Certification as a Badge of Distinction
Voluntarily sitting for a certified medical assistant exam does NOT make you a licensed healthcare professional, but earns you the distinction of a certified, specialty certified, clinical or administrative certified medical assistant. Certification exam applicants must have successfully completed an accredited medical assisting program (usually schools with CAAHEP and/or ABHES accreditation), which typically includes an externship and extensive practical and written finals to qualify for the exam.
Organizations that award medical assistant certifications:
- American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) – CMA (all areas of competency)
- American Medical Technologists (AMT) – RMA (all) and CMAS (administrative)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA) – CCMA (clinical) and CMAA (administrative)
- National Registered Medical Assistant (NRMA) – NRMA
- Certification Commission – SCMA(tm) credential
- American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants
The widely recognized AAMA primarily certifies graduates from only accredited medical assistant programs. As an alternative, AMT certifies recent medical assisting program graduates, as well as those who have been working as a medical assistant for at least five years, while the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) accepts three consecutive years of consistent work experience.
Upon passing a medical assistant certification exam the candidate receives an official document from the organization that provided it to confirm the person named therein has passed their standardized written certification test. Typically, the document shows the certificant’s name, date of birth, certificate number, certification status, professional examination results, type of earned credential and any conditions or restrictions with an official seal. This documentation is especially valuable during job applications and consideration for promotion.
The certificant becomes a member of the corresponding professional membership organization and hence, must comply with the organization’s standards and continuing education requirements to maintain their credential. There usually are annual continuing education unis (CEU) requirements and annual, or bi-annual membership renewal fees.
Medical Assistants Who Are Certified
“The best MAs are the ones who see themselves as professionals, who want to learn more and participate.” ~Melodie Young, DNA President
The AAMA’s Cerified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam is a 300-question, multiple-choice test, covering general medical, administrative and clinical knowledge. The AMT’s Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam consists of 200-210 multiple-choice questions on the same subject matter: general medical, administrative and clinical.
Recommended high school courses include math, health, biology, typing, bookkeeping, computer and office skills. Volunteer and healthcare related work experience, such as a nurse assistant, or home health aide usually is also very helpful. Upon graduation the student medical assistant receives a Medical Assisting diploma and is now a fully trained medical assistant ready to join the workforce. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers revolving around the medical assistant certification process:
“Do I need to be certified or have any other certificates to work as a Medical Assistant?”
In general, NO, you don’t have to be a certified medical assistant to accept a medical assisting position. Often the minimum requirement to work as a medical assistant is being 18 years old, a high school diploma, CPR and First Aid certification, and a clean criminal record, if that much; however, there ARE a few states that mandate special training and specific limited licenses for medical assistants whose duties include highly technical and invasive skills, such as venipuncture and phlebotomy, starting and flushing IV lines, administering certain types of injections, or exposing patients to X-rays and ultrasound examinations. Your State Board of Medical Examiners can tell you more.
“Is it illegal to call myself a Medical Assistant when I don’t have a Medical Assistant diploma?”
No. While someone may perceive it as improper, or even think it is illegal to work as a medical assistant without a medical assistant diploma from a vocational training institution it is not true. In the United States of America medical assistants are not required to hold a diploma from a medical assistant school. As a matter of fact, in most states they don’t even have to have any formal vocational training to begin working as a medical assistant. The only requirement is a high school diploma.
“I received my Medical Assistant training on the job—How do I know what I am legally allowed to do?”
As a medical assistant you can perform only those duties and skills that fall within your specific scope of practice for medical assistants. This may include strict rules when performing point of care testing procedures, administering medications, injections, x-rays, starting IV lines, other invasive procedures and venipunctures. This applies to certified as well as non-certified medical assistants; it doesn’t matter, their duties remain the same, except certified medical assistants can be held to a higher standard.
“Can I go ahead and focus my career—Which fields can a Medical Assistant specialize in?”
Yes. As a medical assistant you have many choices; in your role as a certified medical assistant you can specialize in many medical focus fields and health care specialties that interest you, such as ophthalmology, podiatry, cardiology, pediatrics, adolescence, geriatrics, phlebotomy, chiropractic and many others.
“Is a certificate from an online Medical Assistant course the same as a vocational Medical Assistant diploma?”
There are many self-study programs offered on the Internet. While a certificate of completion from an online medical assistant course is certainly an achievement to be proud of, aspiring medical assistants must be aware that a medical assistant certificate of completion from a simple online self-study course is not the same as a full-fledged medical assistant diploma from a vocational training program that runs 9-12 months and is recognized and approved by the U.S. Department of Education, ABHES, or CAAHEP.
“Is there really such a thing as a worthless Medical Assistant certificate, or fake Medical Assistant diploma?”
Many might not know that marketing fake diplomas, certificates and degrees is a billion dollar industry – at least 800 million a year in the U.S. alone. So big is this market that various state offices, consumer protection agencies and educational websites warn people to use caution when it comes to new schools and distance education programs. It is extremely important that prospective medical assistant students know how to locate qualified training to earn medical assistant credentials, and understand the difference and benefits of various programs offered, otherwise they might wind up with a piece of paper that is not worth your money and time.