Medical and dental assistants provide vital support services for physicians and dentists all over the nation. Online degrees in medical and dental assisting help prepare individuals for this rewarding profession, both by presenting them with adequate career-related instruction and by teaching students the skills required to work in this highly technical and hands-on field.
Since medical and dental assisting are very different careers by nature, technical skills taught in each program will vary. However, both types of programs teach students the office skills that each job requires along with interpersonal skills needed to work with other office professionals, patients, and the general public.
Although almost anyone can pursue a dental or medical assistant degree, these programs are mostly geared toward individuals who desire to work in public health and want to enter the workforce quickly. Because this industry involves a great deal of patient care and interaction, students should also have excellent interpersonal skills and a great deal of compassion for others.
Choosing the Right Degree
Earning a medical or dental assistant degree is a smart idea for anyone who wants to find entry-level employment. However, it's important to note that there are several degree options that can lead to careers in this field, each varying in length and educational rigor. The following chart shows the medical and dental assisting degree options you could potentially choose from:
Length of Completion
Most medical and dental assistant certificates take 6-18 months to complete.
Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant, Dental or Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician, Medical Appliance Technician
Associate degrees typically take two years of full-time study to complete.
Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist, Dental or Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician, Medical Appliance Technicians
Students can typically earn a bachelor's degree in four years, if they study full-time.
While in some states there are no formal education requirements for dental and medical assistants, completing some postsecondary education can increase one's job prospects and lead to higher pay. Further, completing a certificate or associate degree is a great way to meet people already in the industry, including potential employers or co-workers.
What to Expect from Medical and Dental Assisting Degree Programs
The length and rigor of programs for medical and dental assistants depends heavily on the degree type and program chosen. For dental assistants, programs generally take less than one year to complete and culminate in a career diploma. Students learn about industry terminology, commonly used dental instruments, and general office procedures. Some schools offer two-year associate degree programs that teach advanced skills. Depending on state regulations, an associate may be required to perform X-rays on the job.
Traditional and online degrees in medical assisting may be one or two years in length. Shorter programs result in a diploma or certificate, while students in two-year programs typically earn an associate degree. Coursework may cover topics such as laboratory services, medical terminology, and recordkeeping. Medical assistants who want to perform advanced tasks like administering injections or taking x-rays may need to meet specific educational requirements mandated by the state they live in.
Both medical and dental assisting degree programs 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 increase their job prospects and earn higher pay.The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) credentials Certified Dental Assistants who pass an examination and complete a CODA accredited program or have two to four years of work experience. For medical assistants, several organizations, including the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and Association of Medical Technologists (AMT), offer credentialing programs.
Benefits of an Online Program
Although online medical and dental assisting degrees and programs are available, most require students to participate in an internship or clinical rotation in order to learn the hands-on skills required in both of these careers. Most of the time, these in-person stints can be completed in a student's local community at a hospital or dentist's office while they continue their studies online.
Some school even present their programming as ""hybrid,"" meaning they combine online learning with on-campus clinical programming. Hybrid online degree programs in medical assisting allow students to study core subjects such as mathematics and communications in a virtual classroom. Then, the school arranges for clinical training to be completed at a brick-and-mortar site before graduation.
Other online training programs may not directly offer hands-on training, but provide support services for students who want to gain work experience. For example, many schools offer career services departments that can help students contact local medical offices and arrange for interviews.
Before enrolling in an online degree program in medical assisting or dental assisting, it is important to understand how the program is structured. Prospective students should ask whether they will graduate with a diploma, certificate, or degree, and if the program includes clinical experience or support services. Finally, students should seek out programs accredited by an industry organization such as the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Careers in Medical and Dental Assisting
Although medical and dental assisting degrees are fairly specific, this field includes several related careers. The following chart highlights the most popular careers for graduates of these programs, along with relevant wage and employment data form the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Expected Job Growth
(2014 - 2024)
|Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides||181,000||$48,410||29.7%|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||38,170||$59,530||28.9%|
|Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics||244,960||$36,110||15.1%|
|Dental Laboratory Technicians||37,110||$40,760||14.5%|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians||160,190||$41,700||14%|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists||166,730||$62,440||11.5%|
As you can see, a wide range of opportunities are available for those who graduate from dental and medical assisting programs. Although there are several good options to choose from, the best program for you depends on what kind of career you hope to have when you graduate and how long you want to spend in school.
If you want to learn more about earning a degree in medical or dental assisting, request information from one of the schools below.
Dental Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm
Dental Hygienists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/dental-and-ophthalmic-laboratory-technicians-and-medical-appliance-technicians.htm
May 2014 National Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Medical Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm