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Best Online Medical Assistant Programs in California

Find out how enrolling in an online medical assistant program from California can help you start an exciting career in the field of allied healthcare.

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California leads the nation in the total number of medical assistants employed – more than 111,000 work in the state. This is almost double the number in Texas, which comes in at a distant second.

Despite having so many medical assistants already, California still needs more to accommodate the expansion of its healthcare services for an aging population. To meet this demand, many California schools are offering online medical assistant programs that make it quicker and easier for students with busy schedules to become certified medical assistants. While many medical assistant programs in California have online curriculums, no two schools are the same — some offer diplomas or certificates while others offer associate degrees; some may make online courses available at all times while others may only be offered on a preset schedule.

We’ve created this guide to help you figure out which online program is best for you. In addition to helping you learn more about how online medical assistant programs work, we’ll lay out what to look for when researching programs, how to move through the medical assistant certification process, what to expect after you’ve enrolled, and the job and salary prospects waiting for you after graduation.

Spotlighting Top Medical Assistant Programs in California

There are a multitude of online medical assistant online programs in California. To help you begin to sift through them and get a feel for which is right for you, we’ve profiled three top schools. These programs stand out for their affordability, a streamlined admissions process, flexible learning options, and student services. Even if these schools aren’t perfect for you, they can give you a solid grasp of what to look for as you search for the one that is.

American Career College

The Medical Assistant Training Program at the American Career Collegeis accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) andoffers one of the fastest path to a career as a medical assistant in California. Students can earn their diploma in as few as nine months after completing the hybrid online and on-campus curriculum.

Students complete the majority of their coursework online supplemented by two days of in-person training per week at one of the school’s three Southern California campuses: Los Angeles, Ontario, or Orange County. Students must also complete a 200-hour supervised clinical externship. While most, if not all, online medical assistant programs in California require clinical externships, few prepare students with as many training hours as American Career College.

Another benefit of this program is its streamlined admissions process; there are no prerequisites and the primary eligibility requirement is proof of a high school diploma, GED, or comparable credential.

California State University, Long Beach

The Self-Paced Online Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate Programat California State University, Long Beach is the perfect starting point for high school graduates or GED-holders looking to break into the allied healthcare field. This hybrid program consists of 140 hours of online didactic instruction and a clinical externship. Graduates of the program earn a certificate of completion are eligible to take the National Healthcareer Association’s Certified Clinical Medical Assistant exam.

Unlike many other hybrid medical assistant programs in California, this program’s lecture components are not only offered remotely, but asynchronously students can move through coursework at their own pace and “attend” class not just from anywhere, but at any time.

Just because the program is self-paced program, however, doesn’t mean students learn without assistance. On the contrary, students have full access to a program coordinator to address their questions and concerns when they arise. Students who prefer live online learning and additional hands-on training, can elect to participate in real-time Zoom classes and on-campus lab sessions.

San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University’s Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA) Online Courseis uniquely accessible and flexible, ideal for students with busy schedules and other obstacles to traditional education. There are no perquisites to this program — in fact, students may register without a high school diploma or GED.

Students must choose from two available tracks: a 10 to 12-week in-person program held in downtown San Francisco or a 100% asynchronous online program that students can complete quickly or as slowly as they wish over the course of nine months. Regardless of the track they select, students must complete a 160-hour clinical externship to gain valuable hands-on experience and apply what they learned in class to a real-world clinical setting, including the clinical responsibilities of the medical office, proper patient preparation, examination, and treatment, medical terminology, and more.

After completing the program, students will be ready to take the national Certified Clinical Medical Assistants certification exam administered by the National Healthcareer Association.

Must-Haves in a Medical Assistant Program in California

The perfect online medical assistant program in California will be different for everyone. Program characteristics that are important to you may not be important to other prospective students and vice versa. However, there are still some universal must-haves; let’s take a look at important qualities you want your California medical assistant program to have.

Accreditation

Ideally, you want your online medical assistant program in California to have programmatic accreditation signaling that it meets high standards of quality in allied healthcare education. The two most common programmatic accrediting bodies for medical assisting are the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools(ABHES). Even if your first-choice program does not hold programmatic accreditation, you can still look for institutional accreditation, which applies to the school that houses the program. Institutional accreditation usually comes from a national or regional accrediting body approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Certification Exam Eligibility

You have multiple medical assistant exams to choose from when it comes to earning your certification. While the eligibility requirements to sit for each of these exams will differ, many are tied to the school you attend and its curriculum. For instance, the primary condition for taking the Registered Medical Assistant exam offered by American Medical Technologists(AMT) is that you complete a program that provides a sufficient number of clinical and didactic training hours. In contrast, the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential from the American Association of Medical Assistants(AAMA) prefers applicants to have graduated from an ABHES or CAAHEP-accredited medical assistant program.

Faculty Qualifications

The qualifications of instructors and teachers at online medical assistant programs in California will inevitably vary from school to school. However, you should expect your instructors to have a certain level of education and experience, i.e. to be certified medical assistants and/or have at least a few years of real-world experience practicing as medical assistants. Don’t let this stress you out too much, though, the Medical Board of California requires all medical assistants in teaching or training positions to meet the qualified medical assistant requirements.

Graduation and Certification Rates

You can compare graduation and certification exam passage rates among programs and to state or national averages to get a clearer picture of the quality of a program. High graduation and certification rates speak to a program’s ability to support students through their studies into their careers, whether through faculty guidance, academic support services, or a cutting-edge curriculum. Keep this in mind as you search for a program that will help you launch your career.

State-Specific Considerations

Although California does not require medical assistants to be licensed, it does recognize two types of certification: the “regular” certified medical assistant, a medical assistant who holds a nationally-recognized certification, and a “qualified” medical assistant, who often works as an instructor in the field. There are three ways to become a qualified medical assistant:

  1. Become certified by a Medical Board of California-approved certifying organization;
  2. Possess teaching credentials allowing you to teach at a community college; or
  3. Have authorization to teach medical assistants in a private postsecondary institution recognized by the U.S. Department of Health or approved by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education.

Transferability

If you think becoming a medical assistant will be just the first step in a lifelong career in allied healthcare, consider enrolling in a program that offers college credits that will easily transfer to another institution. This will save you time and money down the road should you choose to pursue another degree. The hybrid Medical Assisting Certificate program from Shasta College requires students to complete coursework that meets some of the general education requirements at one or more University of California or California State University system institution. Incoming students are encouraged to meet with an academic counselor to discuss these options.

Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant in California

You may already have the skills you need to complete the didactic learning components of your online California medical assistant program, but you’ll still need to meet additional conditions before you become certified. We’ll walk you through what else goes into earning your credentials below.

Complete a Clinical Externship

Even if the didactic components of your medical assistant program are offered online, you’ll still need to complete a substantial portion of your curriculum in person. Specifically, you’ll need to complete an average of 160 to 180 hours of hands-on training in the form of a clinical externship. To accommodate students learning remotely, some online medical assistant programs, like the one from California Career Institute, offer externship sites throughout the state.

Graduate From an Accredited Program

Receiving your medical assistant education from an accredited program is beneficial for many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes it easier to obtain financial aid. Additionally, employers prefer to hire graduates from institutions and/or programs that are accredited. But most importantly, completing an accredited medical assistant program makes it easier to become eligible for a medical assistant certification exam. Completing a program that’s not accredited can make you ineligible to sit for certain exams.

Pass the Certificate Exam

Certification isn’t required to practice as a medical assistant in California, but most employers prefer to hire medical assistants with certification. There are multiple certification options available. Four of the most common include:

If you plan to become a qualified medical assistant so you can teach at a medical assisting program, one way to meet the requirement is to become certified by a Medical Board of California-approved certifying organization. These include the:

Renew Your License and Take Continuing Education Credits

Renewal requirements depend on the certification you hold. Some certifications require continuing education classes as part of the process. For example, both the American Association of Medical Assistants and California Certifying Board for Medical Assistants require practitioners to complete at least 60 continuing education units to renew their certifications.

Answering Your Questions About CA Medical Assistant Programs Online

As eager as you are to apply to a CA medical assistant online program, you might still have questions. Read on to see answers to the questions we hear prospective students ask most frequently about online medical assistant programs in California.

Are scholarships or grants available for online medical assistant students in CA?

Yes, there are plenty of gift-based financial aid options available. Many of these grants come from private organizations, such as corporations and nonprofits. Others come from the state of California, such as the Cal Grant. Then there are the schools themselves, like MiraCosta College, which offers scholarships to eligible students. You can also complete the FAFSA to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Are there professional organizations or networking opportunities for California medical assistants?

The most prominent professional organization for medical assistants in California is the California Society of Medical Assistants. This state affiliate of the AAMA offers networking and continuing education opportunities to medical assistants in all phases of their careers.

Do I need to complete any prerequisites before applying?

It depends on the school. Some online California medical assistant programs like that at MiraCosta College require applicants to complete basic courses in medical terminology and biology, while others like that at the Cal State University, Long Beach do not require students to complete any prerequisites prior to admission or enrollment.

How much should I expect to pay for my program?

The exact cost of your online medical assistant program will depend on several variables, including the type of school (public or private) and type of program (certificate/diploma or associate degree). Programs that provide graduates with a certificate or diploma are shorter and generally less expensive — you can expect to pay a few thousand dollars in tuition and fees for these programs. Online medical assistant programs in California that culminate in an associate degree are often more expensive overall, as they typically take two to three times longer to complete.

What are the admission requirements for California medical assistant programs?

Admission requirements vary by school and program. At a minimum, you should expect to submit an online application and provide official copies of your high school transcript or comparable credentials. Additional requirements will depend on the school. For instance, the Bay Area Medical Academy requires applicants to pass an English test and complete an interview while Gurnick Academy requires applicants to submit an essay about why they want to become a medical assistant and the qualities that will help them succeed in the program.

What does an online medical assistant curriculum in California cover?

Most medical assistant online programs in California offer similar curricula, all designed to prepare students to pass certification exams and gain skills and knowledge that the typical California healthcare employer expects new hires to possess. As such, you should expect to learn the fundamentals of human anatomy and physiology, medication delivery, dosage calculation, healthcare ethics and legal requirements, billing, insurance processing, medical terminology, and office administration.

Salary and Career Insights for California Medical Assistants

After graduating from an online medical assistant program in California, you can expect potential employers to be more than ready to hire you. You can’t, however, always expect them to be ready to pay the highest salaries.

As indicated in the below table, the projected job growth for medical assistants is strong — almost two percentage points higher than the estimated national average growth rate. So, finding a job shouldn’t be a challenge. Finding one that pays as much as possible will be a little bit more difficult and will involve weighing your salary goals, your local cost of living, and your willingness to relocate to balance the two.

The median annual salary for California medical assistants is slightly higher than the national average of $38,270, however the cost of living in California is roughly 50% higher than the national average. This discrepancy can be offset somewhat in some of the larger metropolitan areas, like Napa, San Francisco, and San Jose, where medical assistants can expect to earn significantly more than their more rural counterparts, with Los Angeles being a notable example. Take a look at the tables below for a more detailed breakdown of what you can earn and where.

Occupation NameNew Jobs (2020-2030)Job Growth Rate (2020-2030)Average Annual Openings (2020-2030)
United States853,50018.40%104,400
California114,00020%140,00

Source: Projections Central

Area10th PercentileMedian90th Percentile
California$30,210$38,780$61,800
Bakersfield, CA$29,600$36,650$58,180
Chico, CA$29,640$37,660$45,850
El Centro, CA$29,940$35,630$45,550
Fresno, CA$29,920$36,820$61,330
Hanford-Corcoran, CA$30,100$30,600$40,320
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$30,150$38,000$59,570
Madera, CA$29,530$36,150$45,550
Merced, CA$29,280$35,610$37,880
Modesto, CA$30,100$37,960$61,330
Napa, CA$36,310$48,510$61,800
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA$30,900$37,870$60,010
Redding, CA$29,700$37,980$59,730
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$29,800$37,170$53,670
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA$31,750$48,380$76,220
Salinas, CA$31,740$37,850$53,080
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$30,530$38,020$59,960
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$37,110$55,650$76,740
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$37,260$54,920$76,700
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA$30,790$38,070$57,120
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA$36,080$46,210$60,670
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA$35,240$38,270$59,090
Santa Rosa, CA$37,210$48,810$76,220
Stockton-Lodi, CA$30,100$38,070$61,330
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$36,580$60,080$76,220
Visalia-Porterville, CA$29,830$36,800$47,250
Yuba City, CA$30,360$38,000$48,150

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics