Medical assistants play a crucial role in healthcare settings, assisting doctors and nurses with patient care and administrative tasks. If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, becoming a certified medical assistant is a great place to start.
Read this step-by-step guide on how to become a certified medical assistant, including education and training requirements.
Education and Training Requirements
To embark on a career as a certified medical assistant (CMA), you first need to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent. Courses in science, math, and communication are particularly relevant and useful in preparation for this profession.
Students interested in pursuing a career in medical assisting should focus on coursework that will provide a strong foundation, such as biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, and algebra.
Another education requirement for becoming a certified medical assistant is to complete a post-secondary program. While a high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum requirement, most employers prefer candidates who are certified.
Thus, completing post-secondary education in a formal medical assistant training program is crucial for those who plan to pursue professional certification in the future.
Medical assistants seeking a swift entry into the medical assisting field should pursue a certificate or diploma from an accredited program. These two of the most popular options and take as little as one year to complete.
To achieve the necessary training and education to take the certification exam, candidates must complete a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Steps to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
Step 1: Research the Medical Assisting Profession
Before you begin on your career path to becoming a certified medical assistant, it’s essential to fully understand the profession. Researching the medical assisting profession will give you better insight into what the job entails and help you decide if it’s a suitable career path.
Some ways you can go about researching include:
- Speaking to certified medical assistants or other healthcare professionals. They can offer firsthand information about the experience of working in this field, including the challenges and rewards of the job.
- Using online resources such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the National Healthcare Association (NHA) websites. These websites provide comprehensive information, including education and training requirements, certification options, and job outlook.
- Attending informational sessions or job fairs. These events provide opportunities to meet with medical assisting professionals and ask questions about the job.
Researching also helps you determine if you’re prepared to invest both the necessary time and money in your education to pursue this career path.
Step 2: Choose a Medical Assistant Education and Training Program
After deciding to become a certified medical assistant, the next step is to choose a medical assisting program. Selecting the appropriate medical assistant training program requires careful consideration.
The first step is to ensure that your chosen program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). These programs can be found both online and in-person through vocational schools, community colleges, and some universities.
An accredited medical assisting program means it meets the educational standards expect of high-quality programs. Employers often prefer that medical assistants go through an accredited program, and in most cases, it is a requirement to become certified.
Another important factor to consider is if the program is suitable for you. Does it align with your lifestyle? Are financial aid and flexible scheduling options available?
Choose a well-regarded and established program that has a proven track record of effectively preparing students for medical assisting.
Step 3: Complete Your Medical Assistant Program
Certified medical assistants will be expected to have all the skills and knowledge to successfully do their job. Paying attention and attending all classes from the very first day is key to soaking up all the skills and knowledge needed.
Success in an accredited medical assisting program largely depends on hard work and dedication. Completing all assignments on time, setting aside time to study, and seeking out additional explanations from professors are important strategies.
Step 4: Gain Work Experience
A medical assisting program is only the beginning of your journey toward a successful career as a certified medical assistant. An essential part of the program is hands-on experience, which is gained through an externship or internships.
MA students are often encouraged – and sometimes required – to undertake an externship as part of their program. Externships offer the chance to put your classroom knowledge into practice and gain an insight into what it’s like working as a medical assistant.
Some certifications allow for candidates to become certified if they have the required number of years of experience working as an MA or after completing formal medical training from the U.S. military. These include:
- Registered medical assistant (RMA) certification
- Certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) certification
- National certified medical assistant (NCMA) certification
Step 5: Research Certification Options
It’s important to note that different medical assistant positions may require different certifications. The organization offering the credential, as well as the school and healthcare facilities in your area, may influence your choice of certification.
There are five organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) that offer medical assistant credentials, each with its own set of requirements.
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification: This is the most basic (entry-level) certification that is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification: This allows medical assistants to work in a clinical capacity while also performing administrative duties. It is offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA): Also offered by NHA, this certification prepares medical assistants for roles in medical administration.
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification: This certification is offered by American Medical Technologists (AMT).
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA): This certification is for medical assistants seeking national recognition and is offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).
By carefully considering your career goals and the requirements of your chosen profession, you can choose the certification that best fits your needs.
Step 6: Study for and Pass the Certification Exam
Once you’ve completed an accredited medical assistant program (or have gained enough experience), you are required to pass the CMA (AAMA) certification exam or an equivalent exam offered by one of the previously-mentioned organizations.
Be sure to check the specific requirements for each certification before applying to take the exam.
To take the CMA exam, you must fill out an application and pay a fee of $125. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions (20 of which do not count toward your score), and you’ll have up to three attempts to pass.
Step 7: Maintain Your Certification
Lastly, medical assistants will need to maintain their CMA (AAMA) certification. This certification is valid for 60 months and can be maintained by either retaking the exam or completing 60 continuing education units.
It’s important to note that other certifying agencies may have different requirements and timelines for maintaining their credentials.
What education and training is required to become a medical assistant?
A high school diploma or an equivalent (GED) is the minimum education requirement to become a medical assistant or enroll in a medical assistant training program.
What’s more, completing a post-secondary education in an MA training program from an accredited medical assistant school will increase your chances of getting hired.
How long does medical assistant certification last?
The certification for certified medical assistants (CMA) administered by the AAMA is valid for 60 months. In comparison, the certification for registered medical assistants (RMA) is valid for 3 years, while the certification for certified clinical medical assistants (CCMA) lasts 2 years.
Becoming a certified medical assistant is a great way to advance your career in the healthcare industry. Medical assistant certification not only demonstrates your commitment to your profession but also enhances your knowledge and skills, leading to better job prospects and higher pay.
To become a certified medical assistant, you’ll need to have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete an accredited medical assistant program. After completing the program, you can take the certification exam and upon successful completion, become an officially certified medical assistant.
While obtaining a medical assistant certification will take a great deal of time, money, dedication, and effort, it’s an incredibly rewarding career path for those passionate about patient care.