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How to Become a Medical Assistant in California

Have you always wanted to work in a medical setting, but don’t want to attend school for years? Then a job as a medical assistant might be a good career for you. Medical assistants work in a variety of roles in medical offices and clinical settings supporting the licensed staff with technical tasks.

Since medical assistants are unlicensed, they perform non-invasive support services under the direction of a licensed surgeon, physician, podiatrist or nurse. Some of the tasks they perform include scheduling appointments in the front office and measuring vital signs with a patient.

Whether you have always wanted to work in the medical field or you’re realizing a new passion for medicine, continue reading to learn more about what a medical assistant does, how to become one, how to choose a Clinical Medical Assisting program and California’s state-specific requirements for certification.

Certified vs Uncertified Medical Assistants in California

Medical assistants in California must meet specific requirements, according to the licensing and regulations set in place by the Medical Practice Act and enforced by the Medical Board of California. The requirements state that medical assistants must gain experience in one of two ways:1

  1. Per Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations section 1366.3(a)(1), training under a licensed physician or podiatrist, who shall ascertain the proficiency of the medical assistant; or under a registered nurse, licensed vocational nurse, physician assistant, or a qualified medical assistant acting under the direction of a licensed physician or podiatrist who shall be responsible for determining the content of the training and proficiency of the medical assistant except that training to administer medication by inhalation shall be provided by a licensed physician or respiratory care practitioner; or
  2. Per Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations section 1366.3 (a)(2), in a secondary, postsecondary, or adult education program in a public school authorized by the Department of Education, in a community college program provided for in Part 48 of Division 7 of the Education Code, or a postsecondary institution accredited by an accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education under Sections 94130 or 94311 of the Education Code. A licensed physician or podiatrist shall serve as advisor to the medical assistant training program. The instructor in a public school setting shall possess a valid teaching credential issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The instructor in a private postsecondary institution shall meet the requirements of Sections 94310 and 94311 of the Education Code and any regulations adopted pursuant to those sections.

While California does not require medical assistants to be certified, there are upsides to doing so.

Just think of all the job opportunities where uncertified medical assistants are competing with certified medical assistants and consider the employer’s perspective. Who would you rather hire? An assistant who has graduated from an accredited college or university, or a medical assistant who will require on-the-job supervised training for an entry-level job? Most employers prefer to hire the most knowledgeable and competent staff so earning your certification may be the competitive edge you need to land the job you want.

Why Become a Medical Assistant in California?

Medical assistants in California serve an important role in the health care system, aiding licensed physicians and other medical staff in healing the public. The typical career trajectory for a medical assistant starts with entry-level employment under the direct supervision of senior staff. As they learn the fundamentals of health care they are introduced to the various niches they can choose to grow in.

One of the best reasons to become a medical assistant is the expected job growth over the next decade.2 The reason for the expected increase in positions is due to the growing demand for preventive care among the baby-boom population. As a result, there will be an increased need for medical assistants to help physicians provide the medical care their patients need.

Find Your Path as a Medical Assistant

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as a medical assistant. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants are hired to help medical facilities and physician offices complete their administrative and clinical tasks. They perform a range of duties such as:3

  • Measure vital signs
  • Help licensed physicians with their patient examinations
  • Schedule appointments
  • Enter information into the patient’s medical records
  • Record patient information and relevant personal history

When it comes to specific duties, some states and some work environments require medical assistants to perform different tasks. In several states, clinical medical assistants perform laboratory tests, draw blood, remove stitches or sterilize medical equipment. Each niche will also have their various tasks. A podiatric medical assistant, for instance, may make castings of feet or help in surgery.

Skills for medical assistants

Medical assistants need to learn many skills to become competent in their field. These skills can be learned with medical assistant schooling, including online and in-person training courses, educational programs and externships. Below are some of the technical and soft skills needed to be one of the best medical assistants in your industry, according to O*NET OnLine:4

Technical skills needed:

  • Accounting software
  • Email software
  • Medical applications and tools
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Proficient understanding of operating systems

Soft skills needed:

  • Communications skills, including empathy and active listening
  • Reading comprehension
  • Social perception
  • Writing
  • Sound judgment

To learn more about how you can gain the skills to be a successful medical assistant we recommend enrolling in medical assistant schooling and taking a course or learning through hands-on education.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Learning to become a medical assistant is easier than you might think. While other health care roles require years of schooling, a Clinical Medical Assisting certificate program typically takes less than a year to complete. There are also options to earn an associate degree and most medical assistant schooling tends to last about two years.

Prospective medical assistants can also learn the ropes by hands-on training. This usually begins as an internship or minor office position that eventually teaches you the skills needed to be a full-fledged medical assistant. The downside to this type of environment is that the learning format is unstructured, usually at the beck and call of your employer. This means you may master skills in that role that don’t translate well in another environment.

The easiest way to become a well-rounded medical assistant is through a regimented certificate program.

How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

Another factor to consider is the length of the course and its curriculum. Since there are two different programs to choose from, certificate programs and associate degree programs, there are two outcomes to consider before enrolling in medical assistant schooling.

If you are considering career advancement opportunities, then the associate degree program that teaches more extensive knowledge combined with hands-on experience may be the fit for you. However, if you are looking to gain skills quickly so you can receive a job sooner, then a certificate program will provide you with the career training and experience you need for entry-level positions. Many medical assistants begin their career with certificate programs to get their feet wet before jumping into the deep end with advanced courses meant for senior positions.

Kickstart Your Career as a Medical Assistant

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become a medical assistant with SJVC.

What to Look for in a Medical Assisting Program

When choosing a college or university program to enroll in, there are a few things to consider. Take a look at the externship opportunities that will be required of you. Many medical assistant schooling programs will set you up with a local clinic or medical setting where you will learn in real-life situations. If you know which field you’d like to work in, consider a program that has an externship in that industry so you can gain on-the-job experience for the position you desire.

There are many schools that teach the skills needed to be a competent medical assistant, so to help you start your search, we suggest researching SJVC’s Medical Assisting programs. They offer hands-on training in an environment that helps students thrive. The credentialed faculty have real expertise in the field and bring their knowledge and experience to the classroom, preparing students for a fulfilling career. At the very least, you’ll be able to use SJVC as a benchmark to know what a quality program looks like when choosing the right one for you.

Can You Study to Become a Medical Assistant Online?

Yes, if you want to become a medical assistant there are online programs to teach you the knowledge and skills you need all in the comfort of your own home. Online medical assistant schooling offers more variety in course lengths allowing students to learn at their own pace or at the speed of a regimented schedule.

There are advantages and disadvantages to online medical assistant programs and we’ve listed out a few to help you consider the best course for your needs:


  • Studies can be completed anywhere at any time
  • Access to online resources and tools
  • Part-time courses allow students to maintain a healthy life balance with work and school
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Learn at a pace comfortable for you


  • Some students prefer in-class settings
  • Lack of structure as lessons can be viewed at any time
  • Less interaction with teacher and classmates
  • Still required to participate in an externship and meet other requirements that are on-site
  • Students who lack discipline can fall behind

California Medical Assistant Jobs

California is home to many major employers of medical assistants that offer a range of different environments to work in. While many employers need assistants for clinical settings, where the duties would be to take vital signs and log patient information, there is an increasing need for assistants in every industry that a physician helps a patient.

The work environments for medical assistants tend to be very clean, involve many person-to-person interactions and are fast-paced. Assistants need to be ready to handle multiple tasks meeting the needs of the patient at the instruction of their supervisor.

Launch a Career in Medical Assisting With SJVC

SJVC offers quality training programs that prepare medical assistants for success in their field. Class sizes are small and encourage relationship development with your instructor to learn the ins-and-outs of the job. Hands-on training and practical labs teach and test the skills needed to thrive as a medical assistant after graduation.

Medical Assistant Classes

Some medical assistant courses you may take when attending SJVC include:

  • COMP 101 Computer Literacy & Applications for the Professional
  • HCP 101 Structural Anatomy and Terminology
  • HCP 102 Body System Anatomy and Terminology
  • HCP 103 Foundational Office Skills
  • HCP 203 Medical Office Management
  • MAP 105 Laboratory Procedures
  • MAP 115 Pharmacology and Medication Administration
  • MAP 126 Clinical Applications
  • MAP 205 Front Office Procedures
  • MAP 501 Externship
  • MAP 510 Certification Prep
  • GRS 100 Graduate Readiness Seminar

SVJC’s medical assisting students and faculty

SJVC is proud of their teaching staff as well as their students. The credentialed faculty have years of experience in the field and are passionate about bringing their knowledge to the classroom.

Our students meet this passion with an eagerness to learn and a drive to succeed. Whether you are considering continued education for the first time or you are looking to switch careers, we have a place for you at SJVC.

Find medical assisting programs near me

SJVC offers our Clinical Medical Assisting program at the following campuses:

*Locations marked with an asterisk offer both the Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting Associate of Science Degree programs and the Clinical Medical Assisting Certificate of Completion program. If a campus is not marked with an asterisk, it only offers the Clinical Medical Assisting Certificate of Completion program to students.

Medical Assistant FAQ

How to become a medical assistant?

To become a medical assistant, you should:

  1. Complete a high school or GED program
  2. Research medical assistant programs and courses
  3. Receive a medical assistant diploma or associate degree
  4. Consider getting a medical assistant certification
  5. Obtain real-world experience with an entry-level job

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