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Medical and Dental Assistant Degrees and Programs

Two of the fastest growing careers in the health care industry don't require years of medical school. Between 2008 and 2018, careers for dental and medical assistants are expected to grow 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Medical and dental assistants wear multiple hats in the office, with many performing clinical, lab and office duties over the course of a day.

Train to work behind the scenes

Medical and dental assistant courses typically require a time commitment of one to two years. These courses can be part of on-campus or online programs. Dental assistant training is the shorter of the two, typically requiring only up to one year. Medical and dental assistant programs offer instruction on instrument sterilization, office procedures and clinical duties such as suture removal and lab techniques.

Medical assistants can opt to take a certification exam to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), which may help them advance to management or supervisory roles. Dental assistants can pursue one of three certifications: Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) and Certified Preventative Dental Assistant (CPDA). Certification requirements vary by state.

The BLS reports that, in 2010, dental assistants earned mean annual wages of $34,140, while medical assistants earned $29,760. While most worked in dental or physician offices, a number of dental and medical assistants can be found working for the federal government, outpatient care centers and employment services.

Medical and Dental Assistant Degrees and Programs

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