CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification and Exam Guide

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The profession of a medical assistant is an intriguing one, and it is undoubtedly growing faster in the healthcare industry. Lots of people are opting for this profession, as there are ample jobs as a medical assistant in this sector. To work at better job positions, medical assistants are considering to become certified medical assistants. This certification allows medical assistants to do more professional and quality tasks.
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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.

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 the 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 the 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 depend 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, collecting and organizing specimens such as blood samples, urine samples, and conducting lab tests.

On the other hand, the administrative duties of a CMA include answering phone calls, billing, and medical coding, verifying patient’s health insurance, following 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 16% from 2021 to 2031. The estimated employment for MAs was 743,500 for 2021, whereas the projected employment for 2031 is 861,300, which makes the growth percentage 16%.

As the population increases, the demand for medical services increases too. Therefore, the demand for 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

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%.

career specialties a certified medical assistant

number of CMAs

How much do Certified Medical Assistants Make?

Industries Hourly wage Annual wage
Offices of physicians $18.08 $37,610
Medical and surgical hospitals $19.02 $39.550
Outpatient care centers $21.48 $44,680
Colleges and universities $19.53 $40,620

Source: BLS (as of May 2021)
For more details, visit – Certified Medical Assistant Salary and Hourly Wage

Recertification Requirements

AAMA certification has to be recertified every 60 months, either by examination or continuing education.

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.

AAMA Recertification By Continuing Education Application

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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.


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