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Certified Medical Assistant Requirements & Duties

There is little doubt that Medical Assisting is one of the hottest, fastest growing careers in modern medicine. These talented, dedicated professionals can be found working in clinics, private practices, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities across the country. With the high demands placed on healthcare facilities and the increased regulations and guidelines of the industry, certified medical assistants are more in demand than ever and the demand is expected to keep growing.

What Does it Mean to be a Certified Medical Assistant?

By definition, a certified medical assistant (CMA) is any medical assistant that has received and has met the certification requirements set by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). In most cases, this certification can only be acquired by completing an accredited medical assisting program that is recognized by the Department of Education or CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation).

What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?

The duties of a medical assistant can vary greatly depending on the medical facility’s needs and specialty of the presiding health care professional. For example, in some cases a medical assistant may only perform basic administrative duties, such as appointment scheduling, billing, medical records, and basic labratory services. Other medical offices may require the medical assistant to help with patient care and clinical duties such as drawing blood, taking and recording vital signs, electrocardiograms, and helping the physician during routine exams and appointments. In truth, most medical assistants will perform a combination of the clinical and administrative tasks set by the health care facility where he/she works.

Certified vs Registered Medical Assistants

If you are considering becoming a medical assistant, you may be wondering if you should choose to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA). While the two choices share a great deal of similarities, there are also some differences to consider.

Education and Training for RMA and CMA

In some states, medical assistants are not required to have education beyond the high school level, and can receive on-the-job training. However, if you wish to become a CMA or RMA, you will be required to complete a properly accredited training program. Typically, these programs take around a year to complete and include coursework as well as hands-on practical experience. Most programs will include training in clinical duties such as taking patient histories, drawing and analyzing tissue and fluid samples, taking x-rays, administering medications, assisting in office procedures, filing insurance claims, scheduling appointments, managing inventory, and more. If you plan to become a CMA or RMA, be sure the program you choose is accredited through either the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

RMA and CMA Similarities

The education, training, and job responsibilities of CMAs and RMAs are essentially the same. In addition, the general requirements for each credential are very similar. These requirements include evidence of completing a training program that is either ABHES or CAAHEP accredited, acknowledgement of skills and knowledge by certified coworkers, and eligibility to sit for the examination. While neither credential is required in most states, earning one or the other will help you land better jobs and earn higher salaries than medical assistants with no credentials.

Differences Between the RMA and CMA Credentials

The Registered Medical Assistant credential, or RMA, is offered through the American Medical Technologists (AMT). To qualify for this credential, candidates must meet one of these requirements: recent graduate of an accredited program, recent graduate of a medical program through the United States Armed Forces, five years of experience as a medical assistant, meet requirements for instruction of a medical assistant training program, or prove completion of another approved medical assistant certification. The fee for the examination is $100. Applications and fees should be submitted at least 3-4 weeks prior to the desired testing date. The test includes between 200 and 210 questions over a three-hour time period. General topics of the examination include anatomy and physiology, medical law and ethics, medical terminology, insurance and finance, and clinical medical assisting topics.

The Certified Medical Assistant certification, or CMA, is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). In order to attain this credential, candidates must be recent graduates of a properly accredited program with verification of satisfactory program completion, or may be non recent graduates of an accredited program with transcripts from the program. The fee for the examination is $125 for members of the AAMA, or $250 for nonmembers (at the time of this writing). Candidates who meet eligibility requirements may apply and sit for the examination. The test consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and is taken over four 40-minute time periods. General topics of the examination include anatomy and physiology, medical terms and expressions, clinical and administrative procedures, lab procedures, and legal rules and regulations.

Other Differences Between RMA and CMA

Employers across the country recognize both the RMA and the CMA and will show a preference in hiring candidates who have one of these credentials. There are some differences to consider, however. Completing the Certified Medical Assistant examination offered by the AAMA provides you with the title of Certified Medical Assistant. The credential must be renewed every 5 years through continuing education and other requirements. The Registered Medical Assistant certification offered through the AMT is endorsed by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and can be maintained by paying an annual $50 membership fee.

While both certifications are very similar, many training schools, employers, and state boards see the CMA credential as the ‘gold standard’ for this career field, and medical assistant pay often reflects this. According to Payscale, the average pay for an RMA with between 1-4 years of job experiences is around $26,900 a year. In comparison, the average pay for a CMA with identical experience and training is around $29,950 a year.

Regardless of which credential you choose, getting your medical assistant credential is a great idea. This is one of the fastest growing career fields of today, with an expected 35% increase in open positions in coming years. Considering that medical assistants with credentials will likely have first choice of the best jobs, this step is a necessity for anyone with high career goals.