WORTHINGTON As you wait to see your provider at the clinic, a friendly professional emerges and calls your name. They take you to an exam room where they introduce themselves, record your medical history, check your vital signs and help prepare you for the exam. Later that same person assists your provider with the exam or procedure, gives you any needed medication and provides patient education. They may also draw your blood, collect a urine specimen, code your visit, schedule a follow-up appointment and much more. This versatile health care professional is likely a CMA (certified medical assistant).

Medical assistants are allied health professionals who work in ambulatory care settings such as clinics and medical offices. They are trained to perform both administrative and clinical duties. Currently there are, and will probably continue to be, almost unlimited opportunities for formally educated medical assistants who obtain certification following graduation. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development lists “medical assistants” as the 20th of the top 30 jobs in demand in the state. The average hourly wage is $20.41, and there are currently 9,950 medical assistants employed in Minnesota.

Minnesota West Community & Technical College offers two program options for the medical assistant career, a diploma (44 credits) and an associate of applied science degree (60 credits). Because Minnesota West’s Medical Assistant Program is accredited by CAAHEP (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs), graduates are eligible to take the AAMA (American Association of Medical Assistants) certification exam following graduation. Certification leads to the best job opportunities.

Both new high school graduates and non-traditional students are welcomed into Minnesota West’s MA Program. Class sizes are small and instructors are accessible to work one-on-one with students. Hands-on skills are perfected at the college’s Luverne Center, where classroom spaces simulate actual clinic exam rooms and a clinical laboratory. The administrative and general courses needed for program completion are offered online so students are only required to come to the center two days per week for the clinical courses.

Students may begin courses in the Medical Assistant Program at the beginning of fall semester, spring semester or summer session. There are both full-time and part-time options, and courses taken for other Minnesota West programs or at other colleges may transfer toward completion of this program.

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The final course required for program completion is the Medical Assistant Practicum. Longer than provided in most other MA programs, the 270 hours of experience working in an actual clinic setting ensures graduates are at entry-level competency when entering the job market. The practicum is supervised and provides hands-on experience with actual patients in administrative and clinical departments of the practicum site.

Minnesota West tracks medical assistant student outcomes annually. For the 2020 graduating class, both the CMA exam pass rate and job placement were 100%.

Students considering the challenge of a diverse career as a medical assistant should possess an interest in the life sciences, the ability to work accurately with attention to detail, problem-solving skills, good communication skills, a desire to work as part of a team, genuine empathy and the drive to continue learning. A career as a medical assistant can offer vast rewards, and the program at Minnesota West Community & Technical College is an affordable high-quality option.

Lisa Smith is an instructor in Minnesota West's Medical Assistant Program.