Medical assistants are in high demand all over the country. While it isn’t always required, getting your medical assistant certification shows that you are qualified for and committed to a successful career in medical assisting.
Most employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants because it allows them to be confident that their new employee will have the knowledge and skills necessary to take care of patients.
You can take one of the medical assistant certification exams (CCMA, CMA, or RMA) after completing an approved training program. If you've already worked as a medical assistant, you can just take the CCMA exam (1 year experience required) or RMA test (3 years experience) without going through a training program.
This guide goes over requirements to get your medical assistant certification, renewal requirements, what happens if your certification expires, and everything else you need to know.
Requirements to Get Each Type of Medical Assistant Certification
There are several types of medical assistant certifications you can earn. While one is not necessarily better than another, each of them focus on different types of medical assisting skills. It is important to choose the type of certification that will be best for helping you meet your career goals.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Certification Requirements
This certification focuses more on the clinical skills required for medical assisting and less on the administrative skills. It is best for those who prefer to work alongside the physician helping with procedures and taking measurements.
To be eligible for the CCMA exam, you must either complete a medical assistant training program or have one year of medical assisting experience.
The CCMA exam costs $155. You can attempt the test three times per year and must wait 30 days between each attempt.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification Requirements
It is the most widely recognized certification for medical assistants and covers administrative and clinical education and training.
To be eligible for the CMA exam, you must complete a certification program that has been accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. These can be done online, through a technical school, or through a degree program.
The CMA exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions and you have 160 minutes to complete the exam. The questions cover topics such as infection control, healthcare information management, healthcare delivery, and patient safety.
The CMA exam costs $125 to take. You are allowed three attempts to pass before you must repeat your medical assistant course.
>> Learn More: CCMA vs CMA vs RMA
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Certification Requirements
The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification is offered by the American Medical Technologists. While not as widely recognized, the content of the RMA certification exam is very similar to the CMA certification exam.
The RMA certification can be earned several different ways. The following pathways can be taken to become eligible for your RMA exam:
- Graduate from an accredited medical assisting program
- Graduate from a US Armed Forces medical assisting program
- Have 3 years of experience as a medical assistant in the past 7 years
- Work as a medical assistant instructor for 5 years
- Work as a medical assistant instructor for 1 year but have 3 years of work experience in a related healthcare field
The RMA exam consists of 200 multiple choice sections. Topics covered include general medical assistant knowledge, administrative medical assisting, and clinical medical assisting.
The RMA exam costs $120. If you need to re-take the RMA exam, you must pay a $90 retake fee, and wait 45 days to try again. The RMA exam can be attempted 4 times, after that, you will have to try for a different certification.
Medical Assistant Certification Renewal Requirements
So you've earned your medical assistant certification, but do you have to renew it and make sure it doesn't expire?
Yes, you do have to renew you medical assistant certification. In order to maintain your certification, you may have to take some continuing education courses or re-apply to maintain your certificate.
Certification renewal is important because it helps ensure that certified medical assistants remain up to date on their skills, and that important things like infection control and safety procedures are not forgotten.
Here are the renewal requirements for each type of medical assistant certification:
- CCMA The CCMA certification must be renewed every two years or else it will expire. To renew, you must complete 10 CE credits, pay a $179 fee, and submit your renewal request to the NHA.
- CMA. A CMA certification is valid for 60 months and can be maintained by completing continuing education courses or retaking the exam. To re-certify by continuing education, you must earn 60 continuing education points through the AAMA, apply online to complete your recertification, and pay a $65 (members of AAMA) or $130 (non-member) renewal fee. If you decide to re-certify by taking the exam again, you'll have to pay a $125 (members of AAMA) or $250 (non-members).
- RMA. To maintain your RMA certification, you have to pay an annual fee of $75. In addition, you must earn 30 CCP points every three years. This can be done by maintaining employment as a medical assistant or completing continuing education courses.
What Happens If My Medical Assistant Certification Expires?
If your medical assistant certification expires, you may have to retake the certification exam depending on how long it has been expired for. Here's a breakdown for the three main medical assistant certifications:
- CCMA. You must retake the exam if your certification expires.
- CMA. You must retake the exam if your certification has been expired for more than 3 months.
- RMA. If your certification expires, you must submit a recertification CCP application or retake the exam.
Steps to Getting Your Medical Assistant Certification
Getting your medical assistant certification is a big step towards improving your future and meeting your career goals. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you take things one step at a time, you will find that getting your medical assistant certification is an achievable goal.
- Decide what type of program you would like to complete. There are many different medical assisting programs to choose from. You may choose an online program, a degree program through a college, or a certificate from a technical school. Consider cost, accreditation, time to complete, and whether or not you would like to pursue a degree.
- Apply for your chosen program. Most programs charge a small application fee and require an online form. All medical assisting programs require that you have a high school diploma or GED before you can be accepted.
- Complete your education and training. Medical assistant training can take anywhere from 4 months to 2 years to complete. Degree programs generally take 2 years while certificate programs are shorter. Most good programs include a medical assistant externship to help you get some real life experience.
- Submit your exam application and choose a test date. After you complete your program, you will be eligible to take your certification exam. To apply, simply fill out the online application and choose a testing date.
- Continue to study. When you choose your exam date, make sure you give yourself enough time to study, but not so long that you start to forget things that you learned during your training program. There are lots of online resources you can use to help you prepare for your exam.
- Take your exam. On the day of your exam, try to stay relaxed and positive. Avoid “cramming” study time on the night before or morning of your test. A quick review of important information should be enough on test day. Make sure you eat a good breakfast and wear something comfortable for your test.
- Check your results. You will be sent an email of your exam results about 24 hours after you take your test. If you did not pass, you can try again on a later date.
FAQs of Medical Assistant Certification Requirements
How old do you have to be to get your medical assistant certification?
There are no national age requirements for medical assistants, but there is a requirement that you have a high school diploma or GED. Most programs require their applicants to be at least 17 years old at the time they submit their application.
Do you have to have experience to get your medical assistant certification?
There is no experience required to apply to a medical assisting program and get your certification. However, most programs include externships to give you some hands-on experience before you take your certification exam and start working for an office.
Do you have to go to school to get your medical assistant certification?
Some types of medical assistant certifications, like the CCMA and RMA, allow you to take a certification exam after gaining some experience as a medical assistant.
If you do not have at least a year of experience, you will have to attend an accredited program before you will be eligible to take a certification exam.
How long does it take to get your medical assistant certification?
The length of time it takes to get a medical assisting certification depends on your work experience and a program you choose.
If you have no prior experience, you will have to complete a training program before you can get your certification. These can be completed in as little as 4 months but could take up to 2 years.
If you already have at least one year of medical assisting experience or five years of teaching medical assisting, you can apply for your test right away. Keep in mind that you may have to take some time studying on your own before you take your test.
Which states require medical assistants to be certified?
Only Washington requires all MAs to be certified. However, some states like New Jersey, require you to be certified in order to perform some skills like giving injections.
In every state, employers prefer that medical assistants become certified. Being certified shows that you have the knowledge that you need to safely and effectively care for patients.
Is it possible to get your medical assistant certification online?
Yes! It is possible to get your medical assistant certification online. Online programs offer flexibility with some of them allowing you to complete your work at your own pace. Most require some kind of externship to get some hands-on experience.
What topics do the medical assistant certification exams cover?
Anatomy and physiology, infection control, patient intake, documentation of care, patient preparation and assisting the provider, collecting and processing specimens, laboratory testing, pharmacology, emergency management, and basic first aid.
Are the medical assistant certification exams hard?
In 2021, the CMA exam passing rate was less than 70%. While this number can seem discouraging, medical assistants who put in the time to study and attend a good certification program usually perform well on the certification exams.
How Stepful Can Help You Become a Medical Assistant in Just 4 Months
Stepful’s Medical Assistant Training Program is a great option for people who would like to become certified.
You can complete your training program in just 4 months, and do not have to wait for the beginning of a school year or school semester to get started. We have new students joining our program all throughout the year, with new start dates about every 30 days.
Stepful is an online program with flexible options such as choosing between morning and evening classes. We help you gain hands-on experience through an externship, and have counselors available to guide you through every step of the way.
We are also one of the least expensive medical assisting programs, at just $1,999.
Some other notable features of our program here at Stepful is the 100% job placement guarantee and availability of coaching for interviews to help you land the job of your dreams. 80% of Stepful’s program graduates start their careers within 3 months of graduation.