Certification in medical assistance demonstrates a commitment to professionalism, enhances job prospects, and can lead to higher salaries.
This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the process of obtaining and maintaining your medical assistant certification. You’ll find everything you need to know about the certifying bodies, eligibility requirements, exam details, and career advancement opportunities below.
To demonstrate their competency and dedication to their profession, medical assistants can pursue certification from one of several certifying agencies.
American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is a not-for-profit organization that administers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. Students must graduate from an accredited medical assisting program to sit the exam and achieve this certification.
The AAMA is considered the gold standard among other certifying agencies and is recognized by employers nationally and globally, with some even mandating it.
National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) administers the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification. The CCMA certification is now required or strongly recommended by the majority of medical assistant employers.
American Medical Technologists (AMT)
The American Medical Technologists (AMT) is another nonprofit agency that oversees the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential. Just like the above certifications, the RMA credential is highly valued by allied healthcare employers throughout the U.S.
There are several ways to achieve your goal of becoming a certified medical assistant (CMA). However, the path you select may determine which certification options are available to you.
Although these eligibility requirements vary based on the desired certification and state of residence, here is a common approach aspiring MAs can take to become certified in the US:
To become an entry-level medical assistant, a high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum education requirement. However, some states and employers require formal medical assistant training, such as completing an accredited postsecondary medical assisting program or associate degree.
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 sit for the CMA certification exam.
Work experience requirements
Certain medical assistant certifications allow you to substitute years of experience for completing a postsecondary medical assisting program.
However, it may be more efficient to complete a program and become certified more quickly. To obtain a CMA (AAMA) certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited MA program. There is no experience-based alternative for this certification.
Other certifications, such as the CCMA exam (1-year full-time experience required) or the RMA exam (3 years experience), allow candidates to obtain certification without going through a training program.
Other eligibility criteria
Besides graduating from an accredited medical assistant program, other eligibility criteria for CMA certification from AAMA include:
- You must have completed at least 160 hours of practicum
- You must take the exam no more than 30 days before graduation and completing your practicum
The CMA certification exam is broken up into three main sections:
1. Clinical competency:
- This section covers 59% of the exam and consists of 106 questions on:
- Clinical Workflow: Patient Intake and Discharge
- Safety and Infection Control
- This section covers 21% of the exam and consists of 38 questions on:
- Legal and Ethical Issues
- This section covers 20% of the exam and consists of 36 questions on:
- Billing, Coding, and Insurance
- Schedule Appointments and Health Information Management
Once you’ve achieved certification as a medical assistant, it’s important to note that this must be renewed periodically to ensure you maintain your skills and stay current with the latest developments.
The specific renewal requirements vary depending on the certifying body and type of certification. Here are the three most common:
Certified medical assistant (CMA)
This certification is valid for 60 months (5 years) and can be maintained by retaking the exam or completing continuing education units (CEUs).
To maintain your certification by continuing education, you must acquire 60 continuing education units, 30 of which must be approved by AAMA. Additionally, you submit an online recertification application along with a renewal fee of $65 (for AAMA members) or $130 (for non-members).
Alternatively, to recertify by retaking the exam, you must pay a renewal fee of $125 (for AAMA members) or $250 (for non-members).
Certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA)
The CCMA certification must be renewed every two years by completing 10 continuing education credits, paying a $179 renewal fee, and submitting a renewal request to NHA.
Registered medical assistant (RMA)
You must recertify the RMA certification every 3 years by paying an annual fee of $75 and earning 30 CCP points. You can earn these points by completing continuing education courses or working as a medical assistant.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Hospitals and healthcare facilities are relying more on medical assistants to cater to the needs of a growing patient population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 16% growth in medical assistant employment through 2031.
While increased demand may improve the job outlook for how much medical assistants can make, currently around $37,190 a year, there is also a wide range of opportunities for career advancement.
Medical assisting can serve as a promising foundation for advancing into other healthcare professions. Some field options for CMAs looking to advance in their career include:
- Healthcare Administration
- Healthcare Management
- Medical Technology
Advancing their careers through specialized expertise, additional education, and targeted training, medical assistants can become more valuable to employers and expand their opportunities beyond medical assisting.
With close to 90% of healthcare employers preferring to hire certified medical assistants, it’s clear that certification is a wise career decision.
What are the benefits of becoming a certified medical assistant?
There are numerous benefits that medical assistants can reap when they achieve certification. Some of the most appealing include:
- Improved job prospects: Many healthcare employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants.
- Higher salary potential: Certified medical assistants can earn up to 10% more than non-certified MAs.
- Professional recognition: Certification demonstrates your commitment to your profession and your dedication to medical assisting.
- Career advancement: A certified medical assistant has greater opportunities for moving into leadership roles or specializing in a specific healthcare profession.
What are the different certifying bodies for medical assistants?
There are several certifying bodies for medical assistants. The four main medical assisting certification agencies accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) include:
- The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) – Administers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification
- The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) – Administers the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification
- The American Medical Technologists (AMT) – Administers the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification
- The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) – Administers the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification
How long does medical assistant certification last?
The medical assistant certification remains valid for 60 months (5 years). This is the most widely recognized certification for general medical assisting and is administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
A registered medical assistant (RMA) certification lasts 3 years and a certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) lasts 2 years.
How much does it cost to become a certified medical assistant?
The cost to become a certified medical assistant (CMA) will vary depending on the program you choose and which state you live in. Certificate programs are the most affordable option to become a CMA, and can cost as little as $5,000 at a community college and can go up to $15,000 at a private institution.
On top of that is the cost of the medical assistant certification exam. The cost is $125 if you’ve graduated from a medical assistant training program in the last 12 months. If it’s been more than 12 months since graduation, the cost is $250.
Obtaining certification as a medical assistant is a wise career decision. While taking the route of applying for jobs as a medical assistant without certification may seem tempting, becoming certified is definitely worth the investment.
Whether you opt for a CMA, RMA, or CCMA, achieving professional certification can open doors to career advancement, higher-paying roles, and a competitive edge in the job market.