A medical assistant certification is a stepping stone to a thriving healthcare career. This credential gives you the skills and knowledge to effectively support healthcare professionals in various medical settings.
Whether you’re fresh out of high school, thinking about a career shift, or already have a role in healthcare but need a change of pace, this article will help you navigate and understand the value and process of obtaining a medical assistant certification.
Medical assistants perform clerical and clinical tasks under the direction of a physician. They can make appointments, file medical records, draw blood, arrange tests, and even give injections.
To become a certified medical assistant, you must complete a one to two-year medical assistant program and then pass the national certification exam. Certified Medical assistants earn the most generous salaries and are assigned positions of greater responsibility vs medical assistants who are not certified.
Some medical assistants earn registered medical assistant (RMA) certifications instead of CMA certification. American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers the RNA certification. These career paths are nearly identical.
Earning a medical assistant certification can help take your career to the next level. Certified medical assistants are qualified to work in a wide range of settings, from small doctor’s offices to large hospitals. You can work alongside professionals in cardiology, surgery, pediatrics, and more.
Medical assistants help doctors with administrative work and patient care for procedures. You could work as a CMA in a pediatric oncology practice battling childhood cancers or in an OB/GYN office caring for pregnant women.
You might land a job in a medical spa and assist with laser treatments, chemical peels, or injectables and fillers. With a medical assistant certification, you could even apply for positions as an EKG technician, phlebotomist, home health aide, or work in insurance claims.
There are nine steps to getting your medical assistant certification. Let’s break them down.
1. Get Your High School Diploma or GED
The first thing you need to earn a medical assistant certification is a high school diploma or GED. Most medical assistant schools demand it as a prerequisite, and healthcare employers also require it.
2. Enroll in an Accredited Medical Assistant Program
Enroll in a medical assistant program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). If you attend an unaccredited school, you must request special approval before you can take the medical assistant certification exam.
Medical assistant training programs last between one and two years. They teach clinical procedures, laboratory skills, record keeping, and medical billing.
3. Complete the Necessary Courses
Medical assistant training programs include coursework and hands-on training with medical equipment and procedures. Students take classes in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, medical law, and ethics. They also receive hands-on training in tasks such as drawing blood, administering medications, and taking vitals.
4. Gain Experience
Many schools offer ways for students to acquire practical experience in a healthcare setting through externships or internships. You may also be able to land work in healthcare before obtaining the certification.
On-the-job training is crucial for landing a solid job after your program. It will also help strengthen what you learned in your classes and make it easier to pass the certification exam.
5. Register for the Medical Assistant Certification Exam
After completing a medical assistant training program, you must apply for the certification exam. Depending on the test you choose, you will be tested over medical knowledge, clinical procedures, and administrative tasks, among other things.
6. Prepare For and Pass the Medical Assistant Certification Exam
The final step to becoming a certified medical assistant is to pass the test. Students can find online study tools and local in-person review courses. The more you prepare, the better you will do on your exam.
A medical assistant certification is good for 60 months. To recertify, you’ll have to complete continuing education courses or retake the exam. Keep track of any training or workshops you attend, because you can highlight these on your resume.
Now that we’ve gone through the steps on how to become a certified medical assistant, here is a list of the requirements for getting a medical assistant certification.
- High School Diploma or GED
- Clear background check (certain criminal history may disqualify applicants)
- Health physical, required by some schools
- Immunization records, required by employers
- CPR certification, required by many schools and employers
- Certificate, diploma, or degree from an accredited medical assistant program
- Passing score on the medical assistant certification exam
If you are unsure what is required in your state, don’t worry! Medical assisting programs have advisors and counselors available to help students figure out exactly what they must submit. Your school can guide you in the process.
Exam Options and Certification Boards
There are several different options for aspiring medical assistants to consider. The five main types of certifications are:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
Let’s take a closer look at the tests offered for medical assistant certification.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
CMA is an abbreviation for Certified Medical Assistant. The American Association of Medical Assistants bestows this certification. Requirements for this certification include the following:
- Graduation from an accredited medical assistant training program
- 160 practicum hours in school or 1,000 hours on-the-job experience in medical assisting
- Passing score on the CMA certification exam
This exam is a comprehensive assessment of medical assisting knowledge and skills. The exam has 200 multiple-choice questions divided into four sessions of 40 minutes each.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
CCMA is the acronym for Certified Clinical Medical Assistant. You must pass the National Healthcareer Association exam to obtain this certificate. CCMAs are more focused on clinical responsibilities than administrative ones. They can take vital signs, give injections, and draw blood. Requirements for CCMA certification include the following:
- Completion of a formal medical assistant training program or a minimum of one year (verifiable) supervised work experience as a medical assistant
- Passing score on the CCMA certification exam
The CCMA exam has 180 multiple-choice questions, and you have 3 hours to complete it.
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
CMAA means Certified Medical Administrative Assistant. The National Healthcareer Association also offers this certification, focusing on the office and administrative tasks required to support healthcare operations. Requirements for CCMA certification include the following:
- Completion of a formal medical assistant training program or a minimum of one year (verifiable) supervised work experience as a medical assistant
- Passing score on the CMAA certification exam
The computer-based CMAA exam consists of 135 multiple-choice questions, and you have 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish.
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
NCMA is an abbreviation for National Certified Medical Assistant. NCMA stands for National Certified Medical Assistant. The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) awards this certification. Requirements for this certification include the following:
- Graduate from an NCCT-authorized program or two years of verifiable work experience in medical assisting
- Passing score on the NCMA certification exam
This exam focuses more on the medical assistant’s role in aiding physicians with patient care. They can, however, execute all of the office-related tasks that CMAs do. This exam has 165 questions. Applicants have three hours to finish this examination.
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
RMA means Registered Medical Assistant. This credential is bestowed upon medical assistants who pass the test administered by American Medical Technologists. RMA and CMA incomes are roughly equal and practice in the same areas. Requirements for this certification include the following:
- Completion of 720 hours of training that includes at least 160 hours of externship or a minimum of 3 years work experience
- Passing score on the RMA certification exam
The RMA test is a two-hour exam with over 200 questions covering general, administrative, and medical assistant work functions.
If you’re unsure which certification would be best for you, ask potential employers in your area which ones are most widely recognized. It is also helpful to think about what areas of medical assisting you enjoy the most to pick the exam that best fits your career goals.
To prepare for the medical assistant certification exam, here are eight practical tips to implement.
Review the exam outline and content: Understanding the exam is the first step to getting ready. To find a full breakdown of the topics you must study, go to the website of the organization giving the exam (AAMA, AMT, NCCT, etc.).
Create a study schedule: Plan out your study time for each topic based on its weight on the exam and your difficulty level with the topic. Rather than cramming, regular study will help you store and recall information better.
Use study resources and practice tests: Study guides and practice tests that cover the exam material are online. These are designed to help you get familiar with the exam structure and types of questions you will likely face.
Study the medical procedures: Questions on medical procedures are frequently asked on medical assistant tests. Make certain that you grasp the steps of each process and the logic behind them.
Attend review sessions: It can be worthwhile to attend review sessions for the certification exam if medical assistant schools in your area offer them. These sessions often provide a review of the exam’s most important concepts.
Participate in study groups: Study groups can be an effective strategy to prepare for an exam. Sharing with others will help you work through tough subjects.
Anxiety management: To handle test-related stress and stay focused during study sessions, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness.
Work on time management: Since the tests are timed, practice answering questions under a time limit to improve your ability to manage time on test day comfortably.
Keep in mind that the certification exam is a test of your comprehension of the material, not just your memory. Understanding concepts and procedures is essential for success as a medical assistant.
Medical Assistant Exam Resources and Study Materials
Though you will find a ton of resources online, here is a list of the most popular according to students who have taken the exams.
1. AAMA Review Course: The American Association of Medical Assistants provides a review course for the CMA certification exam. Since this organization develops the test, their review prep is highly valuable.
2. Elsevier’s Medical Assisting Exam Review: Elsevier is a well-respected name in education and test prep. This thorough resource covers every exam aspect. It also contains practice exams to measure your preparation.
3. Trivium Test Prep’s RMA Study Guide: This study guide for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination includes study resources, extensive reviews, practice questions, and a full practice test.
5. AMT Study Guide: For individuals studying for the RMA exam, the American Medical Technologists (AMT) also provides a full explanation of the RMA exam content, exam-taking techniques, and example questions.
6. Kaplan Medical Assistant Exam Review: Kaplan is another well-known company that makes test prep resources. It offers comprehensive study materials for medical assistant certification exams, including practice tests and software for simulated exams.
7. NCCT Official Review Book: The National Center for Competency Testing provides an official review book for those planning to take the National Certified Medical Assistant Exam.
8. Quizlet: This online study tool includes flashcards, games, and test questions for medical assistant schools.
These and other guides can be found online. You may also find more helpful resources at your local library or bookstore. Another excellent alternative for learning the best resources and study materials for medical assisting certification examinations is participating in online forums and study groups. Users on websites such as Study.com and Reddit have specific threads discussing study tools, experiences, and exam advice.
When choosing and using study resources, keep in mind that they must be relevant to the exam you’re planning to take (CMA, NCMA, RMA, etc.). You want to ensure they cover the content you will be tested on.
Make a list of certain career paths you can go once you have a medical assistant certification.
After you earn a medical assistant certification, many doors will open to you. Here are some of the career paths you might pursue once you become a certified medical assistant.
Administrative Medical Assistant – Manage office-related tasks such as maintaining medical records, scheduling appointments, and coding data for insurance purposes.
Chiropractic Office – Work alongside a chiropractor, check patients in and out, make and receive phone calls, and prepare patients for chiropractic procedures.
Clinical Medical Assistant – Work with patients in a clinical setting, take vital signs, assist doctors in examinations, and document care provided.
Fertility Office Medical Assistant – Directly care for patients, collect lab specimens, coordinate orders with pharmacies, and administer injections or other fertility treatments.
Medical Biller and Coder – Work with insurance companies, code claims, and bill payers to ensure that healthcare providers are paid for their services.
Medical Office Manager – Oversee day-to-day operations in a medical office, manage budgets, and supervise staff.
Optometry – Help patients care for their eyes, teach them how to use contacts, and assist with eye procedures.
Podiatric Medical Assistant – Assist specialists in managing foot conditions, including diabetic ulcers, bunions, or hammertoe. This specialty is among the highest paying for medical assistants.
Unit Clerk for an Emergency Department – Work with other health professionals to triage emergencies and provide urgent care to patients.
Wound Clinic Medical Assistant – Apply medicines, bandage wounds, and teach patients about preventing infections under the supervision of a wound specialist.
Remember that each specialty may call for more training, study, or certification. Furthermore, certain states may have various standards and regulations for different settings, such as hospital versus private practice.
Ultimately, obtaining a medical assistant certification is a huge step to furthering your healthcare career. No matter which certification you choose, it will strengthen your credibility and open up new job prospects. By choosing a training program that fits your goals and following the steps in this article, you can be well on your way to the career you want.