If you’re thinking about pursuing a healthcare job, you may be considering becoming a medical assistant (MA). A medical assistant usually works in a hospital, healthcare clinic, or doctors office and performs both administrative and patient care tasks.
All medical assistants must have some knowledge of basic anatomy, math, and biology. Traditionally, this was learned on the job. More recently, certification programs have been developed to better prepare future medical assistants for their career.
While not all states and medical facilities require medical assistants to be certified, many do. There are three main certification types: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA).
While there is not much of a difference between CMAs and RMAs, CCMAs often have more clinical duties as opposed to administrative responsibilities.
To become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), you must pass a CMA exam provided by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
To become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), you must pass an exam administered by American Medical Technologists.
Finally, to become a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), you must pass the National Healthcareer Association exam.
Understanding the difference between CMA, RMA, and CCMA certifications can help you decide which one is right for you and your future in healthcare.
Medical Assistant vs CMA vs RMA vs CCMA
Patient care tasks a medical assistant may perform include taking measurements and vital signs, dispensing media actions, removing stitches, drawing blood, and assisting doctors during physical exams.
Administrative duties for a medical assistant may include scheduling appointments, handling medication refill requests, and completing insurance forms.
Medical Assistants can also administer injections like vaccinations, except for those working in Connecticut and New York.
Certified Medical Assistants
A Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) has the same job responsibilities as a medical assistant, but typically with better pay. Most physicians prefer to hire certified medical assistants because there is some assurance that they have the skills and knowledge to safely treat patients.
CMAs typically make about 10% more than MAs and have the same scope of practice and workload. CMA credentials are the most widely recognized within the industry, though the term "certified medical assistant" may also refer to someone that has their RMA or CCMA certification.
Registered Medical Assistants
A Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) is very similar to a CMA. The main difference is that the RMA exam is offered by American Medical Technologists and the CMA by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
RMA and CMA salaries are nearly identical, and they have the same scope of practice.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistants
Compared to CMAs and RMAs, Certified Clinical Medical Assistants (CCMAs) specialize more in clinical tasks instead of administrative ones. The CCMA exam and certification is offered by the National Heatlhcareer Association.
If you're interested in doing things like taking patients' vital signs, giving injections, and drawing blood rather than answering phones calls and checking patients in, pursuing your CCMA certification and becoming a clinical medical assistant may be right for you.
>> Interested in becoming a CCMA? Check out Stepful's 4-Month Online Medical Assistant Program that leads to a CCMA certification
Do I Need a Certification as a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants can be trained on the job. It is possible to get a job as a medical assistant without any healthcare experience, depending on where you live and who you work for.
The only state that requires certification for medical assistants is Washington.
Even if it isn’t required, medical assistant certifications can help improve your chances of getting a job or lead to salary increases.
Many people choose to become a CMA, RMA, or CCMA. Benefits of having these credentials include:
- More competitive resume
- Possibly higher pay
- More credibility
- Better education for patient care and responsibilities
- Opportunities for advancement
Many employers will hire MAs and allow them to complete their certification later on. Having a phlebotomy certification or experience as a CNA or other healthcare worker might help you get hired if you are not a certified or registered MA, as well.
American Association of Medical Assistants (CMA)
To be eligible to take the AAMA CMA certification exam, you must graduate from a medical assistant program that is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Most of these programs are about 6 months long.
The CMA exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions administered over four, 40-minute sections. The questions cover topics such as healthcare information management, safety, infection control, and healthcare delivery.
It costs $125 to take. You are allowed three attempts to pass before you must repeat your medical assistant course.
CMA certification is valid for 60 months from exam date and can be maintained by completing continuing education courses.
American Medical Technologists (RMA)
You can qualify to take the RMA exam a few ways:
- Graduate from an accredited medical assisting program
- Graduate from a US Armed Forces medical assisting program
- Work as a medical assistant for five years
- Work as a medical assistant instructor for five years AND have previously completed a course in a healthcare discipline
The RMA exam consists of 200 multiple choice sections. Topics covered include general medical assistant knowledge, administrative medical assisting, and clinical medical assisting.
Many medical assistants who have taken both exams state that the RMA exam is slightly easier than the CMA exam.
The RMA exam costs $120. If you need to re-take the RMA exam, you must wait 45 days to try again and submit an examination retake form.
The RMA certification is good for three years. It can be maintained by completing continuing education courses.
National Healthcareer Association (CCMA)
To take the CCMA exam, you must:
- Poses a high school diploma or GED
- Either (1) Complete a medical assistant training program OR (2) 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. Also, the CCMA certification must be renewed every two years.
A great thing about the CCMA exam is that you can get college credit for it if you decide to go back to school thanks to a partnership between the NHA and ACE.
Stepful’s 4-month online medical assistant certification program prepares you for the NHA exam and helps you get certified.
Choosing between CMA, RMA, & CCMA
While not all medical assistants need certifications or experience, becoming a certified or registered medical assistant improves your chances of being hired, proves your competence, increases your knowledge, and may even get you a better salary.
To choose between MA, CMA, RMA, and CCMA, you should consider what your state requires (if anything), what your potential employers require, and what the training requirements look like. Also consider if you would prefer to have more clinical duties or administrative duties.
If you prefer clinical tasks over administrative tasks, for example, becoming a CCMA may be the best option for you over becoming a CMA or RMA.
If your employer or state doesn't have any specific requirements, there isn't much of a difference between becoming a CMA or RMA.
Note that there are other less common medical assistant certifications such as the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification as well as more specialized certifications that you may come across in your research.