Medical assisting is a fantastic way to start a career in the medical field. You get to work directly with physicians and care for patients while earning a good salary.
While not all medical assistants choose to be certified, getting your medical assistant certification certainly has its benefits. Certification gives you an edge over other job applicants and shows potential employers that you are serious about your medical assisting career.
Becoming certified as a medical assistant means you have met certain education or experience requirements and have passed a certification exam.
This guide goes over how to become a certified medical assistant including the steps required and training options.
Steps to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
1) Obtain a high school diploma or GED
The basic prerequesite to becoming a medical assistant or enrolling in a medical assistant training program is having your high school diploma or GED before beginning work as a medical assistant or enrolling in a medical assisting program.
There are many GED test prep programs available that can help you get your high school diploma quickly if you need it.
2A) Enroll in a medical assistant training program
Once you have your GED or high school diploma, you can enroll in a medical assisting program. Make sure you choose a program that is accredited so that you’ll be eligible to take your exam.
When you start looking for a program, consider the program length, cost, and graduation rates. You’ll also want to find out whether the program has a high passing rate for the certification exam you plan to take and what kind of job placement assistance they offer.
You can complete an online medical assistant certification program or an in-person program—whichever better suits your needs works!
Stepful has an online medical assistant training program that only takes 4 months to complete and costs $1,999.
>> Learn More: Medical Assistant Degree vs. Certificate
OR 2B) Get a job as a medical assistant
Some certifications allow you to substitute years of experience for completing a medical assisting course. While it is tempting to take this route, you may find that you can be certified more quickly and start earning more money by going through a program. You’ll typically need one to three years of experience before you can take any of the certification exams.
3) Take your certification exam
After completing your training program or gaining enough years of experience, you can sign up to take your medical assistant certification exam. Each medical assistant certification has different requirements, so be sure you meet them before applying to take the exam.
Most of these exams cost about $150 per attempt, and can be taken more than once if needed. While it is not impossible, you’ll have to study hard for your exam. In 2021 the CMA exam pass rate, for example, was 61%.
There are a few different medical assistant certifications that lead to different job titles such as CMA, RMA, and CCMA.
4) Consider an externship
A medical assistant externship is a great opportunity to get a feel for different medical offices and medical assisting jobs.
Medical assistants can work in doctors offices, hospitals, clinics, and many other locations. If you are able to get some externship hours in, you’ll be better prepared to start working and know exactly what types of offices you’d like to apply for.
An externship also gives you some time to practice the skills you learned in school, and gain the confidence you’ll need to start doing things on your own.
5) Apply for jobs
Applying for medical assistant jobs is easier once you have your certification. Most physicians prefer to have a certified assistant, and some require it.
Many school counselors will even help you build your resume and practice interviews. It's a good idea to check out medical assistant job descriptions and job posts to make sure you cover as many of the requirements as possible in your resume. You should also look up medical assistant interview questions and prepare answers for them.
It's also worth noting that some programs—like Stepful’s medical assistant training course—guarantee job placement after completion of their program.
You can also enlist in the military as a medical assistant which usually requires no healthcare training or experience.
6) Start your Career
Finally, you can put your knowledge and skills to good use. With the knowledge you gain in your medical assisting program, the confidence you gain passing your exam, and experience from an externship, you’ll be able to get off to a great start as a certified medical assistant.
Wondering how much you'll make? Check out our Guide to Certified Medical Assistant Salaries.
3 Main Types of Medical Assistant Certifications
1) Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (from NHA)
The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) is offered by the National Healthcareer Association.
Who it’s best for
This certification works well for people who prefer to focus on the clinical part of medical assisting. These programs have an emphasis in skills like giving medications and assisting with procedures, and focus less on things like medical billing and insurance.
Eligibility requirements for the CCMA
To take the CCMA exam, you must complete an accredited program or have one year of experience working as a medical assistant.
What’s on the CCMA exam
- Foundational Knowledge and Basic Science 10%
- Anatomy and Physiology 5%
- Clinical Patient Care 56%
- Patient Care Coordination and Education 8%
- Administrative Assisting 8%
- Communication and Customer Service 8%
- Medical Law and Ethics 5%
Cost of the CCMA exam
The CCMA exam costs $155. You must recertify every two years.
2) Certified Medical Assistant (from AAMA)
The Certified Medical Assistant is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
Who it’s best for
This certification is great for anyone wanting to become a medical assistant. It is the most widely recognized medical assisting certification.
Eligibility requirements for the CMA
To take the CMA exam, you must have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program. There is no experience equivalent option for the CMA exam.
What’s on the CMA exam
- Clinical competency 59%
- Legal and ethical issues 21%
- Administrative duties 20%
Cost of the CMA exam
The CMA exam costs $125 if you have graduated from a medical assisting program in the last 12 months. If your graduation was more than 12 months ago, the cost is $250.
3) Registered Medical Assistant (from AMT)
The Registered Medical Assistant certification is offered by the American Medical Technologists.
Who it’s best for
The RMA program works well for military personnel having finished a medical assisting program, or medical assisting instructions who would like to become certified.
Eligibility requirements for the RMA
The RMA has the most varied pathways for certification eligibility. You can take the RMA exam if you:
- Have three years of full time experience as an RMA
- Have been a medical assisting instructor for 5 years or more
- If you have completed an armed forces medical assisting program
- Have completed an apprenticeship through the US department of labor
- Have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program
What’s on the RMA exam
- Anatomy and physiology 21.9%
- Administration 35.7%
- Clinical medical assisting 14.7%
- Clinical patient interaction 27.6%
Cost of the RMA exam
The RMA exam costs $120. If you need to retake the exam, you can do so for $90.
How Stepful Helps You Become Certified Medical Assistant
A program like Stepful’s Medical Assistant Training Program is a great way to become certified as a medical assistant. Stepful's program only take 4 months, and since it is an online program, there are daytime or evening hours available.
They also include an externship at the end of the program. This helps you get some real world experience while exploring your career options.
Stepful has an 85% certification rate, which is higher than the national average. In addition, Stepful offers job placement assistance and a 100% job guarantee included with tuition.
Stepful’s tuition of $1,999 is significantly lower than most other programs. College tuition for medical assisting can reach up to $10,000.
Benefits of Becoming Certified as a Medical Assistant
There are many pros (and cons) of being a medical assistant to consider if it's the right career for you.
- Better salary. Certified medical assistants make up to 10% more than non-certified medical assistants
- Easier to get a job. Most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have their certification.
- More advancement opportunities. Leadership positions and raises in your chosen clinic are more likely to require you to have your certification.
- Better prepared for work. Getting your certification before starting your career will help you get started with the information you need to take care of patients safely. Certification gives you a head start over those who begin assisting with no experience or certification.
- Tuition reimbursement. Many hospitals and clinics provide tuition reimbursement opportunities. This means that you can enjoy all of the benefits of being certified, and your employer will cover the cost.
>> Learn More: Deciding If You Would Make a Good Medical Assistant
Is it Necessary to Get Certified as a Medical Assistant?
While you might be able to get a medical assistant job without being certified, it is much more difficult. You may have to accept a lower starting pay or find a job in a less desirable location. Many chiropractic offices will hire non-certified medical assistants, but other specialists may not, for example.
Most physicians prefer to hire someone who is committed to excellence in their offices and who has a general medical knowledge before beginning work. When you are certified it gives your employers confidence in your abilities and knowledge.
If you choose to start looking for a medical assisting job without being certified, you may have to spend extra time getting other certifications or learning skills to be more competitive. Phlebotomy, EKG, and medical billing courses can all help you on your way to becoming a medical assistant.
License Requirements for Medical Assistants
Washington is the only state that requires medical assistants to be licensed and certified before they are legally allowed to work. New Jersey and South Dakota require MAs to hold a certificate to perform injections.
Certification is not the same as licensure. A certification is simply an assessment that a third party performs to determine whether you have skills and knowledge to perform a job. A license is verification by a government agency stating that someone is allowed to perform a particular job in a specific location.
There are currently no licenses needed to become a medical assistant besides in Washington.