Becoming a Medical Assistant: Medical Assistant Programs in Iowa
Iowa medical assistants are improving their own and other’s lives. Medical assisting is a high-demand career. Medical assistant positions are often full-time and come with benefits. Medical assistants carry out basic patient care, lab, and administrative duties; this in turn increases healthcare access in non-emergency outpatient settings.
Iowa medical assistants do not hold state licensing. Nor are they mandated to hold third party certification – at least not by state law. Actual requirements vary by employer, but there is an expectation of skill.Employers may state training standards as well as certification standards (for example, possessing a medical assisting diploma and certification). Some employers use language like “approved program” or “accredited institution”.
Medical assisting programs vary in length and pacing. The typical Iowa program is about a year (including summer session) and results in a diploma.
Some students will qualify for the Last-Dollar Scholarship. This program is designed to help Iowa residents get training for high demand jobs that require a diploma or AAS.
Popular Medical Assistant Programs in Iowa
Northeast Iowa Community College (Peosta) is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The school boasts high examination pass rates and job placement rates. Both are in the 90s. Retention rate is also above 90%. The program includes 240 hours of practicum.
Southeastern Community College (West Burlington), another CAAHEP-accredited program, posted high certification examination pass rates and job placement rates for 2016.
North Iowa Area Community College reported a 100% job placement rate for its 2016 cohort.
Iowa Medical Assistant Certification Standards
Prospective medical assistants can expect the most certification options (and employment options) if they complete medical assisting programs that are housed in accredited schools and if their programs are the equivalent of at least one academic year and include externship/ practicum. Any program accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES will meet requirements for industry-leading certifications. Many others will as well.
Some certifications are available to medical assistants who “got their foot in the door” and learned on the job.
The following certifications are listed as acceptable by at least some Iowa employers:
• American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
• National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
• American Medical Technologists (AMT)
• National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
• National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP)
AAMA has long been an industry leader. Certification as a Certified Medical Assistant, or CMA (AAMA) depends on obtaining formal medical assisting education that meets AAMA standards. It was in the past available only to graduates of ABHES- and CAAHEP-accredited programs. A three-year pilot program allows students who complete non-accredited programs through institutionally accredited schools to test. Programs must meet curricular standards.
Other certifying bodies also have minimum standards for programs. They may, for example, specify the number of externship or practicum hours. AMT sets practicum hours at 160 – the same as AAMA.
Certification candidates who meet prerequisite requirements take an examination for initial certification. Continuing competency may be demonstrated in various ways, depending on certifying agency.
Top Iowa Employers
Medical assistants can be found in clinic and office settings, both general practice and specialty. They are often employed by major healthcare systems. The following are among Iowa’s employers:
• UnityPoint Health
• Mercy Medical Center
• Great River Health Systems
• Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa
• University of Iowa
UnityPoint Health (Des Moines) and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (Iowa City) both made the Becker’s Hospital Review list of top healthcare employers. UnityPoint recently advertised a position with a new starting rate of $17.26 for CMAs with 0-3 years of experience. The organization noted they were seeking CMAs who had graduated from accredited programs. The University of Iowa, meanwhile, had a number of positions open for medical assistants at the Medical Assistant II level. The following were among the diverse clinic settings noted: Iowa River Landing General Pediatrics Clinic, QuickCare Old Capitol Psych Clinic, and Pre-Surgical Evaluation Clinic.
Some positions elicit candidates with multiple types of credentialing. The organization may consider an LPN or a credentialed medical assistant. Most ads, though, are specifically for medical assistants.
Iowa Medical Assistant Scope of Practice
The Legal Counsel of AAMA interprets Iowa state code as allowing medical assistants “reasonable” duties including phlebotomy and vaccinations in outpatient settings. Delegation might take place through intermediary professionals such as RNs.
Iowa Medical Assistant Salary and Career Outlook
Iowa medical assistants averaged $16.82 an hour in 2018 (approximately $34,990 for a full-time year). The average was highest in the greater Des Moines metropolitan area, but here was a far greater range within metropolitan areas than between them.
There is room for advancement. One recent posting by a major health system listed a pay range of $14.20 to $20.01. Another employer listed a range of $15.77 to $23.65.One Des Moines school recently reported an average starting salary of $34,944 based on a survey of its own graduates.
The highest job concentration/ location quotient in the state is in the Iowa City area.
The Iowa State Society of Medical Assistants is the state affiliate of the American Association of Medical Assistants (http://www.iowasma.org/).
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