Medical assisting is an important part of the overall growth of allied health careers. Allied health professionals, including medical assistants, are workers who support and assist physicians and nurses in all areas of healthcare. Medical assistants work in physician offices, hospitals, and clinics. They assist with patients, taking vital signs, communicating doctor’s instructions, scheduling appointments, managing patient records, and much more.
Certification for Medical Assistants
The path to becoming a medical assistant varies by state, but generally it requires the completion of a post-secondary certificate or diploma program and some type of certification. An associates degree in medical assisting is not required. There are a few different organizations that offer certification for medical assistants, and while each state may dictate which type is required, getting more than one can help improve employability.
American Association of Medical Assistants – CMA
One of the most common and widely-recognized certifications for medical assistants is available through the AAMA, the American Association of Medical Assistants. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation demonstrates that an individual has the knowledge and skills needed to work in this field. To achieve CMA certification, a candidate must pass the AAMA exam after having completed an education program accredited by either the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
An appropriate education program prepares students to pass the rigorous exam. It also includes a practicum, a hands-on work experience that ensures students are able to work in a medical setting. Once CMA is achieved, medical assistants must keep it up to date with recertification every 60 months. To recertify, medical assistants must prove they have completed continuing education courses in general, administrative, and clinical medical assisting.
American Medical Technologists – RMA
Another option for certification is the RMA, or Registered Medical Assistant, certification through the American Medical Technologists (AMT). There are four different ways that a medical assistant can become eligible for RMA certification:
- Completion of a medical assisting education program accredited by an institution approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The program must have been completed within the last four years.
- Completion within the previous four years of a military medical services training program with evidence of work experience.
- Working full time as a medical assistant for five of the previous seven years, performing both clinical and administrative tasks.
- Working currently as an instructor in a medical assistant program that is accredited, with a total of five years of teaching experience.
Any of these situations qualifies a medical assistant to take the AMA examination. Upon successful completion, the candidate is RMA certified. To maintain certification, medical assistants must complete 30 points of continuing education every three years and pay the annual fee of $50.
National Center for Competency Testing – NCMA
The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an independent organization that offers testing and credentialing for various types of healthcare professionals. For medical assistants the NCCT offers the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) credential. Medical assistants must meet one of the four possible requirements to take the NCMA exam and achieve the credential:
- Be a current student in an accredited medical assistant program.
- Have graduated from an accredited medical assistant program within the last five years.
- Have two years of work experience as a full-time medical assistant. Working as an instructor does not count.
- Have completed a military medical assistant training program within the last five years.
Current students, recent graduates, and military-trained medical assistants pay a $90 fee to take the NCMA exam. Those with work experience or who graduated more than six months ago pay $135.
National Healthcareer Association – CCMA and CMAA
There are two more specialized certifications for medical assistants available through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA): Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA). These two options reflect the fact that some medical assistants specialize in clinical work while others do more administrative work.
To qualify to take one or both of the exams to achieve these certifications, individuals must have completed a medical assistant program within the last five years. The certifications must be renewed every two years at a cost of $169 and with proof of having completed ten continuing education credits. NHA offers online courses to help meet this requirement.
Specialty Certified Medical Assistant
Certitrek is a company that certifies professionals in a variety of industries. Their Specialty Certified Medical Assistant (SCMA) program allows medical assistants to demonstrate special skills and knowledge. These certifications are designed for medical assistants working with specialty physicians, so they can prove that they have more than just the basic medical assisting education. Specialty certifications that SCMA offer include:
- Family medicine
- Internal medicine
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- Orthopedic surgery
- Transplant surgery
- Women’s health
- International medical assisting
To achieve any of these specialty certifications, a medical assistant must purchase a self-study kit, register for the exam, and then pass the exam.
Other Specialty Certifications
Medical assistants who work in certain medical specialties can also seek certification through specific professional organizations. Not all specialties have an organization and certification program, but several do, including the following:
- American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAAA). The AAAA offers Certified Anesthesiologist Assistant (CAA) certification. To achieve certifications, individuals must pass the Certifying Examination for Anesthesiologist Assistants.
- Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO). A Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) is a medical assistant who has met the educational requirements and passed the examination.
- American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA). Medical assistants who work with podiatrists and have been members of the ASPMA for at least 90 days may achieve PMAC, Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified, by passing the organization’s exam.
The work that medical assistants do is important for both patients and physicians. They help keep offices and hospitals running smoothly, help care for patients, and provide many services that keep patients safe and comfortable. To be certified proves that you have the competency, skills, and knowledge necessary to do this job well.