Medical assistants are multi-tasking medical personnel who provide essential support to licensed healthcare practitioners. They perform a mix of med assisting duties including administrative and clinical.
Becoming credentialed isn’t compulsory – except in a few areas like Washington state. Medical assisting is growing at 16% per year, so it’s worth understanding the terms.
We look at the essential differences between RMA and CMA, and break down what it all means on a professional level.
Key Differences Between CMA And RMA
CMA and RMA are the two main badges of professional honor. Despite sharing some similarities, CMA and RMA certifications have distinct differences in terms of eligibility, exam content, and scope of practice.
A. Scope of practice
There is little difference in the scope of practice between CMAs and RMAs. Both are expected to carry out clinical and administrative duties. Their purpose is the same- to help their senior medical professionals deliver optimal medical and patient care.
On any given day a certified medical assistant may file insurance claims, remove stitches, and arrange blood tests. A registered medical assistant across town may do essentially the same tasks on the day.
The median pay for medical assistants was $37,190 and $17.88 an hour in 2022. It is thought that the difference between RMA and CMA salaries is negligible.
B. Exam content and structure
Both the RMA exam and CMA exam are recognized and offered across the United States.
The exams are administered differently, but they share definite commonalities. Both have approximately 200 multiple-choice questions. The registered medical assistant assessment is a two-hour sitting. The certified medical assistant test is slightly longer, comprising 4 x 40-minute sections. The registration fees are similar at around $130.
The exams cover much of the same learning ground. RMA focuses on clinical and medical assisting. It also assesses finance and insurance, as well as medical ethics. CMA emphasizes clinical and admin procedures. Laboratory procedures and medicolegal rules also feature. Medical terminology, anatomy and physiology are core to both.
AAMA prides itself on its rigorous testing. Many medical assistants who have taken both assessments say the CMA (AAMA) exam is slightly harder.
C. Eligibility requirements
- RMA– Certain military personal, medical assistant instructors, and suitably experienced medical assistants can apply for RMA certification.
- CMA– The only path to the CMA exam is through completion of an accredited training program. CMA applicants should hold either an associate degree, diploma, or certificate.
D. Recertification requirements
RMAs need to recertify every 3 years. Recertification is granted when the registered medical assistant shows evidence of continuing education. AMT encourages credentialed medical assistants to earn points through activities that grow their knowledge, help them do their job better, and prepare them for a healthcare degree or management role.
RMAs must record their learning activities over the cycle. If they show AMT the necessary qualifying activity, they are recertified for 3 more years.
CMAs are required to recertify every 5 years. They are expected to pursue ongoing learning. They must record their CEUs (Continuing Education Units). Certified medical assistants are recertified for another cycle if they earn enough CEUs (currently 60).
Annual fees must be paid to American Medical Technologists and American Association of Medical Assistants to keep certification current.
Choosing Between CMA And RMA
CMA was started in 1963. RMA came into existence in 1972.
Both are nationally recognized and respected credentials. Perhaps because it is older, Certified MA is slightly more widely recognized. There was a view that CMA was superior, but this perception has changed over time. Today, a registered medical assistant typically enjoys equal status with a certified medical assistant.
Several factors may influence your choice . Your state or preferred employer might lean more toward one than the other. Earnings and career opportunities are always key considerations. The different recertification cycles may also be a factor.
Your personal preferences and career goals will come into play. If most of your professional network are CMAs, you may want to join the club. Alternatively, you may choose to go a different route to bring a fresh perspective. If school or college is not a viable option for you, you can still earn an RMA through practical experience and the one-off exam.
It’s a good idea to monitor job postings in your area to see if local employers have a preference since this will affect salary and prospects.
No doubt, many employers and healthcare professionals will have a preference for one or the other credential. However, the two medical assistant certifications are united in a common purpose: to recognize professionalism and ensure the best delivery of healthcare services.
Your choice of credential will depend on your personal circumstances and professional goals. The medical world is evolving fast. Both CMA and RMA certifications promote continual learning. This is a huge net positive for medical assisting and healthcare generally.
Some medical assistants actually hold both RMA and CMA certifications. This is possibly something to consider longer term. It can surely only benefit your medical assisting career in these fast-changing times.
What is the passing score for an RMA exam?
To pass the RMA exam students need to answer 70% of the questions correctly.
How much does it cost to get an RMA certification?
The fee to sit the RMA exam is currently $135. If you completed an education program prior to the exam, that would be part of your overall cost of certification.
Can I work as an RMA if I have a CMA certification.
The jobs of RMAs and CMAs have a great deal in common. As a CMA you are credentialed on par with an RMA. If employers are willing to hire you for an RMA role you should have the knowledge and capabilities to do the job.