How to Get the Credentials to Become an Integral Part of a Medical Staff
Medical assistants perform many tasks in healthcare settings, including recording patient histories, assisting physicians with examinations, and scheduling appointments. They also give injections and monitor vital signs. These assistants may specialize in administration or another healthcare subfield. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these professionals earn a median salary of $35,850 per year. The BLS projects employment for medical assistants to grow 18% from 2020-2030.
Medical assistants can advance their career and increase their salary potential by earning a medical assistant certification. This article explores various certifications and healthcare specializations. The following sections explore the benefits of obtaining certification and link to outside resources.
5 Reasons Medical Assistants Should Become Certified
Medical assistants often pursue certification to qualify for new jobs, obtain higher salaries, and earn colleagues' respect. Certified professionals often experience the following benefits.
- 1. New Career Opportunities
Certified medical assistants may qualify for more jobs. Employers typically prefer candidates with experience and professional expertise. Certification demonstrates advanced skills and a dedication to the healthcare field.
- 2. Higher Salary
States requiring certification typically feature higher median salaries. These additional earnings can help workers make up for higher costs of living, save for retirement, and enjoy a higher quality of life.
- 3. Professional Development
Medical assistants take professional development classes to maintain their certification. These classes help workers stay up to date with medical assisting knowledge and best practices. Professional development classes also serve as networking opportunities.
- 4. More Respect
Earning one or more certifications may lead to increased respect from peers and supervisors. Certified professionals' opinions, decisions, and actions may carry additional weight.
- 5. Meeting Requirements
Some states require all medical assistants to hold certification. In these states, obtaining certification qualifies individuals to pursue entry-level positions. Career advisors can help students determine which certification aligns with their goals.
Medical Assistant Certification at a Glance
|Points of Interest||Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)||Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)||National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)||Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)||Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)|
|Eligibility and Requirements||Graduated from an accredited medical assisting program, completed practicum of at least 160 hours/td>||Currently in or graduated from an accredited medical assisting program||Currently in or graduated from an NCCT-authorized medical assisting program or completed experience||Successfully completed a clinical medical assisting program within the last five years||Successfully completed a medical administrative assisting program within the last five years|
|Exam Content||200 questions||210 questions||150 questions||200 questions||100 questions|
|Recertification Requirements||Every 60 months||Every 3 years||Every year||Every 2 years||Every 2 years|
Medical Assistant Certifications In-Depth
Medical assistants can pursue several certifications. Career counselors and work supervisors can help candidates choose the best certification for their goals. The list below highlights the most widely recognized medical assistant certifications. Use the embedded links to access the latest information.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
Certifying Body: American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
AAMA awards the CMA credential to graduates of medical assisting programs with specific programmatic accreditation. Candidates may take the exam shortly before or within 12 months of graduating. As of March 2022, AAMA charges a $125 exam fee for members and a $150 fee for nonmembers. The exam lasts 160 minutes, and AAMA provides a content outline to help candidates prepare for exam day.
CMAs renew their certification every five years by taking professional development classes. Current CMA certification can lead to many professional benefits, including higher salary potential. More than 95% of CMAs report earning a raise or enjoying another financial benefit.
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
Certifying Body: American Medical Technologists (AMT)
Eligibility requirements for the RMA credential include completion of an approved program with an externship. Candidates should also hold at least five years of relevant work experience and a healthcare leadership role. The 210-question certification exam covers anatomy, administration, medical assisting, and patient interaction. As of March 2022, the exam costs $120. Those retaking the exam pay $100.
RMAs keep their certification active by paying an annual fee and completing professional development. RMAs must earn at least 30 continuing education points every three years. AMT offers certified professionals access to a job board, networking opportunities, and professional publications.
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
Certifying Body: National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
NCCT developed the NCMA credential to recognize top students and experienced professionals. The organization offers several NCMA eligibility routes, which require education, experience, or military training. As of March 2022, candidates pay $90-$135 to take the exam. The 165-question exam covers pharmacology, medical office computer applications, and medical office management. NCCT provides free sample items.
Like other certifications, the NCMA requires professional development for renewal. Medical assistants interested in the nursing field often pursue this certification. NCCT partners with the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses to support medical assistants' career transitions.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
Certifying Body: National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
The CCMA credential qualifies professionals for many careers in the field. Candidates must hold a high school diploma or GED and have completed an approved medical assistant program. Professionals who graduated more than five years before pursuing certification need at least one year of supervised work experience. Exam topics include basic science, anatomy and physiology, and clinical patient care. As of March 2022, the exam costs $155.
CCMAs renew their certification every two years. Renewal requires professional development credits and a fee. NHA offers professional development classes at little to no cost. Certified professionals can access the NHA job board and a help center.
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
Certifying Body: National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
NHA offers the CMAA credential for workers in administrative roles. Certification candidates must meet the same eligibility requirements as CCMA candidates. Individuals can purchase a study guide or download a free test plan. The 130-question certification exam covers scheduling, patient intake, office logistics, and compliance fundamentals. The exam costs $117 as of March 2022.
According to NHA, CMAAs often qualify for more demanding jobs, earn higher salaries, and apply transferable skills to dynamic work environments. CMAAs further develop their skills through required professional development classes. These classes keep workers up to date with the latest best practices and industry knowledge.
Specialty Certifications for Medical Assistants
Professionals may need more than a standard medical assistant certification to advance their career. A specialty certification demonstrates expertise in a medical subfield. The three certifications below can lead to benefits including higher salaries. Workers selecting a specialty certification should consider their career goals and consult a supervisor.
Certified Paraoptometric (CPO)Candidates for this credential from the Health Professions Network (HPN) need a high school diploma and at least six months of experience in optometry or eye care. As of March 2022, candidates pay a $285 application fee and take a 90-minute, 120-question exam. Twenty questions do not count toward the final score. Candidates who do not pass on the first try do not receive a reexamination discount. CPOs perform tasks such as checking in patients and helping them with eyeglasses fittings.
Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA)Aspiring CPOAs must work for six months as a CPO and graduate from an approved optometric program. Candidates without the required education must have three years of relevant work experience. As of March 2022, candidates for this certification from the HPN pay a $305 application fee and take a 2.5-hour, 120-question exam. Twenty questions do not affect the final score. The American Optometric Association provides professional development classes for CPOs and CPOAs. The CPOA credential may help professionals qualify for raises and promotions.
Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC)The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants awards the PMAC to members working in podiatry offices. Candidates take the clinical or radiology exam. Each costs $400 as of March 2022. Candidates must earn a score of at least 70% to pass. Candidates who do not pass an exam section may retake it once for $50. The PMAC credential demonstrates professionalism and competence. Typical job duties for certified professionals include recording medical histories and taking X-rays.
FAQ From the Expert
Yolanda Patterson, BSN, MBA, is the director of the medical assistant and medical office administration programs at the Concorde Career Institute in Tampa, Florida.
Q. What is the best thing students can do on their own to prepare for a certification examination?
Paying close attention in class and in clinical settings translates to great study opportunities outside of class. By reviewing their class notes and drawing on the clinical experiences they had, students will gain the connective information that will assist them in theory-based learning, as well as clinically, for their certification exam. Most certification organizations also provide resource tools that students should leverage to prepare. These resources are normally available once the registration process has been completed.
Q. How can a student choose which certification is best?
History has shown that students decide which certification is best based upon their specific post-graduation interests. This decision is normally based on their externship experience. Many students choose the NCMA option, which gives them a broader spectrum of opportunities. I have also had students choose a more specific certification, such as the Phlebotomy Technician Certification. All in all, students should choose an area that most interests them, as this tends to be the most rewarding career path.
Q. What areas do students tend to struggle with the most when preparing for the exam?
Students tend to struggle the most with theory-based questions. We encourage them to answer the questions and to not get caught up in trying to analyze what a question "could" possibly mean by adding their own hypothetical theories to their response.
Q. Any advice you might offer to students who are preparing to become a medical assistant?
At Concorde, we tell our medical assisting program students to know their medical terminology, reflect on the passion and empathy needed to succeed in the healthcare field, and embrace patient education. You will master the rest throughout the program and your career. We also tell them to simply believe that all things are possible.
Which Medical Assistant Certification is Right for You?
With many medical assistant certifications available, workers must research which one might help launch or improve their career. Candidates can use the following guidelines to narrow their options and select the right certification.
Employed medical assistants should ask their supervisor or human resources representative whether a promotion or raise requires certification. These professionals may recommend a specific credential or suggest a certification agency.
A few states require medical assistants to hold certification. Learners in certified medical assistant programs work with advisors to research certification options and sign up for exams.
Professionals should consider their career focus and aspirations before pursuing a certification. Some certifications relate to a single profession. Credentials can significantly impact workers' career prospects.
Some employers prefer certifications with statewide or national recognition. Students and practicing medical assistants should compare certification agencies' reputations before signing up for an exam.
Steps to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
- 1. Attend an accredited medical assisting program.
Aspiring medical assistants should attend an accredited school. Their program should hold field-specific accreditation from one of four outside agencies. Learners can pursue a college certificate or an associate degree. Students working toward a medical assistant certification online still complete in-person labs and clinical rotations.
- 2. Confirm certification exam eligibility.
Medical assistant certification agencies use different exam eligibility criteria. Some require professional experience in addition to education. Check agency websites for the latest details. A certified medical assistant program director or career advisor may offer additional information.
- 3. Submit the application and choose a test date.
Many candidates submit an application and choose an exam date not long before or after finishing a certified medical assistant program. Candidates select from approved testing sites, which may include local community colleges and dedicated testing centers. Some sites offer weekend and evening test dates. Candidates pay a fee when signing up to take an exam.
- 4. Study for and pass the exam.
Many certification agencies provide free or low-cost exam-preparation materials. Some organizations offer virtual or in-person classes. Individuals preparing for exams can create a study schedule and take practice tests. Studying increases the chance of passing the exam on the first try. However, some certification candidates need to retake their exam.
- 5. Keep up with recertification.
Certified medical assistants maintain their credentials by earning continuing education units. Professionals take continuing education classes from approved providers. Leading a class or publishing research may also count toward continuing education requirements. Workers submit continuing education documentation with their certification renewal form.
Medical Assistant Certification Resources
Study Aids and Help
AAMA CMA Exam Study Resources
AAMA provides free online practice questions and full-length exams to help medical assistants pass the certification exam. Candidates can sign up for a review class through a local AAMA chapter.
CCMA Exam Content Outline
NHA offers a test plan to help individuals pass the CCMA exam. The plan covers foundational knowledge, anatomy and physiology, clinical patient care, and infection control.
CMA Exam Content Outline
AAMA offers a detailed content outline for its certified medical assistant exam. The outline details the number of questions in each content category, including clinical competencies, general, and administrative.
NCMA Detailed Test Plan
NCCT provides an in-depth test plan for NCMA candidates. The plan covers content categories including pharmacology, clinical medical procedures, and phlebotomy. The final page covers essential knowledge that all exam-takers need.
American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
AAMA provides extensive resources for aspiring medical assistants, including exam study guides. Certification candidates need a certificate or degree from a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Certified medical assistants take continuing education classes to meet renewal requirements.
American Medical Technologists (AMT)
AMT awards a medical assistant certification to candidates who completed at least 720 hours of classroom instruction and a 160-hour externship. Other eligibility requirements include at least five years of experience.
National Association of Health Professionals (NAHP)
Aspiring medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, and patient care technicians can pursue certification from NAHP. For each certification, NAHP provides an online candidate handbook and examination content outline. NAHP also offers continuing education.
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
NCCT awards certifications for professionals including medical assistants, ECG technicians, medical office assistants, and phlebotomy technicians. NCCT provides extensive exam-preparation materials and certification renewal resources.
Professional and Accreditation Organizations
Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
ABHES maintains a list of top schools offering healthcare-related degrees. Visitors can explore programs through the organization's online institution directory. ABHES also publishes articles on healthcare careers and credit transfers.
American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA)
ARMA helps employers verify job applicants' and employees' certification status. The organization also helps medical assistants earn certification. ARMA maintains a job board with the latest open positions.
American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)
Medical assistants specializing in podiatry can join the ASPMA. Membership benefits include access to networking events, professional publications, and a liability insurance discount. As of March 2022, new members pay a $120 fee.
Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP)
CAAHEP awards programmatic accreditation to medical assistant certification programs. Prospective students can use the CAAHEP website to research certified medical assistant programs. The website also provides information on accreditation's importance.