What are the Education, Training, and Job Prerequisites for Medical Assistants?
Medical assistants are crucial allied healthcare professionals, who provide considerably significant services in ambulatory settings, and are directly responsible for the proper functioning of an approved healthcare facility. The demand for medical assistants is high, but the job is one that has adequate job security and attracts numerous aspirants.
In the competitive market, most employers seek out medical assistant professionals who can perform the responsibilities expected of them in a competent manner. Here is a comprehensive guide that specifies the educational, certification, and job requirements a medical assistant is expected to meet.
Education and Training Requirements
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) does not define or necessitate formal education for medical assistants throughout the length and breadth of the United States to practice in approved healthcare facilities. However, they appreciate an associate’s degree program. The course must have accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
The importance AAMA stresses on the associate degree depict the fact that graduates can take AAMA’s Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination, which is held in high regard among medical assistants of the country.
Medical assistant aspirants can also opt for certificate courses and diplomas that abound in campus-based universities, junior colleges, vocational or technical schools, as well as online school programs if they wish to enter the workforce expediently. The certificate courses and diplomas are typically 10 to 14 months long, whereas the span of an associate degree program is around 2 years.
When you’re considering procuring formal education in medical assisting, it is suggested to do so from a school that has CAAHEP or ABHES accreditation so that you’re eligible for certifications later on.
Externship or Practicum
Besides, a good program in medical assisting has three essential components to it. The first is clinical adeptness, the second is administrative expertise, and the third is an externship, which provides aspirants with the practical first-hand training for the job. Most externships for degree programs are around 160 to 240 hours in duration and are done at local clinics and hospitals that share an association with the university, school, or college.
Whether a certificate, diploma, or a degree course, it is all aimed at preparing students to take the national certification examinations for medical assistants, and also training them, and making them equipped to perform and practice in approved healthcare facilities.
No state in the United States mandates certification by law for medical assistants. However, as optional as it might be, it is prudent to procure national credentials, as it enhances the chances of employability and makes you stand out in front of employers.
The most esteemed national certification is that of Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) provided by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). It requires you to take an examination, where you answer 200 multiple-choice questions in 160 minutes. This examination can be taken in Prometric centers in your respective state. Most MA programs prepare students and train them accordingly to take this exam. This certification must be renewed every 5 years.
Another national certification is that of Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) provided by American Medical Technologists (AMT), which can be procured if you fulfill specific eligibility criteria. You’re qualified for this certification if you have trained under the US Army, have 5 years of experience as an MA, or have attended a degree program of 720 total hours, with 160 hours of compulsory externship.
Other Nationally Accredited Certifications
There are other certifications like National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) provided by National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) by National Healthcare Association (NHA), Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant (NRCMA) by National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP), Certified Ophthalmic Assistant by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, and Podiatric Medical Assistant by the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants.
These all have their set criteria for eligibility, and if you check your eligibility requirement, you can apply for the certification. Most certification examinations usually come for a fee, from $90 to $200.
MA State Specific Requirements
The typical duties of a medical assistant include performing clinical tasks, like taking x-rays or drawing blood, with some administrative jobs like keeping electronic records, billing, coding, filing for insurance claims, and overlooking the general working of the healthcare facility they are employed at.
There is no rigid scope of practice defined for medical assistants in most states. But, employer requirements are always present, and sometimes, specific to the job.
Their forms of assessment are usually based on a formal training program and licensure, which increases employability for candidates. Some states have their guidelines too. Some states also mandate that medical assistants must have both formal education and national licensure from a competent authority.
The state of California requires medical assistants to mandatorily undergo training before they can be engaged in venipuncture, skin puncture, and intradermal injections or administer medication by subcutaneous or intramuscular injections. Medical assistants are deemed qualified only after they have performed more than 10 types of injection administering or skin tests under close supervision, spanning over 10 hours of training.
The state of Montana restricts its medical assistants from performing invasive procedures of any sort, inclusive of injections, unless they are performing under the supervision of a physician, podiatrist, or supervisor. They can, however, administer immunizations, but are not allowed to perform any IV blood functions.
New Jersey requires its medical assistants to have completed an educational course or a training program that is approved by the US Department of Education, under which they receive a minimum of 600 clock hours of instruction. In other states, you are eligible for national certification if you’ve relevant work experience for a specified number of years or have military training. However, New Jersey residents with military or work experience cannot be considered eligible to be MAs. They must procure the required accredited programs.
Certification Exam Eligibility Requirements
Every national certification examination for medical assistants has their own set of eligibility requirements to ensure that the exam or awarding of the degree is fair and impartial to all applicants. Eligibility requirements have been put together in place to ensure that individuals with national certification reflect a sense of proficiency, adeptness, and knowledge that is acceptable and required to provide allied healthcare services.
CMA Exam Requirements
- The Certified Medical Assistant exam by AAMA requires graduates to complete a degree program from a school that has a commission on CAAHEP or ABHES accreditation.
- Completing students of a degree program, that fall under category 1, are eligible to take the examination only 30 days prior to the day of completion of their formal degree as well as externship practicum.
- Recent graduates, which fall under category 2, have to take the examination within 12 months of the day of their graduation.
- Those applying for recertification after every 5 years fall under category 3. They must have completed graduation in a postsecondary medical assisting program. It must be college-level, and if not accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES, the schools can mention their depth, and rigorous academic scope to check eligibility for the pilot program.
RMA Exam Requirements
The Registered Medical Assistant examination by AMT has 4 specified categories, or routes, for eligibility.
- Under route 1, you must be a graduate from an accredited program that has been approved by DOE, under which you’ve received 720 hours of instruction with 160 hours of practicum. If you’re not a recent graduate or have graduated more than 4 years ago, you’ll need to show at least 3 years of experience.
- Under route 2, you can apply directly if you have graduated from a military medical services training program.
- Under route 3, you must have adequate work experience of 5 years for eligibility. With full-time work experience, you’ll also need CPR validation and work in both clinical and administrative domains.
- Route 4 is for instructors of MA programs with experience between 1 to 5 years. They should be presently engaged in instructing an accredited MA program, have an MA degree, and 5 years of experience as an instructor, or 1 year of teaching experience and more than 3 years of MA work experience, to qualify.
NCMA Exam Requirements
NCCT’s National Certified Medical Assistant exam has three ways for eligibility to procure the certification.
- Under route 1A, if you’re a current student from NCCT school, you must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, and you have to qualify within 2 years of graduation. While, under route 1B, if you’re a recent graduate, your degree procured from NCCT school must be within 5 years.
- Under the second way, you must have 4,160 hours or 2 years of experience as an MA, that can be verified, within the last 5 years. You’ll also need a high school diploma or GED equivalent to be eligible, along with a copy of Medical Assistant Certification Qualification by Experience form filled by your last employer, who should be a primary health provider or physician, certified and licensed himself.
- Under route 3, you must either have completed medical training from the US Army or provided military service within the last 5 years. Other than being a high school graduate from the United States, you can also be eligible if you have been in the military, retired or a veteran, or providing active duty, or have a spouse there, with 2 years of work experience as a medical assistant within the last 5 years.
CCMA Exam Requirements
The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant provided by NHA must fulfill the basic criteria set for applicants. Open an NHA account to proceed, register for the examination, and take it. Determining eligibility is easy.
- You must either have a training program that you have graduated from within the last 5 years with a high school diploma or GED or have 1 year of work experience as a CCMA within the last 3 years with a high school diploma.
- You can also qualify if you’ve registered for the Registered Apprenticeship Program accredited by the US Department of Labor for a Clinical Medical Assistant.
- You are also eligible if you have 3 years of full-time teaching experience in healthcare or health sciences domain, or a state-recognized teaching certificate, as an instructor.
NRCMA Exam Requirements
The Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant examination by NAHP requires a student to check the following eligibilities:
- A high school diploma or a GED from a college in the United States.
- An accredited certificate course or a training program from a school that has CAAHEP or ABHES licensing.
- You can be eligible if you have 2 years of relevant work experience as a full-time professional or 2 years of medical training in the US Armed Forces.
- For New Jersey residents, specific requirements by NAHP require them to complete an educational program that has 600 hours of instruction, approved by the Department of Education. Work experience or military training is not adequate qualifying standards for New Jersey residents.
Like any other profession, the job of a medical assistant requires individuals to possess certain technical and soft skills, which can be learnt and acquired by a person.
- As medical assistants administer care to patients, and often form the link between the physician and the patient, they must possess excellent interpersonal communication skills.
- They must be approachable by patients as well as colleagues.
- They must be compassionate and empathetic, as they are supposed to tender primary healthcare.
- Moreover, as individuals, MAs should be detail-oriented, maintaining accurate patient records.
- Analytical skills are also a necessity, for it helps in patient assessment and evaluation of other administrative tasks like coding, billing, insurance billing, and others.
Moreover, the technical skills they must require are extensive and can be procured from a training program or practical experience in an externship. The medical assistant technical skills can be divided into two domains, clinical and administrative, and employers expect them to be adept in both.
Their administrative skills must include:
- Scheduling and setting up appointments
- Maintaining appropriate customer services
- Keeping electronic medical records
- Practicing medical coding
- Keeping track of the patient flow
- Adept literacy in computers and technology
- Tele-communication skills
- Multitasking qualities
- Qualities to collaborate and cooperate
The clinical tasks or skills that a medical assistant must be proficient in are:
- Acquaintance with medical terminology
- Adept in patient preparation for surgery or procedures
- Providing life support help
- Performing electrocardiogram
- Performing CPR
- Administering injections
- Measuring vital signs
- Studying patient family history and association
- Providing immunizations
MA Job Requirements
A medical assistant is expected to perform several tasks. These allied healthcare professionals are essential in providing primary health professionals the help they need to deliver medical facilities to patients. Without medical assistants, physicians and on-site doctors might find it impossible to provide healthcare to so many individuals at once or maintain all the administrative records and procedures needed for the proper functioning of a healthcare facility.
Specific job requirements for medical assistants depend on the specialty they undertake or the place where they are employed. Ambulatory settings might have a different range of job duties than surgical hospitals, which again could vary when they are employed in a physician’s office.
However, MAs are generally expected to perform a host of duties and responsibilities which can be specified as the following:
- Administrative tasks like bookkeeping, insurance claim processing, medical transcription, and billing
- Creating and maintaining patient records and medical history
- Assisting with procedures, surgeries, and injections
- Maintaining professional conduct and decorum in many settings
- Communicating physician instructions to patients
- Guiding patients about disease prevention
- Clinical tasks like immunization, vital signs, diagnostic testing, and collection of specimen
- Performing sterilization tasks and maintaining patient care
- Managing electronic records
- Administering medicine and performing the patient health assessment
- Maintaining medical correspondence
- Maintaining communication with patient family and coordinating with physicians
Written by : Casey Gardner
Casey Gardner is both a healthcare support professional and an accomplished content creator. She has been working as a certified health care professional with marketable skills as a physician assistant, and a qualified medical assistant for last two decades. She has dedicated her nursing career to produce over hundreds of content pieces since 2001, and her work has been published both online as well as offline.