- Dental Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 13, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm#tab-4
- Dental Hygiene (BS), University of Pittsburgh, Accessed May 14, 2018, http://www.cgs.pitt.edu/academics/majors/dental-hygiene-bs
- Medical Assistant Associate Degree, Penn Foster College, Accessed May 14, 2018, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/medical-and-health-careers/medical-assistant-associate-degree
- Medical Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 16, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4
- Online Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences: Medical Assisting (MA), Northern Arizona University, Accessed May 14, 2018, https://nau.edu/chhs/health-sciences/degree-programs/medical-assisting/
- Online Dental Assistant School, U.S. Career Institute, Accessed May 11, 2018, https://www.uscareerinstitute.edu/certificates/health-care-programs/dental-assistant
- Online Medical Assistant School, U.S. Career Institute, Accessed May 11, 2018, https://www.uscareerinstitute.edu/certificates/health-care-programs/medical-assistant
One of the hallmarks of almost all allied health careers is working closely with patients and colleagues. Because this industry involves a great deal of patient care and interaction, students should have excellent interpersonal skills and a great deal of compassion for others. They typically need to demonstrate patience, understanding, and of course, a firm grasp of the skills and knowledge necessary to carry out their professional responsibilities.
From a certificate program that aims to teaches students the basic skills and knowledge for entry-level jobs to a program at the bachelor's degree level, students enrolled in an online medical or dental assisting program can get the education they need without setting foot in a classroom. In order to graduate, students may need to participate in an internship or clinical rotation to learn the hands-on skills required in both of these careers. Most of the time, this practical component can be completed at a local hospital or dentist's office while continuing studies online.
What do medical assistants and dental assistants do?
Medical and dental assistants can help provide vital support services for physicians and dentists all over the nation. Here's what the typical job duties look like.
For medical assistants, work might include:
- Recording patient medical history and personal information
- Entering patient information into electronic medical records
- Measuring vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate
- Assisting as needed with examinations
- Administering medications or injections (if allowed by state law)
- Preparing blood and other samples for transport to labs
- Scheduling, answering phones, and other front office duties
Dental assistants will typically help with the following:
- Make patients comfortable and prepare them for procedures
- Sterilize dental instruments
- Assist chair-side, such as handing different instruments to the dentist
- Process X-rays or complete other laboratory tasks
- Provide patient instruction on proper dental hygiene
- Handle front office duties, such as scheduling or billing
- Apply sealants, fluoride or topical anesthetic, or polish teeth (if allowed by state law)
Occupations and Career Outlook
Graduates of medical and dental assisting degree programs should be prepared not only to work in their respective fields, but to potentially move into other allied health areas as well. The following table looks at a few of the options for those who want to put their credentials to good use after graduation.
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||42,660||$60,410||28.9%|
|Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics||257,210||$37,760||15.1%|
|Dental Laboratory Technicians||34,480||$43,180||14.5%|
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
There are three typical programs students can choose when pursuing a career in medical or dental assisting. Those seeking an entry-level position usually choose between the certificate and the associate degree program; those who want to expand their horizons and perhaps eventually teach others might go for the bachelor's degree program. The level of education an aspiring student seeks may also depend upon the state in which they work; some states may require a certain amount of schooling before a student can sit for a licensing exam.
Online Certificate Programs in Medical and Dental Assisting
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
A certificate program is one of themore common options for students of medical and dental assistance offered by community colleges, technical and vocational schools.
Typical duration: One year
Online medical assistant programs can focus on:
- Basics of medical care, including introductions to anatomy and medical terminology
- Privacy and other laws relating to healthcare
- Insurance and front office procedures
- How to take vital signs, perform CPR, handle minor medical duties
- Depending upon the state, how to prepare injections and medications
Online dental assistant programs can focus on:
- Dental hygiene
- Oral anatomy and terminology
- Basics of dental procedures
- Dental pain management
- Oral pathology and radiology
- Front office procedures and more
Programs are designed to prepare students to move into work in a dental office and to hone their skills through careful observation while assisting dentists at work.
What can I do after earning a certificate?
Those who earn the certificate in dental assisting can join private practices, work in hospitals and specialty centers, or choose to take their education further by enrolling in dental hygienist schools.
Medical assistants can opt for work in the offices of physicians, hospitals and outpatient care clinics, chiropractor offices and more. Some work in the front office or back office exclusively, while others may need to move seamlessly from one area to another.
Online Associate Degree Programs in Medical and Dental Assisting
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
Like the certificate program, the dental or medical assistant degree online path includes some hands-on work. In many cases, some schools present their programming as "hybrid," meaning they combine online learning with on-campus clinical programming.
Typical duration: Two years
The medical assistant degree online program can consist of more focused courses, such as those in medical coding, insurance reimbursement, understanding electronic medical records, psychology and pharmacology.
Dental assistant two-year degree programs go more in-depth with dental procedures, pain relief, materials used, and front office requirements like insurance, billing and customer service.
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
Positions available to dental and medical assistants with an associate degree are similar to those available with a certificate; however, there are some important advantages for associate degree holders. In addition to potentially higher pay, many employers are more comfortable hiring someone who has spent two years studying their profession, rather than one. The associate degree can also serve as a valuable stepping stone to the bachelor's degree program if a student chooses to take their education even further.
Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Medical and Dental Assisting
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
Since many students come into online dental or medical assistant programs with an associate degree, additional hands-on experience may not be necessary. However, some bachelor's programs do require further supervised experience in dental hygiene in order to graduate. Before enrolling, it's important to make sure of what the on-campus requirements might be.
Typical duration: Four years to complete; however, many students enter with an associate degree, and so may only spend two years in the bachelor's program.
The bachelor's program takes students more in-depth with dental courses such as anatomy or pharmacology. They can also help to provide a well-rounded liberal arts education.
Students in medical assisting programs might take mathematics, psychology, management and the like. Many programs require students to choose a concentration, such as health management, education or research.
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
The bachelor's degree earned through dental or medical assistant schools online can prepare students to move into sales, research and education. Options for employment may broaden to include pharmaceutical companies, community colleges, vocational or technical schools, government health agencies, schools, local health departments and more.
Both medical and dental assisting degree programs are designed to help prepare students to take licensing exams as required by their state. After graduating, many students choose to become certified in their field in order to potentially increase their job prospects and promote their chances at earning a higher pay.
Accreditation means the school or program has been evaluated closely by an independent body and found to meet the rigorous standards of a high-quality education. There are benefits to graduating from an accredited medical or dental assisting program such as:
- Being able to transfer your credits should you seek advanced education
- Potentially improved employment prospects because many employers prefer hiring graduates from an accredited school or program
- Having an opportunity to sit for a licensure exam, if your state requires it
For medical assisting programs, accreditation is granted by either of these two bodies:
- The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
For dental assisting programs, look for accreditation that comes from the American Dental Association's (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Certifications and licensures for Medical and Dental Assisting
For medical assistants
While certification or licensing in medical assisting may not be required, students can show employers they are highly qualified professionals by obtaining certification. In some cases, employers seek certified medical assistants.
Eligible students can apply for certification from:
- The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- The American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- The National Certified Medical Assistant Credential (NCMA)
- The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Credential
Specialty certifications can be obtained from licensing bodies like the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants.
For dental assistants
Many states require dental assistants to be certified, licensed or registered. Certification can be obtained by the nationally recognized Dental Assisting National Board, Inc (DANB). Certified dental assistants generally earn more than non-certified dental assistants. Prospective employers may prefer certified dental assistants because of a higher confidence in the candidate's competencies.
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Scholarships and financial aid programs
- The American Dental Education Association
- Hispanic Dental Association Awards
- Colgate Professional Scholarships and Awards
- Maxine Williams Scholarship Fund
- American Medical Technologists Scholarships and Awards