How To Become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
Updated May 10, 2023
Medical assistants work in a variety of positions to help physicians provide patients with the treatment and care they need. The role of a medical assistant is critical to helping physicians and other health care employees work efficiently. If you're interested in helping others, becoming a certified medical assistant can be a rewarding career.
In this article, we discuss the process of becoming a medical assistant, list common job duties, salary information and job outlook and explore popular medical assistant jobs you can consider.
What do medical assistants do?
Medical assistants are specialists in the medical field who provide administrative and/or clinical support to physicians and other health care providers in several different settings. The job duties of a medical assistant may vary depending on both the position and the health care setting they work in but typically include:
Handling scheduling of patient appointments
Greeting patients and escorting them to examination rooms
Coding insurance forms, verifying coverage, obtaining prior authorizations and submitting claims
Maintaining accurate records, updating them regularly and filing in accordance with HIPAA standards
Answering phone calls, responding to patient questions and taking messages for physicians
Taking patient vital signs such as height, weight, pulse, temperature and blood pressure
Collecting information on patient medical history at the beginning of appointments
Collecting tissue specimens and urine and blood samples from patients for lab testing
Dressing wounds and removing sutures
Assisting physicians with patient care, examinations and referral processing
Performing simple diagnostic tests such as running basic lab tests and performing EKGs
Sterilizing medical instruments and disposing of contaminated materials
Preparing patients for clinical examinations or surgeries
Administering medications or injections to patients
Maintaining patient confidentiality per HIPAA standards
Handling billing for patients
Managing clinical supply inventory
Ensuring exam rooms have the necessary supplies
It's important to know that state laws vary about what procedures and tasks a medical assistant is allowed to perform.
Read more: Learn About Being a Medical Assistant
The average salary of a medical assistant
Medical assistants may work in full-time or part-time positions and typically receive an hourly wage. The salary of a medical assistant may vary based on their level of education and certification, number of years of experience, geographic location and medical practice where they work. The national average salary for a medical assistant is $18.21 per hour, with a salary range between $13.48 per hour and $24.59 per hour. Besides salary, medical assistants can also earn bonuses, overtime pay, 401(k) matching and several other benefits.
Job outlook for medical assistants
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects medical assistants may experience a job growth rate of 16% between the years 2021 and 2031. This projected job growth rate is much faster than the average job growth rate for all occupations. This means medical assistants should experience good job stability and are likely to have several career opportunities available to them.
How to become a medical assistant
Follow these steps to become a medical assistant:
1. Earn a high school diploma
The first step toward becoming a medical assistant is to earn your high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate. They may be a requirement for the minimum educational qualification for medical assistant jobs. Relevant coursework you can take in high school includes anatomy, biology, chemistry, computers and business.
2. Enroll in a medical assistant program
Next, enroll in an accredited medical assistant program. While a high school diploma or GED is the minimum education requirement for a medical assistant, most employers prefer candidates who are certified medical assistants. It's a requirement to complete some form of post-secondary education in a formal medical assistant training program to be eligible for certification. There are many types of medical assistant training programs available. The amount of time it can take you to complete your job training program varies depending on the level of education you choose.
There are some medical assistant certificate programs that may take you less than a year to complete. You also have the option of pursuing an associate-level degree in medical assisting. You can find these programs at community colleges and other smaller colleges. While an associate degree may take you between 18 months and two years to complete, having this higher level of education can help distinguish you as a stronger candidate when looking for jobs. Completing an associate degree can also set you up for pursuing further education and opportunities to advance your career in the future.
3. Gain relevant experience
Many medical assistant training programs require you to complete a certain amount of clinical experience as part of your training program. If your training program doesn't require you to gain clinical experience, you should still try to get this experience on your own through an internship or volunteer experience. This hands-on experience can give you an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge you have learned in your medical assistant training program and build some valuable experience you can add to your resume.
Employers are likely to prefer candidates with demonstrated practical training and experience, so even though you may lack professional work experience, any relevant internship or volunteer experience can benefit you when you apply for jobs.
4. Become a certified medical assistant
There are several options available for obtaining certification as a medical assistant. This typically involves paying a fee and passing an exam. A medical assistant certification designation is a nationally-recognized credential when you receive certification from a program that's accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
One of the most popular medical assistant certifications is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
Other medical assistant certifications include the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) designation offered by American Medical Technologists, the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) designation offered by the National Center for Competency Testing, the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant designation and the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) designation offered by the National Health career Association. Each of these designations is accredited by the NCCA.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
5. Look for medical assistant positions
Once you've earned your certification, you can begin looking for open positions as a medical assistant. Consider identifying suitable positions on job search websites, hospital career webpages or through your family, friends or professional contacts. It's important to search for the positions you're interested in applying to and review the job descriptions before you prepare your resume. The job descriptions provide valuable information about what each employer is looking for in a qualified candidate.
6. Prepare a resume and apply for medical assistant jobs
After you find the medical assistant jobs you're interested in applying to, you can use the information from the job descriptions to create a resume that's customized to the skills and qualifications the employer is looking for in candidates. Additionally, remember to highlight all relevant experiences and certifications. Once you finish preparing your resume, you can return to the original job posting and use the online application process to apply for the job.
Medical assistant jobs
The following is a list of common jobs a medical assistant may do:
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, please visit Indeed.com/salaries
1. Ward clerk
National Average Salary: $16.07 per hour
Primary Duties: These clerks provide administrative and clerical support, such as maintaining patient records, transcribing medical orders and completing receptionist tasks, in a clinical setting. Ward clerks work in a specific department in the hospital, such as the emergency room, intensive care unit or surgical ward. They're also commonly referred to as unit clerks, ward secretaries and unit secretaries.
Find ward clerk jobs
2. Medical office assistant
National Average Salary: $17.21 per hour
Primary Duties: Medical office assistants offer general administrative support to physicians and medical facilities, such as coding and filing insurance forms, medical billing and scheduling appointments. They also organize clinical procedures such as labs and diagnostic testing, manage patients' medical records, answer phones, greet patients and escort them to exam rooms. Medical office assistants coordinate between patients and health care employees.
Find medical office assistant jobs
3. Claims processor
National Average Salary: $17.90 per hour
Primary Duties: Claims processors work for insurance companies and review insurance claims by gathering information from policyholders to verify the accuracy of their claims. They also prepare paperwork related to each claim and authorize payment of claims in compliance with the policies and procedures of the insurance company and the policyholder's contract. Claims processors also maintain documentation of all insurance claim cases, update insurance data in databases and perform administrative tasks.
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4. Clinical assistant
National Average Salary: $18.41 per hour
Primary Duties: These assistants provide clinical support to physicians and medical facilities, such as performing simple diagnostic testing, checking a patient's vital signs, administering medications and injections and assisting physicians during patient examinations. They can also dress wounds, remove sutures and provide patient education on diagnosis care and treatment. Clinical assistants also record patients' medical histories, prepare rooms, equipment and clinical tools for patient visits and disinfect these for future use.
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5. Phlebotomy technician
National Average Salary: $20.25 per hour
Primary Duties: Phlebotomy technicians draw blood from patients for a variety of reasons, such as blood donation or laboratory testing and transport blood samples to a laboratory or blood bank to prepare them for testing or analysis. Phlebotomy technicians often work in hospitals, blood banks and other medical facilities. They're also commonly referred to as phlebotomists.
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6. EKG technician
National Average Salary: $21.84 per hour
Primary Duties: These technicians perform electrocardiogram (EKG) testing on patients by attaching the necessary electrodes and wires to the patient's chest, arms and legs and running EKG machinery to determine if vital signs are normal. EKG tests monitor the performance of a patient's heart to look for possible heart conditions. EKG Technicians often work in hospitals and other medical facilities.
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7. Claims examiner
National Average Salary: $22.58 per hour
Primary Duties: Claims examiners review insurance claims to verify if clients processed both the reporting and investigation of claims in compliance with legal standards and an insurance company's policies and procedures. Claims examiners may also be responsible for approving or denying insurance claims after a claims processor has processed them and may assist claims adjusters with their role. They typically investigate, assess and manage all types of claims.
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8. Claims adjuster
National Average Salary: $32.52 per hour
Primary Duties: Claims adjusters inspect personal injury claims or property damage to determine how much the insurance company should be liable for paying for the policyholder's loss. Claims adjusters may inspect physical property such as vehicles and homes to determine the extent of damage, interview claimants and witnesses and do additional research, such as reading police reports to determine the value of a claim.
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9. Surgical technician
National Average Salary: $47.85 per hour
Primary Duties: Surgical technicians assist surgeons with surgical procedures by preparing operating rooms and patients for surgery, sterilizing equipment, transporting patients to the operating room and helping physicians during the surgical procedure. Surgical technicians also help with preparing medications and administering them to patients, stitching and applying sanitized dressings to the affected area and ensuring the operating room is sterile, especially before and during surgeries.
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