What Is a Certified Medical Assistant?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Certified medical assistants have both patient-facing responsibilities and administrative duties. Working as a certified medical assistant will give you the chance to use your communication and organizational skills to assist patients undergoing medical procedures and support members of the medical team in carrying out their duties. In this article, we discuss the CMA profession and list steps and frequently asked questions for pursuing this career.

What is a certified medical assistant?

A CMA is a medical professional who works in a doctor's office or in other clinical settings performing a range of duties, including maintaining patient files, managing correspondence, booking appointments and completing insurance forms. They also answer phones and emails, schedule lab tests, process results and order supplies to ensure the surgery room is well-stocked for every procedure scheduled.

CMAs also have some patient care duties, including collecting samples and specimens, changing dressings and taking vital signs. A CMA will also conduct patient interviews before procedures, explaining and supporting them with treatment plans and preparing patients for tests. A CMA's duties may also include supporting the medical team by sterilizing equipment, preparing treatment rooms and disposing of contaminated waste to maintain a safe and sanitary environment.

How to earn a medical assistant certification

There are a number of paths to becoming a medical assistant, but there are some requirements you will have to meet no matter which path you choose:

1. Complete your education from an accredited program. These organizations include the American Association of Medical Assistants, which has a national certification program that candidates can pursue through community and junior colleges or at a vocational school.

The certified medical assistant course usually takes two years to complete and results in an associate degree. There are some programs that you can compete in one year for which you'll earn a certificate. As well as classroom-based learning, the AAMA certification also requires students to complete work experience as an unpaid volunteer and pass an exam at the end of the course.

2. Complete an AAMA exam**.** To be eligible for this role, candidates must have completed their training on a course recognized by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. If you want to become a certified medical assistant, you will need to ensure that you complete a course that has been approved by one of these bodies to qualify for the AAMA exam at the end.

3. Consider alternatives like The American Medical Technologists. The AMT also offers certification to aspiring certified medical assistants through a program that is similar to the AAMA. However, the AMT certification is called a Registered Medical Assistant. Candidates who have previously passed a certification exam or have worked in a medical assisting role for at least three of the five preceding years do not need to take an exam for the AMT qualification.

Other awarding bodies include the American Academy of Professional Coders, the National Center for Competency Testing and the National Healthcareer Association.

4. Maintain certification. Certified medical assistants must undergo recertification every five years to continue to practice. This can be done by retaking the certification exam or by completing 60 units of continuing education or equivalent academic or formal credit.

Where do certified medical assistants work?

Although most roles for certified medical assistants are in clinical settings, there are some alternatives to traditional medical workplaces, including:

  • Dermatology offices

  • Medical research centers

  • Retirement homes

  • Ophthalmology offices

  • Psychiatric and behavioral health facilities

  • Chiropractic offices

  • Diagnostic labs

  • Colleges and universities

  • Medical billing and coding offices

  • Bariatric centers

If there is a particular area of patient care that interests you, it is possible to specialize in that aspect of the certified medical assistant role by gaining experience working in such a setting.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common questions you may have while pursuing a certified medical assistant career:

  • Do you have to be certified to work as a medical assistant?

  • What are the benefits of becoming certified as a medical assistant?

  • What skills do certified medical assistants need?

  • Does a medical assistant certification qualify me to work in another state?

Do you have to be certified to work as a medical assistant?

There are no federal or state laws requiring certification for medical assistants, but gaining a qualification can be an advantage when it comes to finding jobs. Certification demonstrates a specific level of training and knowledge about the role and responsibilities of being a medical assistant. It is an easy way to show competency to both employers and patients.

What are the benefits of becoming certified as a medical assistant?

A CMA is likely to find a job more easily and earn more than those without certification. The course covers a range of procedures and skills, including those that are most needed in a medical assistant, so certification is an ideal way to demonstrate experience in those areas. Many schools that offer medical assistant programs tailor their courses toward certification, focusing on material that is likely to be on the exam and offering students advice about how to complete the certification program.

What skills do certified medical assistants need?

Because the role involves both clinical and administrative duties, a successful CMA will need to have excellent time management skills to ensure they are prioritizing their workload effectively. They will need to schedule some of their work around the medical procedures conducted to make sure the room is ready with all necessary equipment in place and it is appropriately sanitized. A certified medical assistant will also be responsible for checking the patient's file and making sure that test results and other notes about their condition have been entered accurately, so they need excellent attention to detail.

A CMA will also need to be able to offer calm reassurance to patients preparing to undergo procedures who may be anxious or concerned about their recovery. They will be expected to offer advice and support, ensuring that the patient understands their treatment and offering information on how to manage their recovery where appropriate.

They also need to be able to maintain a calm disposition to fulfill both aspects of the role effectively even when there are time pressures or high levels of stress. There can be a lot of demands on a certified medical assistant's time, but they will need to remain courteous at all times, particularly when dealing with patients, so self-control and professional integrity are important qualities.

Does a medical assistant certification qualify me to work in another state?

The certification program offered by the AAMA is nationally recognized and valid in all states, so there is no need to pursue additional qualifications or certifications if you want to work in a different state to the one in which you qualified.

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