Are you considering becoming a medical assistant, and wondering if certification is required to enter the field? Find out the benefits of earning professional credentials, and which types of medical assistant certifications you can pursue today.
Table of Contents,
- 1 Overview
- 2 WHAT IS A CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT?
- 3 The 3 Types of Medical Assistant Certifications
- 4 Medical Assistant Certificate vs. Associate Degree
- 5 Time to Complete
- 6 Curriculum
- 7 Top 10 Benefits to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
- 8 1. Employers Prefered Certified MAs
- 9 2. Certification Vouches for Knowledge and Skill
- 10 3. Being Certified Reflects Quality Training
- 11 4. Certified MAs Get Better Pay
- 12 5. Certifications May Be Required
- 13 6. Increased Job Options
- 14 7. Hospitals Seek Certified Nurses (Medical Assistants)
- 15 8. Certifications Validate Clinical Judgment
- 16 9. Access to CEU Resources
- 17 10. Increased Respect
- 18 Where Certified Medical Assistants Work:
- 19 STEPS TO BECOME A CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (CMA)
- 20 STEP 1: OBTAIN A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA OR GED (FOUR YEARS)
- 21 STEP 2: COMPLETE A REQUIRED MEDICAL ASSISTANT PROGRAM (ONE TO TWO YEARS)
- 22 STEP 3: PASS THE CMA EXAMINATION (LESS THAN ONE YEAR)
- 23 STEP 4: MAINTAIN THE AAMA (CMA) CREDENTIAL (EVERY 60 MONTHS)
- 25 OTHER CERTIFICATIONS FOR MEDICAL ASSISTANTS
- 26 AMERICAN MEDICAL TECHNOLOGISTS (AMT)
- 27 NATIONAL CENTER FOR COMPETENCY TESTING (NCCT)
- 28 NATIONAL HEALTHCAREER ASSOCIATION (NHA)
- 30 STATE LICENSURE FOR MEDICAL ASSISTANTS
- 31 Medical Assistant Certification at a Glance
- 33 How much is a certified medical assistant’s salary?
- 34 Certified medical assistant skills you’ll need
- 35 Technical skills
- 36 Human skills
- 37 Specialty Certifications for Medical Assistants
- 38 Medical Assistant Certification Resources
- 39 Study Aids and Help
- 40 AAMA CMA Exam Study Resources
- 41 CCMA Exam Content Outline
- 42 CMA Exam Content Outline
- 43 NCMA Detailed Test Plan
- 44 Certifying Agencies
- 45 American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- 46 American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- 47 National Association of Health Professionals (NAHP)
- 48 National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- 49 Professional and Accreditation Organizations
- 50 Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- 51 American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA)
- 52 American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)
- 53 Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP)
- 54 Frequently Asked Questions
- 55 Q1. What is the best thing students can do on their own to prepare for a certification examination?
- 56 Q2. How can a student choose which certification is best?
- 57 Q3. What areas do students tend to struggle with the most when preparing for the exam?
- 58 Q4. Any advice you might offer to students who are preparing to become a medical assistant?
- 59 Q5.Which Medical Assistant Certification is Right for You?
Medical assistants play an important role in the modern healthcare industry, providing assistance to other professionals and helping attend to patients. Medical assistants, also known as clinical assistants, are essential members of the healthcare team. These professionals help ensure that healthcare settings operate smoothly, and that patients leave satisfied with their visits. On a daily basis, you can find a medical assistant greeting patients, scheduling appointments, updating medical records, recording patient histories, as well as collecting and organizing medical supplies. And this is just a small scope of what they do.
The American Association of Medical Assistants (2022) details a medical assistant’s typical job responsibilities, including preparing patients for examinations; taking medical histories; administering medication as requested by the attending physician; performing electrocardiograms; changing wound dressings or removing stitches; collecting samples for lab testing; serving as liaisons between doctors and patients; and fulfilling various administrative functions (e.g., scheduling appointments, coding medical services, preparing insurance forms, maintaining medical records, etc).
These cross-disciplinary medical professionals work across various healthcare settings, concentrated in outpatient clinics, medical offices, and other ambulatory care facilities. Many employers prefer certified medical assistants (CMAs) who have achieved AAMA certification or credentialing through another accredited organization (details below).
In some cases, CMAs have additional specialized certifications allowing them to fulfill other clinical responsibilities. For example, a CMA with a specialization in chiropractic care may assist a chiropractor during an adjustment, whereas a medical assistant who works in the office of an optometrist or ophthalmologist may help with an eye examination. Students who are certain of their future career interests or curious about particular areas of specialization should seek out opportunities to take courses related to the anatomy and physiology of these clinical specializations or seek out practical experiences in a specific type of clinic.
This piece details how to become a certified medical assistant (CMA), including the necessary education, training, and preferred credentialing in this high-growth profession.
WHAT IS A CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT?
As mentioned in the introduction, medical assistants help other healthcare professionals in both clinical and administrative settings; this may include performing minor procedures such as drawing blood or completing front-office tasks such as calling patients and scheduling appointments.
Unlike physicians and many other healthcare professionals, medical assistants are not required to be certified or licensed in most states. Aspiring CMAs are encouraged to reach out to their local state board of medicine—a list of which is provided by the AAMA—to verify all necessary credentialing. That said, it’s no surprise that most employers prefer candidates who have achieved national credentialing as it demonstrates an additional level of commitment to the healthcare profession.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are five main certifications for medical assistants from entities approved by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
The BLS (2021) found that medical assisting is a rapidly growing career, projecting an 18 percent increase in job openings in this field nationally between 2020 and 2030. This growth figure is much more robust than the 8 percent average growth anticipated across all occupations during that same time period. With the predicted addition of 132,600 fresh openings for medical assistants nationwide, it is expected there will be ample job opportunities in the coming decade.
Administrative And Clinical Duties Of A Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
Medical assistants work alongside physicians and nurses, typically in outpatient or ambulatory care settings. This could include medical offices or clinics. A medical assistant program provides cross-training, so you can perform administrative and clinical duties. These could include:
- Putting patient data into a computer
- Updating patient medical records
- Scheduling appointments
- Arranging hospital admissions and lab tests
- Taking medical histories
- Preparing patients for an examination
- Explaining treatment procedures
- Phlebotomy (taking blood)
- Wound care
- Taking an electrocardiogram
The 3 Types of Medical Assistant Certifications
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential is granted to those who successfully pass the CMA (AAMA) examination, administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). As cited by the AAMA, this credential represents world-class certification for medical assistants. It is recognized by employers both globally and nationally. In fact, some employers even require it. The AAMA receives more than 100 requests from employers daily, to verify applicants’ and employees’ CMA certification.
The CMA (AAMA) certification exam is rigorous, consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions administered in four, 40-minute segments. It will test your knowledge of healthcare delivery, health information management, patient intake, safety and infection control, medical insurance, and more. It is no wonder employers prefer to hire Certified Medical Assistants, and place such value on the CMA credential today.
To be eligible for the CMA (AAMA) examination, you must graduate from a postsecondary medical assisting program. This program must be accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). According to the NHA website, an estimated 89 percent of employers require or encourage certification for medical assistants today.
The NHA certification has simple requirements for aspiring medical assistants, involving either work experience or practical training. In order to be eligible for the CCMA credentialing exam, you must:
- Possess a high school diploma/GED equivalent AND
- Have completed a medical assistant training program (within the last 5 years) OR
- Completed one year of supervised medical assisting experience, in the last 3 years
While one year of work experience may feel like the shortest route, it’s important to note that many medical assistant training programs can be completed in a matter of months. This will make you eligible to apply for the CCMA certification upon completion of our program.
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential is administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Like the above certifications, this RMA title is recognized by allied healthcare employers across the U.S. And according to the AMT website, there is increasing pressure for employers to hire more certified medical assistants. This is because certification highlights a medical assistant’s level of achievement, readiness, skill, and commitment to the highest standards within the field.
To become eligible for the RMA certification exam, you must take one of four routes:
- Education: Graduate from an accredited medical assisting program within the last four years, with a minimum of 720 total program hours (including at least 120 clinical hours).
- Military: Graduate from a formal medical assistant training program of the US Armed Forces.
- Work experience: Work as a medical assistant for at least five of the past seven years, fulfilling both clinical and administrative duties.
- Instructor: Work as a medical assistant educator for a minimum of five years, and have previously completed a course in a healthcare related discipline.
Medical Assistant Certificate vs. Associate Degree
High school graduates can become medical assistants after completing on-the-job training. However, a certificate or an associate degree may lead to greater employment opportunities.
Certificate and associate degree programs share some basic similarities. Both options prepare you for similar administrative and clinical positions in a variety of healthcare facilities. Both pathways include required courses in areas such as human anatomy, pharmacology, medical terminology, and office administration.
What differs between the two pathways is the time needed to complete each program and the cost. A certificate offers the most affordable and quickest way to enter the field. Students often complete their certificate in one year or less. An associate degree costs more because it requires two years and includes general education courses. However, many employers prefer to hire medical assistants with associate degrees.
Time to Complete
Most full-time students take two years to finish their associate degree at a community college or a four-year institution. Many schools offer hybrid or online options. If you intend to study part time, you may need an additional semester or year to finish all graduation requirements. Most medical assistant associate degrees require 60 credits, including required clinical laboratories or internships.
Depending on the program, full-time students can finish a certificate program in six months to a year. Most certificates require approximately 40 credits. While not a part of all certificate programs, clinical experiences may add to the time needed to complete all requirements.
The educational pathway you choose should depend on your personal situation. If you want to enter the workforce quickly and keep educational costs down, a certificate may be your best option. However, the broader training provided by an associate degree may lead to greater employment opportunities. You may also transfer credits earned in an associate degree to a four-year school if you later decide to earn a bachelor’s.
What do you study to become a medical assistant? While the course titles may differ, certificate and associate programs both expect students to master similar content.
If you enroll in an associate degree, the curriculum may include:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Medication administration
- Lab techniques and procedures
- Clinical procedures
- Administrative procedures
- Medical terminology
A medical assistant certificate may require:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Medication administration
- Lab techniques and procedures
- Medical recording and coding
- Office practices
- First aid
Associate degrees include clinical laboratories or internships as part of the requirements. These kinds of clinical experiences are not always required in certificate programs. Certificates focus entirely on medical-assisting topics while an associate degree also features a general education component beyond the professional content.
Students earning an associate degree must also complete courses in mathematics, natural and social sciences, writing, and the humanities. They may also transfer these credits to a bachelor’s degree program in a related field.
Top 10 Benefits to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
According to the AAMA, there are three ways a person may be eligible for the CMA examination. A candidate may have:
- Recently graduated from an accredited medical assisting program
- Graduated in the past 36 months from an accredited medical assisting program
- Previously passed the exam and is applying for recertification
You can maintain your certification by submitting 60 recertification continuing education units (CEUs) or passing the CMA exam again. However, you must not allow your certification to lapse more than 90 days.
There will be roughly 104,400 new MA job openings each year over the next decade. These jobs will open from expected growth in the field and from current medical assistants retiring or moving to other positions.
A national certification may not be required, but it is a solid way to further your career and open up new job opportunities.
1. Employers Prefered Certified MAs
There are several reasons why many employers prefer a nationally certified medical assistant. For instance, it is one way healthcare providers can protect themselves against malpractice lawsuits.
Having credentialed personnel helps lessen the likelihood of a successful legal challenge. Human resource directors of managed care organizations also place faith in professional credentials.
More states will likely mandate credentials for medical assistants in the future.
2. Certification Vouches for Knowledge and Skill
Certification demonstrates to your employer that you have the knowledge and skill needed to perform the job. A career as a medical assistant means you provide appropriate care to patients who can be seriously ill.
In addition to clinical skills, CMAs must also have administrative knowledge, including:
- Billing and coding procedures
- Office management basics
- Medical law and ethics
3. Being Certified Reflects Quality Training
Certification can reflect quality training. Candidates for the AAMA CMA certification examination must have graduated from an accredited program.
Research shows that the accreditation process influences the quality of training and education. Being certified ensures your MA training is of the highest quality.
4. Certified MAs Get Better Pay
Certified medical assistant salaries depend on several factors. On average, according to the BLS, medical assistants who work in states where certification is required often enjoy a higher wage than in states where certification is not required.
For example, nationally certified medical assistants living in Washington earn more than those living in Alabama, which does not require certification.
The annual mean wage for MAs ranges from $24,430 to $35,660 in over half of America. States where the average mean salary is $38,510 to $46,610 also have a higher cost of living. These include California, Alaska, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
5. Certifications May Be Required
Becoming a CMA is a good idea because it may soon be required. Currently, a few states require medical assistants to complete a formal program. These include:
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
However, as with other healthcare professions, the trend is moving toward mandatory education and certification. This helps demonstrate proficiency. It also increases the likelihood of better job performance, which can lead to better patient outcomes.
6. Increased Job Options
Certification increases your employability and job options. Your national medical assistant certification demonstrates your seriousness in providing quality patient care.
Especially in states where a certification is not yet mandatory, it shows your employer dedication to excellence. Employers seeking to fill positions in specialty fields, such as podiatry or pediatrics, are more likely to hire certified individuals.
7. Hospitals Seek Certified Nurses (Medical Assistants)
Hospitals are raising the standards for healthcare professionals across the board, including certified nurses and medical assistants.
Most hospitals seek to increase the percentage of bachelor’s-prepared nurses and employ certified medical assistants. This helps lower malpractice risk. It can also improve the Joint Commission’s evaluation.
CMAs are responsible for clinical and clerical duties. They can work in several healthcare situations, including:
- Physicians’ offices
- Outpatient clinics
- Other areas where healthcare is delivered to the community
8. Certifications Validate Clinical Judgment
Employers seek out nationally certified medical assistants because certification confirms the mastery of knowledge and skill needed to perform job duties.
Patients, families, employers, and medical assistants all benefit from certification. Many acutely ill patients require specialized care from a team of skilled professionals.
As healthcare becomes more complex, to become a certified medical assistant demonstrates competency. Certification is a mark of excellence for the provider and the organization.
9. Access to CEU Resources
Many hiring institutions sponsor continuing education unit (CEU) opportunities, which can amount to free education. The AAMA requires recertification for CMAs every 60 months.
A nationally certified medical assistant may retake the certification examination or submit 60 recertification continuing education points to be recertified. Thirty of the points must be approved by the AAMA, and they must include administrative, clinical, and general education topics.
10. Increased Respect
Medical assistants work with highly educated healthcare professionals. Certification helps demonstrate clinical skill and administrative knowledge, which helps gain the respect of coworkers.
This respect can translate into better stability and the opportunity to request better shifts. Certified medical assistants also bring value to the organization. This, in turn, earns them the respect of their colleagues.
Where Certified Medical Assistants Work:
- Ambulatory health care services
- Chiropractors’ offices
- Family medicine practices
- Health centers
- Health care practitioner offices
- Hospital facilities
- Medical laboratories
- Medical offices
- OB/GYN practices
- Outpatient care facilities
- Physicians’ offices
- Podiatrists’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
STEPS TO BECOME A CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (CMA)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020) notes that aspiring medical assistants must typically attend a postsecondary education program lasting from one to two years, which includes instruction in subjects such as anatomy and medical terminology. While these steps may vary by certification desired and state of residence, here is one common route to becoming a CMA in the US:
STEP 1: OBTAIN A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA OR GED (FOUR YEARS)
Perhaps the most important step in this process is the completion of high school or the attainment of a GED. At this stage, students should focus on science and math courses that can help prepare them for a CMA career such as biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, algebra, and related electives. It may also be advisable to volunteer at a local clinic or physician’s office as this experience enhances a student’s candidacy for postsecondary school programs and exposes the individual to the rigors of working in a healthcare environment.
STEP 2: COMPLETE A REQUIRED MEDICAL ASSISTANT PROGRAM (ONE TO TWO YEARS)
While there are no national requirements for a medical assistant’s education, the American Association for Medical Assistants (AAMA) requires that these healthcare professionals complete an approved postsecondary program prior to seeking certification.
Specifically, the AAMA states that “only graduates of medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) are eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) certification examination.”
Each of the organizations provides a list of approved programs nationwide. The AAMA states that approved programs generally offer instruction in a wealth of clinical and administrative areas such as human anatomy; medical terminology; pharmacology; first aid; lab techniques; how to administer medicine; coding & insurance processing; record-keeping & accounting; computer competency; and medical law & ethics, to name a few subjects. Additionally, students in these programs typically complete a practicum, an unpaid supervised internship in a healthcare setting.
Alternatively, in August 2019, the AAMA launched a pilot program giving medical assistants another educational pathway to be eligible for the CMA certification exam. This is time-limited which aims to expand access to certification. To qualify, an applicant must submit the proof of the following: completion of a two-semester 560-hour postsecondary medical assisting program accredited by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA); a minimum of 160 practicum or externship hours or 1,000 hours of medical assisting experience after completing a postsecondary program; and an awards diploma, certificate or associate’s degree.
As well, the postsecondary program curriculum must include courses in anatomy and physiology; pharmacology; infection control; applied mathematics; theory and techniques of intramuscular, intradermal, and subcutaneous injection administration; and theory and techniques of phlebotomy. The cost of documentation review by AAMA is free, but students will have to pay exam fees if they qualify.
Trenholm State Community College
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College offers an associate in applied science degree and a short-term certificate in medical assisting technology. The AAS degree program is accredited by CAAHEP. Combining theoretical instruction with practical application, the program provides students with the necessary knowledge, professionalism, and skills needed for performing effectively as members of the health care team.
Graduates will be eligible to take the American Association of Medical Assistants National Certification Examination and the Medical Technologist Examination. After successfully completing these examinations, graduates can earn the title of certified medical assistant or registered medical assistant.
The AAS degree is made up of 74 credits, while the short-term certificate consists of 25 credits. The curriculum explores topics such as introduction to medical document production; medical terminology; medical administrative procedures; management of office emergencies; medical office insurance; and medical assisting theory.
- Location: Montgomery, AL
- Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Associate degree (six terms); short term certificate (two terms)
- Estimated Tuition: 159 per credit
Chattahoochee Valley Community College
Chattahoochee Valley Community College’s associate of applied science program in medical assisting prepares students to perform clinical and administrative tasks to assist physicians in various areas of the medical practice. Graduates of this program will be eligible to sit for the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam.
Students will learn about taking and recording medical histories, administering medication, sterilizing instruments, assisting with minor office procedures, and handling patient emergencies. They will also be prepared for other procedures such as obtaining blood samples, performing routine laboratory procedures, updating and filing patient medical records, filling out insurance forms, and arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services.
Comprising 72 credits, the program includes courses such as medical terminology; principles of biology; medical administrative procedures; cardiopulmonary resuscitation; medical law and ethics; management of office emergencies; medical pharmacology for the medical office; and medical office insurance.
Apart from the AAS degree, Chattahoochee Valley Community College offers several more programs in medical assisting, which include a 30 credit medical assisting short certificate; a 16 credit medical administrative assistant short certificate; a 13 credit electronic health records specialist short certificate; a 4 credit EKG technician program; and a 14 credit phlebotomy short certificate.
- Location: Phenix City, AL
- Accreditation: Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: AAS (five semesters)
- Estimated Tuition: In-state ($123 per credit); out-of-state ($246 per credit)
El Paso Community College
El Paso Community College offers an associate of applied science degree in medical assisting technology preparing students to work in administrative clinic offices, direct patient care, doctor offices, or other related facilities. Students in this program learn about terminology, medical ethics, physiology, anatomy, phlebotomy, pharmacology, laboratory procedures, clinical procedures, and EKGs. Graduates will be eligible to sit for the CMA exam offered through the AAMA or the RMA exam offered through the AMT.
The program comprises 60 credits including coursework in pharmacology & administration of medications; medical assistant laboratory procedures; wellness and health promotion; medical law and ethics; anatomy and physiology for medical assistants; and medical insurance.
Graduates will be ready to take up positions such as medical assistants, medical records managers, medical assistant instructors, transcription supervisors, and clinical team leaders.
El Paso Community College also offers an 18 credit certificate of completion in administrative medical assistant and a 43 credit certificate of completion in medical assisting technology.
- Location: El Paso, TX
- Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: AAS (four semesters); certificate of completion in medical assisting technology (three semesters) certificate of completion in administrative medical assistant (one semester)
- Estimated Tuition: Resident ($116 per credit); non-resident ($201 per credit)
STEP 3: PASS THE CMA EXAMINATION (LESS THAN ONE YEAR)
Finally, after completing an accredited medical assisting program, the individual must then pass the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination or the equivalent through one of the aforementioned organizations. Aspiring CMAs must submit a completed application and a fee ($125). Also, CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited programs generally send official transcripts to the AAMA to verify the student’s candidacy for the certification exam.
The AAMA provides a general outline of the test content, which includes the following categories:
- Human behavior
- Human growth & development
- Death & dying stages
- Therapeutic & adaptive responses to diverse populations
- Nonverbal communication
- Data collection
- Professionalism & interpersonal skills
- Medical law & regulations (e.g., advance directives, the scope of practice, confidentiality, third party payers & insurance, consumer protection acts, etc.)
The exam includes 200 multiple-choice questions, and candidates are allowed three attempts to pass. The CMA candidates receive an official copy of their scores approximately three weeks after the exam, and the official CMA (AAMA) certificate arrives six weeks after that, officially denoting their status as a CMA.
It’s worth noting that students can take the exam up to one month prior to completing their medical assisting program. Also, according to the most recent data (between July 2019 and July 2020), there were 7,482 AAMA (CMA) certification candidates and 67 percent of them passed the exam on their first attempt.
STEP 4: MAINTAIN THE AAMA (CMA) CREDENTIAL (EVERY 60 MONTHS)
The AAMA (CMA) certification is valid for 60 months and can be maintained by examination or completing 60 continuing education units (i.e., recertification points) across the following content areas: general (10), administrative (10), clinical (10), and any combination of the three content areas (30).
These are the steps necessary for the AAMA credential, and other certifying agencies have slightly different timelines and requirements.
OTHER CERTIFICATIONS FOR MEDICAL ASSISTANTS
Focusing on only credentialing organizations recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), here is a summary of certification requirements for three other entities:
AMERICAN MEDICAL TECHNOLOGISTS (AMT)
- Credential: Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
- Initial requirements: To qualify for the AMT exam, candidates must have either completed an accredited training program (720 training hours and 160 internship hours), a military medical services training program, five years of qualifying work experience in the past seven years, or five years of medical assistant instructor experience.
- Renewal: This certification is valid for three years as long as the candidate has paid annual fees ($60), a recertification fee ($205), and completed 30 continuing education units (CEUs).
NATIONAL CENTER FOR COMPETENCY TESTING (NCCT)
- Credential: National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
- Initial requirements: Candidates for the certification exam must either be current students or graduated from an NCCT-authorized program within the past five years, have completed the military equivalent of a medical assistant training program, or have two years of relevant work experience. The exam costs $90 if taken within six months of graduation and $135 thereafter.
- Renewal: This credential must be renewed annually following the completion of 14 clock hours (CH) of continuing education and payment of a fee ($77), although requirements and fees may vary for candidates with multiple NCCT certifications.
NATIONAL HEALTHCAREER ASSOCIATION (NHA)
- Credential: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) or Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
- Initial requirements: Candidates must have completed either a post-secondary training program or at least one year of qualifying work experience. The exams include 150 scored questions and 30 ‘pretest’ items.
- Renewal: These certifications are valid for two years and can be renewed following the completion of 10 CEUs.
STATE LICENSURE FOR MEDICAL ASSISTANTS
As previously mentioned, the BLS states that medical assistants are not required to be certified in most states. The AAMA keeps a list of the scope of practice laws for medical assistants by the state to help medical assistants determine the legal requirements in the states where they hope to find work.
By illustration, medical assistants in Mississippi are not required to have a state license or be certified to work, while Washington state requires medical assistants to have a state-issued medical assistant credential from the state department of health even if they hold national certification.
Although most states do not require medical assistants to be certified, most employers in all states seek out applicants with minimum qualifications that include national-level certification from one of the aforementioned organizations. To be eligible for more job opportunities and future promotions, becoming a CMA is recommended.
Medical Assistant Certification at a Glance
|POINTS OF INTEREST||CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (CMA)||REGISTERED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (RMA)||NATIONAL CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT (NCMA)||CERTIFIED CLINICAL MEDICAL ASSISTANT (CCMA)||CERTIFIED MEDICAL ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT (CMAA)|
|Eligibility and Requirements||Graduated from an accredited medical assisting program, completed practicum of at least 160 hours/td>||Currently in or graduated from an accredited medical assisting program||Currently in or graduated from an NCCT-authorized medical assisting program or completed experience||Successfully completed a clinical medical assisting program within the last five years||Successfully completed a medical administrative assisting program within the last five years|
|Exam Content||200 questions||210 questions||150 questions||200 questions||100 questions|
|Recertification Requirements||Every 60 months||Every 3 years||Every year||Every 2 years||Every 2 years|
How much is a certified medical assistant’s salary?
Getting certified may pay off by boosting your annual salary. For example, while the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the median hourly salary for non-certified medical assistants at $17.88 per hour, the American Association of Medical Assistants notes that the average hourly salary for certified candidates is $19.02.
Wages also vary depending on your geographic region, work setting, practice specialty, and your experience level. Certified medical assistants living in urban areas may make higher-than-average salaries to compensate for higher living expenses. As with other professions, the more years of experience you have under your belt, the more you can typically expect to earn.
Certified medical assistants are in-demand and will likely continue to be for years to come. The BLS anticipates jobs in the field will grow by 18 percent between 2020 and 2030—much faster than the growth average for all jobs, which is about 8 percent.
Certified medical assistant skills you’ll need
To do their jobs, CMAs must be able to perform both clinical and administrative duties in a complex and potentially fast-paced environment. As a result, they must employ a unique blend of technical and human skills to support physicians, patients, and hospital staff as efficiently as possible.
To help you identify the skills you already possess and the ones you need to develop, the list below contains some of the most common skills required of professional CMAs.
- Basic medical skills: This includes performing basic medical procedures like changing bandages and drawing blood, taking vital signs, sterilizing instruments, and preparing patient rooms.
- Medical administration: This includes such tasks as monitoring and ordering medical supplies, scheduling appointments, coordinating with labs and other medical providers, arranging hospital admissions, and updating patient records.
- Office administration: This includes common office tasks like billing, bookkeeping, and answering phones.
- Communication: You’ll be tasked with carrying out directions from managers or physicians and explaining instructions to patients.
- Customer service: Respectfully interacting with patients and treating their concerns with compassion is an important part of the role.
- Organization: Staying organized is essential in a position that requires you to fulfill a range of timely responsibilities, such as scheduling appointments and taking patient vials.
Specialty Certifications for Medical Assistants
Professionals may need more than a standard medical assistant certification to advance their career. A specialty certification demonstrates expertise in a medical subfield. The three certifications below can lead to benefits including higher salaries. Workers selecting a specialty certification should consider their career goals and consult a supervisor.
- Certified Paraoptometric (CPO)
Candidates for this credential from the Health Professions Network (HPN) need a high school diploma and at least six months of experience in optometry or eye care. As of March 2022, candidates pay a $285 application fee and take a 90-minute, 120-question exam. Twenty questions do not count toward the final score. Candidates who do not pass on the first try do not receive a reexamination discount. CPOs perform tasks such as checking in patients and helping them with eyeglasses fittings.
- Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA)
Aspiring CPOAs must work for six months as a CPO and graduate from an approved optometric program. Candidates without the required education must have three years of relevant work experience. As of March 2022, candidates for this certification from the HPN pay a $305 application fee and take a 2.5-hour, 120-question exam. Twenty questions do not affect the final score. The American Optometric Association provides professional development classes for CPOs and CPOAs. The CPOA credential may help professionals qualify for raises and promotions.
- Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC)
The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants awards the PMAC to members working in podiatry offices. Candidates take the clinical or radiology exam. Each costs $400 as of March 2022. Candidates must earn a score of at least 70% to pass. Candidates who do not pass an exam section may retake it once for $50. The PMAC credential demonstrates professionalism and competence. Typical job duties for certified professionals include recording medical histories and taking X-rays.
Medical Assistant Certification Resources
Study Aids and Help
AAMA CMA Exam Study Resources
AAMA provides free online practice questions and full-length exams to help medical assistants pass the certification exam. Candidates can sign up for a review class through a local AAMA chapter.
CCMA Exam Content Outline
NHA offers a test plan to help individuals pass the CCMA exam. The plan covers foundational knowledge, anatomy and physiology, clinical patient care, and infection control.
CMA Exam Content Outline
AAMA offers a detailed content outline for its certified medical assistant exam. The outline details the number of questions in each content category, including clinical competencies, general, and administrative.
NCMA Detailed Test Plan
NCCT provides an in-depth test plan for NCMA candidates. The plan covers content categories including pharmacology, clinical medical procedures, and phlebotomy. The final page covers essential knowledge that all exam-takers need.
American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
AAMA provides extensive resources for aspiring medical assistants, including exam study guides. Certification candidates need a certificate or degree from a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Certified medical assistants take continuing education classes to meet renewal requirements.
American Medical Technologists (AMT)
AMT awards a medical assistant certification to candidates who completed at least 720 hours of classroom instruction and a 160-hour internship. Other eligibility requirements include at least five years of experience.
National Association of Health Professionals (NAHP)
Aspiring medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, and patient care technicians can pursue certification from NAHP. For each certification, NAHP provides an online candidate handbook and examination content outline. NAHP also offers continuing education.
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
NCCT awards certifications for professionals including medical assistants, ECG technicians, medical office assistants, and phlebotomy technicians. NCCT provides extensive exam-preparation materials and certification renewal resources.
Professional and Accreditation Organizations
Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
ABHES maintains a list of top schools offering healthcare-related degrees. Visitors can explore programs through the organization’s online institution directory. ABHES also publishes articles on healthcare careers and credit transfers.
American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA)
ARMA helps employers verify job applicants’ and employees’ certification status. The organization also helps medical assistants earn certification. ARMA maintains a job board with the latest open positions.
American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)
Medical assistants specializing in podiatry can join the ASPMA. Membership benefits include access to networking events, professional publications, and a liability insurance discount. As of March 2022, new members pay a $120 fee.
Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP)
CAAHEP awards programmatic accreditation to medical assistant certification programs. Prospective students can use the CAAHEP website to research certified medical assistant programs. The website also provides information on accreditation’s importance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is the best thing students can do on their own to prepare for a certification examination?
Paying close attention in class and in clinical settings translates to great study opportunities outside of class. By reviewing their class notes and drawing on the clinical experiences they had, students will gain the connective information that will assist them in theory-based learning, as well as clinically, for their certification exam. Most certification organizations also provide resource tools that students should leverage to prepare. These resources are normally available once the registration process has been completed.
Q2. How can a student choose which certification is best?
History has shown that students decide which certification is best based upon their specific post-graduation interests. This decision is normally based on their externship experience. Many students choose the NCMA option, which gives them a broader spectrum of opportunities. I have also had students choose a more specific certification, such as the Phlebotomy Technician Certification. All in all, students should choose an area that most interests them, as this tends to be the most rewarding career path.
Q3. What areas do students tend to struggle with the most when preparing for the exam?
Students tend to struggle the most with theory-based questions. We encourage them to answer the questions and to not get caught up in trying to analyze what a question “could” possibly mean by adding their own hypothetical theories to their response.
Q4. Any advice you might offer to students who are preparing to become a medical assistant?
At Concorde, we tell our medical assisting program students to know their medical terminology, reflect on the passion and empathy needed to succeed in the healthcare field, and embrace patient education. You will master the rest throughout the program and your career. We also tell them to simply believe that all things are possible.
Q5.Which Medical Assistant Certification is Right for You?
With many medical assistant certifications available, workers must research which one might help launch or improve their career. Candidates can use the following guidelines to narrow their options and select the right certification.
- Employer Preference
Employed medical assistants should ask their supervisor or human resources representative whether a promotion or raise requires certification. These professionals may recommend a specific credential or suggest a certification agency.
- State Requirements
A few states require medical assistants to hold certification. Learners in certified medical assistant programs work with advisors to research certification options and sign up for exams.
- Certification Focus
Professionals should consider their career focus and aspirations before pursuing a certification. Some certifications relate to a single profession. Credentials can significantly impact workers’ career prospects.
Some employers prefer certifications with statewide or national recognition. Students and practicing medical assistants should compare certification agencies’ reputations before signing up for an exam.