What is a Certified Medical Assistant?
A medical assistant who gets credentialed by the certification board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is a certified medical assistant. Being a CMA attracts more employers as they are looking for the best and more clinically and administratively advanced professionals. To become certified as a medical assistant, one has to pass the AAMA examination.
AAMA is considered the standard certification body, offering certification for medical assistants. The eligibility criteria for appearing for the exam is to complete a medical assistant training program from a school, which is accredited by Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
A Certified Medical Assistant is often assigned specialized tasks due to their more skilled and advanced training, and are allowed to enter the laboratory, radiology departments and perform required procedures. They practice standard precautions on patients and maintain patient records by documenting observations and clinical treatment. Healthcare facilities such as clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. are some of their employers.
As being a medical assistant is not a licensed profession, there is no need for specific certification in order to practice in this field. But according to the state laws, you may require specific certification to perform certain clinical duties. Being certified may showcase you as an educated and skilled professional, and get you employed in a more professional environment. This certification needs to be done with every 60 months.
What are the Other Certification Bodies?
Certification bodies are organizations that are officially able to offer certification to medical assistants. There are mainly 4 such certification bodies/organizations in the United States of America. The certification bodies other than AAMA are:
- AMT (American Medical Technologists)
- NHA (National Healthcare Association)
- NCCT (National Center for Competency Testing)
American Medical Technologists (AMT) is a non-profit organization that provides the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification to medical assistants. MAs who wish to be certified as an RMA need to have successfully completed a medical assistant training program by an institute accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES. Another eligibility criterion includes having work experience of 5 years as a medical assistant.
National Healthcare Association (NHA) is an organization that offers certification to many health professions. The certifications offered by NHA for medical assistants can be categorized into clinical and administrative subcategories.
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
The exams offered by NHA are accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). To certify as an RMA, the candidate should have completed a medical assistant training program and must be a high school graduate. NHA also provides other certifications, such as phlebotomy technician certification (CPT).
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an organization that offers exams to certify medical assistants. After taking and passing the exam, an MA gets certified as a National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA). For being eligible for this exam, a current student must be a high school graduate and should obtain a medical assistant diploma or certificate of completion. For medical assistants who have been practicing should have a work experience of 2 years under a certified/licensed physician or a primary care center within 5 years. NCCT provides certification exams to technicians working in the healthcare field such as pharmacy technicians, phlebotomy technicians, and ECG technicians, etc.
Below is a table segregating different certification exams on the basis of eligibility, exam questions, recertification requirements, exam fee, and recertification fees. These exams are provided by the above-mentioned certification bodies/organizations:
|Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)||Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)||National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)||Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)||Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)|
|Eligibility||Candidate must have graduated from a medical assisting program that is accredited by either CAAHEP or ABHES|
|Candidate must be a recent graduate (within the last 4 years) from a medical assisting program||Candidate must be a recent graduate (in the past 10 years) from a medical assistant program authorized by the NCCT||Candidate must be a high school graduate and should have successfully completed a medical assistant program||Candidate must have a high school diploma and should have completed a medical administrative assistant program|
|Exam Questions||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|
5 Benefits of being Certified
Being a medical assistant means to excel in both clinical and administrative duties. One moment they are accounting records, and at the other moment, they are performing medical procedures or drawing blood from the patient’s body. They thrive so that doctors and patients can live an efficient life. Here are some benefits of becoming a certified medical assistant:
- Being able to work in any state: Rather than being licensed to work in one state, getting certified by a board that is recognized across the country can ensure MAs to work in any state in the USA.
- Insurance benefits: Certified medical assistants get benefited from health insurance (covering dental) provided by their respective employers. They also get AAMA membership with dues being paid by the employers.
- Securing higher pay: As the demand for certified medical assistants is increasing and because there are more non-certified medical assistants than the certified ones, employers are offering higher pay in comparison to the non-certified MAs.
- Getting you more competent: Certified MAs are able to perform a wide range of duties and procedures, for which you must be credentialed. Keeping this in mind, you become more flexible and competent in the eyes of employers and patients.
- Safe bet for employers: Cost-conscious healthcare facilities may prefer certified medical assistants as they are able to operate some specific procedures which non-credentialed cannot operate. As state law demands only certified MAs to carry out specific clinical duties, employers are more likely to hire CMAs to maintain legal boundaries. The diverse clinical and administrative techniques also contribute to the chances of CMAs getting hired.
What are the Education and Training Requirements?
Education: The AAMA exam requires candidates to be a graduate from a postsecondary medical assistant program that is accredited by an attributed body that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE). Graduates who have completed their medical assistant training program accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) are eligible to take the exam.
On Job Training: As a part of the training, candidates must work in an externship that is an unpaid job under the supervision of a certified physician or a healthcare facility.
Certification Exam: AAMA is constructed and administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). NBME is responsible for many national examinations conducted for physicians, which makes CMA a very credible and validating certification exam. Certainly, to maintain the prominence of the CMA exam, it is constructed to be a challenging one. It demands a thorough and detailed study of healthcare subject matter.
The topics or exam content for the general category include psychology, medical law and ethics, communication, and many other; for administrative category subject topics such as medical reception, scheduling appointments, patient navigation are included; for clinical category anatomy, infection control, pharmacology are some of the subjects. To obtain a detailed list of content matter and subject topics refer to: Content Outline for the AAMA.
Who is the Ideal Candidate to Become Certified?
Medical assistants are basically responsible for filling the gaps in their respective work settings. They pay attention to small details so that everything runs smoothly. Here are some characteristics a certified MAs should inherit:
- Given in the name, they assist their employers in making their lives more efficient. An ideal candidate should possess empathy and compassion, along with their passion for helping people.
- To become certified, a candidate must ensure that this is the field they want to devote themselves to.
- In the process of getting certified, medical assistants will get exposed to more advanced knowledge regarding the field and their skills will get brushed. Hence, MAs must have the knack and capability for learning and growing more.
- An ideal candidate must be obedient and should maintain confidentiality in the matters of private information of patients they have accessed.
Skills Required to become a Certified Medical Assistant
The job profile of a CMA varies from dressing a wound or takes weight and height to medical coding and billing. This means that skills required to become an ideal medical assistant are numerous and varied.
- CMAs are expected to be analytical and have excellent communication skills as their job requires them to listen to the patients, understand them as well as comprehend physician’s orders and requirements.
- Technical skills are another aspect a medical assistant should be thorough in, as their daily duties involve using specific clinical instruments and equipments which are used to perform routine care procedures.
- Organizational skills are important because medical assistants are assigned administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, verifying health insurance and answer phone calls. These skills require computing knowledge and a general understanding of software and applications.
- CMAs must have enough knowledge of safety and sanitation. The safety of patients and themselves must be ensured by practicing and understanding the required protocols.
Job Duties of a CMA
Job duties of a CMA are varied and generally depended on the office setting and job description. The duties can be segregated into two aspects, clinical and administrative.
Clinical duties mainly consist of taking vital signs, like weight, height, checking patient’s medical history, sterilizing clinical equipments, cleaning and preparing clinical rooms, collect and organize specimens such as blood samples, urine samples, and conduct lab tests.
On the other hand, administrative duties of a CMA include answering phone calls, billing and medical coding, verifying patient’s health insurance, follow up with patients regarding their test results, and consulting their questions, along with maintaining efficient workflow and interaction with staff members as well as patients.
Job Growth and Prospects after Earning Certification
According to BLS occupational outlook handbook-medical assistant, the demand for medical assistants will increase by 23% from 2018 to 2028. The estimated employment for MAs was 686,600 for 2018, whereas the projected employment for 2028 is 841,500, which makes the growth percentage 23%.
As the population increases, the demand for medical services increases too. Therefore, the demand of physicians and healthcare facilities also rises, which results in hiring more medical assistants to handle the clinical and administrative duties. Medical assistants who are certified and have familiarity with electronic health records may get better job prospects in comparison to those who are non-certified.
Career trends are the most influential industries or sectors that can give the most profitable opportunities for potential employees. The growing population, diseases, obesity, health deficiencies, and preventive care are some of the factors that are responsible for the ever-increasing demand for healthcare facilities and professionals.
The first chart shows the career specialties a certified medical assistant can choose from. These specialties are divided into clinical and administrative specialties. Some specialties may offer more job opportunities and require more complex training.
The second chart displays the various industries that employ medical assistants and the percentage of employment they offer. Offices of doctors employ the most CMAs with a rate of 72% and Colleges/Universities being the industry that employs the least number of CMAs with a percentage of 0.1%.
How much do Certified Medical Assistants Make?
|Industries||Hourly wage||Annual wage|
|Offices of physicians||$16.50||$34,320|
|Medical and surgical hospitals||$17.34||$36,070|
|Outpatient care centers||$17.95||$37,340|
|Colleges and universities||$21.00||$43,670|
Source: BLS (as of May 2019)
AAMA certification has to be recertified every 60 months, either by examination or continuing education.
To recertify CMA credential by continuing education, a total of 60 points are necessary. A minimum of 10 points is required in each of the general, administrative, clinical content categories. The remaining 30 points may be accumulated in any of the three content areas.