What Is a Certified Medical Assistant?

Interested in becoming a medical assistant? In a competitive job market, the option of getting certified gives medical assistants several distinct advantages.

These advantages include building confidence, demonstrating skills, and showing a commitment to an employer. Being certified also supports professional growth and enhances opportunities for networking and continuing education.

What Is a Certified Medical Assistant?

All medical assistants are health care support professionals, but only certified medical assistants have credentials that prove their skills. Cross-trained in both administrative and clinical tasks, they manage a broad range of responsibilities in doctors’ offices and medical environments. Their unique blend of expertise makes them the backbone of the medical office, and their role continues to expand.

Their responsibilities may include these tasks.

  • Managing the schedule
  • Greeting patients
  • Taking vital signs (temperature, pulse, respiration)
  • Maintaining medical records
  • Filling out insurance forms
  • Assisting with exams and minor medical procedures
  • Performing basic lab and diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients
  • Handling referrals
  • Drawing blood (phlebotomy) and administering EKGs
  • Obtaining specimens, like urine and throat cultures

What makes medical assistants so valuable is that they’re trained to do so much. But how do employers evaluate the skills of prospective job applicants? They look for proof of competency, and that’s exactly what certifications provide.

Medical Assistant Training

Medical assistants once learned on the job, but as health care becomes more complex, hiring candidates with both training and certification has become the new norm.

The good news is that in as little as 7½ months, students can not only be work-ready, but they’ll also have the training necessary to sit for various certification exams.

Experienced medical assistants could possibly seek select credentials based on experience alone, but there is no better preparation for today’s tests than a vocational school diploma.

As certification for medical assistants becomes desirable, training programs typically include these topics.

  • Anatomy, physiology, and pathology
  • Office management procedures and computer applications
  • Medical ethics and law, including HIPAA
  • Insurance and health care financing
  • Laboratory and clinical procedures, including phlebotomy and EKG
  • Pharmacology

Benefits of Certification

Certifications across all industries demonstrate competency in a given field. Tests evaluate knowledge and skills, and that translates into credentials that certify that candidates have the necessary skills to do a job.

For medical assistants, certification builds confidence, demonstrates skills, shows commitment to an employer, may qualify candidates for more responsible positions, supports professional growth, and enhances opportunities for networking and continuing education.

Builds Confidence

Certification exams verify the knowledge of a medical assistant. For students who feel apprehensive about starting their first position, there’s no better way to validate their skills than by passing a certification test.

Demonstrates Skills and Commitment to Employers

Employers want medical assistants who practice with due diligence, and certification speaks to an applicant’s competency. It also demonstrates devotion to the field.

Medicine is always evolving, and maintaining certification requires a strong commitment to continuing education. All credentialing agencies require a certain number of hours every few years across different subjects.

May Qualify Candidates for More Responsible Positions

Graduates of vocational school programs are ready to hit the ground running in entry-level positions, but certification may give employers more confidence that new medical assistants can tackle broader responsibilities with less on-the-job training.

Supports Professional Growth

Certification is a valuable foundation for professional growth. In health care, one skill builds on the next, so medical assistants who start their careers with credentials may move up the ladder quicker than non-certified colleagues.

Enhances Opportunities for Networking and Continuing Education

Certifying agencies do more than test medical assistants; they also support a lifelong culture of learning. They offer continuing education opportunities with which medical assistants can stay abreast of developments in the field and build on their knowledge and skills. Forums for networking help graduates make professional connections that can last a lifetime.

For medical assistants, certification is especially important because it’s required by major insurers, including Medicare, for specific tasks such as entering doctors’ orders into electronic record systems.

States ultimately determine which responsibilities fall within a medical assistant’s scope of practice and what type of proof of competency is necessary, but certifying organizations work hard to ensure their credentials continually evolve to meet requirements. Without them, medical assistants may not be able to perform select duties for which they’ve been trained, such as phlebotomy.

By encouraging the development of medical assisting programs, credentialing agencies also give the profession more credibility and value.

Pathways to Certification

Medical assistants can become certified through several different organizations, each with varying qualification requirements. Criteria may include education, work experience, or both.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Among the most widely recognized national certifications for medical assistants is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential obtained through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

This is the only organization that requires test candidates to graduate from a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Why? Because they believe these agencies require the broadest range of training in areas that include these subjects.

  • Anatomy, physiology, and pathology
  • Health care terminology
  • Computer and software applications
  • Medical accounting
  • Coding and insurance practices
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Clinical procedures
  • Patient safety and privacy
  • Customer service techniques
  • Law and ethics and more

Approved programs must also include supervised on-site experience in an appropriate health care setting. Students can apply up to 30 days before anticipated graduation.

Candidates receive a pass or fail notification as soon as the test is complete, but official documentation doesn’t arrive for a few weeks. Medical assistants don’t have to wait to work, however. Employers can verify a passing grade through the AAMA.

In 2018, the AAMA initial pass rate was 60 percent. It’s a tough but meaningful exam. Candidates who don’t pass the first time can reapply to retake the test without a waiting period. Only three attempts are allowed, so candidates are encouraged to be well prepared.

To keep pace with changes in the field, CMAs must renew their certification every five years by taking a recertification exam or submitting proof of qualified continuing education. This is where the professional networking and learning opportunities credentialing agencies provide are invaluable.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

The Registered Medical Assistant credential is offered through American Medical Technologists (AMT). It’s a way for students who may not have met the higher education requirements for the CMA exam to explore equivalent paths to certification.

Candidates must meet one of these criteria.

  • They must have graduated from a medical assisting program approved by the U.S. Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or by the AMT Board of Directors within the last four years. Programs must include a minimum of 720 classroom hours and a clinical externship of at least 160 hours.
  • They must have graduated from a U.S. Armed Forces medical assisting program within the last 44 months.
  • They must be a high school graduate who’s been employed full-time as a medical assistant in at least five of the last seven years and holds current CPR certification.

Like the CMA, the exam is fully computerized and consists of 210 similar multiple-choice questions. No hands-on demonstrations are required. Two hours are allowed to complete the test, and a pass or fail score is given at the conclusion. Up to four lifetime attempts are permitted.

Maintaining certification is as easy as paying a small annual fee and submitting proof of 30 points’ worth of continuing education units in a 36-month period. Like the AAMA, the AMT supports medical assistants by offering online learning opportunities.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an independent organization that credentials a wide range of health care providers, including medical assistants. There are three routes for eligibility.

  • Students or graduates of an NCCT authorized medical assisting program
  • High school graduates with at least two years of full-time experience as a medical assistant in the last 60 months
  • Graduates of a military medical assistant training program within the last five years

The NCCT certification exam contains multiple choice questions. Like the AAMA and AMT tests, skills demonstrations are not part of the exam. Topics are selected based on national job analysis studies that identify key job responsibilities for a medical assistant. Both clinical and administrative areas of expertise are evaluated.

  • Pharmacology
  • Patient care
  • Phlebotomy
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Medical records
  • Billing and insurance
  • Law and ethics
  • Risk management and more

Candidates have up to three hours to complete the test, and results are immediate. Annual recertification is required for a fee, but charges include access to all required continuing education modules.

Credentialing agencies need to maintain the integrity of the testing process, but they’re also invested in making the most of candidate potential. Most maintain a battery of practice tests that candidates can take in preparation for the exam. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

Specialty Certifications

For medical assistants with interest in a specialized area of medicine, additional credentials are available through different agencies, but most require candidates already be certified and have work experience in their area of expertise. A couple of popular choices are phlebotomy and EKG.

Final Thoughts

Medical assistants are in demand, and certifications are becoming increasingly critical. The AAMA fields a hundred inquiries each day about individual credentials, and they make a strong case for employers to hire only proven candidates.

The relationship between schools, employers, and certifying agencies is strong in the interest of promoting the profession, and there’s no better time for medical assistants to be involved.

Did learning about becoming a certified medical assistant interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical assisting field?

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.

The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in a professional medical environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.