How to Select an Accredited CMA School Program near Fort Smith Arkansas
Now that you have made a decision to enter the rewarding field of healthcare and enroll in a medical assistant school near Fort Smith AR, it's time to choose a school that will provide the appropriate training. But just how do you go about comparing and evaluating colleges so that you ultimately enroll in the right one? Many potential students start by evaluating the medical assistant schools that are nearest to their residences and then gravitate toward those that have the lowest tuition. While cost and location are very important, such things as accreditation, job assistance and internship programs are important factors as well. You might decide to take a look at several online medical assistant programs as an alternative as well (more on that later). The main point is that prior to selecting a program you must finish your due diligence and compare all relevant aspects of the schools you are evaluating. And to assist you with that task, we have provided some questions that you need to ask all of the colleges on your short list. But before we start that review, let's talk a little bit about the function of a medical assistant and the type of training and credentials that are offered.
The Duties of Medical Assistants
The role of a medical assistant can be diverse as well as challenging. Basically their job is to make sure that the Fort Smith AR clinics, hospitals and other medical care facilities where they work run efficiently. Based on the type or size of facility, they may be more of an administrative assistant, a clinical assistant, or in smaller facilities both. They are tasked with giving direct assistance to the nurses, doctors and other health professionals but may also be found working at the front desk or in an office. A few of the possible responsibilities of a medical assistant include:
- Filling out insurance forms and submitting claims
- Setting and verifying appointments
- Weighing and taking patients vital signs
- Taking blood and other fluid and tissue specimens
- Preparing instruments and rooms for physicians
- Providing general support during examinations and procedures
Even though medical assistants may carry out almost any activity they are qualified to under Arkansas law, some choose to specialize in a particular area and obtain certification. Two of the options available are for the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) made available by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Medical Assistant Training
Compared to most other healthcare professionals, medical assistants are not mandated to become licensed, certified, or to have a college degree. However, a number of Fort Smith AR health care employers choose to hire graduates of an accredited medical assistant training school (we'll cover accreditation later ) that have earned certification. There are basically two options offered for a formal education. The first and shortest way to becoming a medical assistant is to attain a certificate or diploma. These programs usually take about a year to complete, a few as little as 6 to 9 months. They are developed to teach the fundamentals of medical assisting and ready graduates for entry level positions. The second option is to earn an Associate Degree, which are typically 2 year programs offered at Arkansas junior and community colleges together with technical and vocational schools. They are more expansive in nature than the diploma or certificate programs, and include liberal arts courses in addition to the medical assistant courses. They often have a practical element involving an internship with a local medical practice. Associate Degrees are often a pre-requisite for and credits can be applied to a 4 year Bachelor's Degree in Medical Assistant Studies or a related field.
Online Medical Assistant Schools
There are numerous accredited medical assistant programs offered online also. They are an excellent choice for students who may not have the time to go to classes on campus but could fit them in if accessible at home. This is an especially good solution for Arkansas students who continue to work full-time while earning their degree or certificate. As an additional benefit, many online programs have cheaper tuitions than the more conventional on-campus options. Ancillary expenses such as for commuting, textbooks and school supplies may be minimized also. Just keep in mind that any requirements for practical training or internships must still be fulfilled, but they can typically be performed in Fort Smith AR area medical care facilities. If you can learn without the rigid structure of going to supervised classes on campus, then this method of receiving your education might be the best choice for you. Between the online lessons and the practical training, everything needed to achieve proficiency to perform as a medical assistant is furnished.
Certification Options for Medical Assistants
As earlier stated, becoming certified is not a legal requirement, but is an excellent option for those who wish to boost their careers. Not only will it help in obtaining a position after graduation, but it may also help with initial salary negotiations. Some possible Fort Smith AR medical employers simply will not employ a medical assistant that has not received accredited formal training or certification. One of the most popular and possibly the most highly regarded certification is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). To qualify to take the CMA examination, a candidate must be a graduate or will be graduating within 30 days from an accredited medical assistant program. Additional certifications are offered also, including the CCMA and the CMAA that we previously mentioned which are offered by the NHA.
Concerns to Ask Medical Assistant Programs
Before you can start evaluating your medical assistant school options, you have to choose which type of credential you would like to attain, and if you want to attend classes on-campus or online at home. Once those choices have been made, you can begin the process of researching medical assistant schools. As we covered at the beginning of this article, many students restrict their searches to the schools that are nearest to Fort Smith AR with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are significant qualifiers, they are not the only ones. There are several additional factors that you must examine when assessing programs. To assist you with that process, below are a few questions that you need to ask about all of the programs you are thinking about before making your ultimate selection.
Is the Medical Assistant School Accredited? There are a number of good reasons to make sure that the college you select is accredited. First, accreditation helps guarantee that the instruction you receive will be both extensive and of the highest quality. Next, if you intend to become certified, you must complete an accredited program. Two of the accepted organizations for accreditation are the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). If your school is not accredited by either of these organizations, you will not be eligible to take the CMA exam. Also, if you intend on applying for a student loan or financial aid, they are frequently not offered for non-accredited programs. And last, as previously mentioned, many potential Fort Smith AR employers will not employ a medical assistant who has not graduated from an accredited college.
What is the School's Passage Rate? Most of the Arkansas accredited medical assistant schools create their programs to prepare students to pass one or more certification examinations. To start with, you must find out which of the certifications the colleges you are considering are preparing their students to take. If you are planning on taking the CMA for instance, then of course you will need to select a program focused on that certification. Second, ask what the program's passage rate is for the certification and compare it to the national average. This is just one of the ways to help evaluate the quality of a college's program. Obviously schools with lower rates are those that you will want to avoid.
Which Credentials are Offered? As we covered earlier, there are basically two routes to acquiring medical assistant training. You can enroll in a diploma or certificate program and obtain entry level training in the fastest amount of time, starting at just 6 months, although the average is about one year. Or you can elect to acquire an Associate Degree and get a more comprehensive education that will take about two years to complete in a community college or vocational school. Whatever program you choose to pursue, confirm that the Arkansas colleges you are looking at offer the kind of program you have an interest in.
Are Internships Offered? A large number of medical assistant colleges sponsor internship programs with Fort Smith AR area health care providers. They are an excellent way to receive hands-on clinical training and experience. They may also assist students establish relationships within the Fort Smith health care community. And as an added perk, they are an advantage on resumes and for job interviews as well.
Is Job Placement Assistance Furnished? Getting that very first job can be a daunting task for medical assistant school graduates unless they receive some assistance from a job placement program. Confirm that the schools you are evaluating provide job placement assistance in the Fort Smith AR area and find out what their placement rate is. If a program has a higher job placement rate for its students, it affirms that it has a good reputation within the health care community. It also indicates that it has a large network of contacts to help place students in jobs.
How Large are the Classrooms? Class size might be an indicator of how much individual attention you will get during your training. Small classes and classes with a higher teacher to student ratio are more likely to provide greater access to instructors and one-on-one interaction. If convenient, try to monitor a couple of classes before enrolling in a college to see what the teaching atmosphere is like and how much attention the students receive.
Is Class Scheduling Practical? If you plan on attending a medical assistant program while you continue working full-time, it's important that the program you choose offers classes that accommodate your schedule. If you have to attend classes at night or on weekends near Fort Smith AR, confirm that those times are offered. You might be able to fit your classes in easier with an online college, but you will also need to schedule any internships or practical training that will be required. Additionally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes that you may have to miss because of work, illness or family responsibilities.
Choose the Best Fort Smith AR Medical Assistant Training
It's important to begin your new career on the right foot by selecting a medical assistant program that will furnish the right training. Whether you're objective is to begin a career in healthcare starting out as a medical assistant or to pursue medical assistance as your lifetime career, you must obtain the appropriate information on available programs before making your decision. There are such a large number of colleges offering training nowadays that you can make a decision based on your personal preferences and individual circumstances. And as we have discussed in this article, verify that the program you choose is accredited by a recognized agency, such as the CAAHEP. This is especially important if you anticipate taking the CMA certification examination. But irrespective of the kind of credential that you intend to earn or if you have decided to attend either an on-campus or online school, make sure to ask the questions we have provided in order to evaluate programs and make an informed decision. And by choosing the right program you can subsequently start a rewarding career as a medical assistant in Fort Smith AR.