Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant vs. Registered Medical Assistant

If you’re thinking about pursuing a medical profession, 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.

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

Understanding the difference between these different titles and their certifications can help you decide which one is right for you and your future in healthcare.

Medical Assistant vs. CMA vs. RMA Overview

Medical Assistants

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. 

MAs can also administer injections like vaccinations, except for those working in Connecticut and New York.

Certified Medical Assistants

A certified medical assistant 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.

>> Read More: Average Medical Assistant Salary

Registered Medical Assistants

Registered medical assistants are very similar to CMAs. 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.  

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 states that require certification for medical assistants are Connecticut, Idaho, New Jersey, and 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 or RMA. 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)

Another option is to become a certified clinical medical assistant through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). 

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. 

Stepful’s 4-month online medical assistant program prepares you for the NHA exam and helps you get certified. 

Choosing between MA, CMA, RMA, and 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.

>> Other Options: Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant or Medical Assistants vs. Phlebotomists

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