc.? If comparing a four-year college to a two-year community college or one-year vocational school, also consider the income you may lose by not working if you enter a multi-year program. As most higher education today requires some kind of student loans to make it affordable, check into what loans, grants, scholarships, etc., are available through each institution and what help the school provides with acquiring these. Financial aid may be available for those who qualify.
Yes, choosing the right medical assistant school can be challenging. But as you are investing in your future, it’s certainly worth the time and effort required to make sure you and your school are the best possible fit. Make the right decision and you will have taken a big, important first step toward enjoying the career of your dreams.