Top Medical Assistant Certifications to Advance Your Career

A career as a medical assistant is rewarding and can lead to many other opportunities in the healthcare field.

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for medical assistants are expected to grow 18% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the national average for all occupations (4%). Over the next decade, an average of 104,400 openings for medical assistants are expected. These thriving jobs can be found in hospitals, doctor's offices, and other healthcare facilities.

While not all medical assistant job openings require you to be certified, many do, and getting your medical assistant certification helps make sure that you're ready for the job and can help you get hired.

But which medical assistant certification should you try to get? What's required for each?

This guide goes over the four main medical assistant certifications—CMA, RMA, CCMA, and NCMA—including eligibility requirements, what's on the exam, who each is best for, and everything else you need to know.

4 Main Medical Assistant Certifications

There are four main types of medical assistant certifications that you may want to consider. If you don't have any experience working as a medical assistant yet, you can typically get your medical assistant certification online by completing a training program and taking one of the exams.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Passing the CMA exam offered by the American Associate of Medical Assistants (AAMA) shows that you have been trained and tested in general, clinical, and administrative responsibilities.

  • Eligibility: To be eligible to take the CMA 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. 
  • Exam: The CMA exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions which you have 160 minutes to complete, broken out into four, 40-minute sections. The questions cover healthcare information management, safety, infection control, healthcare delivery, and more.
  • Certification Duration: If you pass, your CMA certification is valid for 60 months from exam date. You must complete continuing education to maintain your certification.
  • Cost: The CMA exam costs $125 to take. You are allowed three attempts to pass before you must repeat your medical assistant course.

The CMA certification is one of the most popular MA certifications. If you pass, you will become a certified medical assistant and should have no problem finding a job.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

The registered medical assistant (RMA) medical assistant certification certifies medical assistants in a wide range of administrative and clinical skills. This certification is provided by American Medical Technologists (AMT), and it represents a respected, rigorous credential that highlights knowledge of quality patient care and expertise.

  • Eligibility: You can qualify for the RMA exam a few ways: (1) Graduate from an accredited medical assisting program, (2) Graduate from a US Armed Forces medical assisting program, (3)Work as a medical assistant for five years, (4) Work as a medical assistant instructor for five years AND have previously completed a course in a healthcare discipline. 
  • Exam: The RMA exam consists of 210 multiple choice sections. Topics covered include general medical assistant knowledge, administrative medical assisting, and clinical medical assisting.
  • Certification Duration: The RMA certification is good for three years. It can be maintained by completing continuing education courses. 
  • Cost: 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.

Many medical assistants who have taken both exams state that the RMA exam is slightly easier than the CMA exam. Despite this, both certifications are typically accepted by healthcare facilities that require medical assistants to be certified.

Clinical Medical Assistant Certification (CCMA)

Passing the certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) exam accredits medical assistants and allows them to pursue better clinical career opportunities. The CCMA certification is designed for medical assistants who want to focus on clinical procedures rather than overall office administration. The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) provides the certification.

  • Eligibility: To be eligible to take the CCMA exam, you must do one of the following: (1) Have a high school diploma or GED, (2) Complete college or a medical assistant training program, (3) Have one year of medical assisting experience.
  • Exam: The time limit for the exam is 3 hours. It consists of 150 scored and 30 unscored multiple-choice questions (4 answer choices each). Topics covered include clinical patient care (56%), foundational knowledge and basic science (10%), patient care coordination and education (10%), administrative assisting (8%), communication and customer service (8%), anatomy and physiology (5%), and medical law and ethics (5%).
  • Certification Duration: The CCMA certification must be renewed every two years. 
  • Cost: The CCMA exam costs $155. You can attempt the test three times per year, and have to wait 30 days between each attempt. 

Like the other medical assistant certifications we've covered, most healthcare facilities that require MAs to be certified accept the CCMA as a valid certificate.

If you're interested in becoming a CCMA, you should check out Stepful's Online Medical Assistant Training Program. It takes 4 months to complete and we train you to pass the CCMA exam and even help you find a job.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

Medical assistants who pass the national certified medical assistant (NCMA) exam are recognized as having well-rounded clinical and administrative skills. The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) provides this certification.

  • Eligibility: To be eligible to take the NCMA exam, you must meet one of the following: (1) Be a current student in an NCCT-authorized medical assistant program, (2) Have graduated from an NCCT-authorized medical assistant program in the past 5 years, (3) Have 2 years of full-time experience as a medical assistant in the last 5 years, (4) Have completed medical assistant training or equivalent in the military in the past 5 years.
  • Exam: There are 150 scored questions in the 3-hour exam. Topics covered include pharmacology, medical procedures, phlebotomy, ECG and other tests, general office procedures, medical office general management, office financial management, and laws and ethics.
  • Certification Duration: You must renew your certification annually by completing continuing education hours and paying a recertification fee.
  • Cost: The exam costs $90 or $135, depending on how long it has been since you graduated.

Which Medical Assistant Certification is the Best?

There is no right answer to the question of which medical assistant certification is the best.

Generally, any employers that require medical assistants to be certified will accept any of the above-mentioned credentials.

In order to determine which medical assistant certification to go for, we recommend looking at the following:

  • Which certifications the programs you're interested in lead to. Many medical assistant training programs prepare you for a specific certification and may even cover the costs of it. If you're interested in a specific program or programs, check which certification they prepare you for.
  • Which you are eligible for (if you've already completed training). If you've already completed a training program or have worked as a medical assistant already, you should review the eligibility requirements for each certification to see which you meet. Typically, programs will be accredited by one of the certification organizations. Alternatively, some require you to have a certain number of years' experience in the field.
  • What type of role you're interested in. Medical assistants have a variety of duties ranging from administrative to clinical duties. Which type of certification you have may determine what your responsibilities include. For example, if you're mostly interested in patient care, you may want to try getting your CCMA certification.

>> Learn about Stepful's Online Medical Assistant Training That Leads to a CCMA Certification

The Importance of a Medical Assistant Certification

There are a lot of advantages for people who get certified as medical assistants over uncertified medical assistants. The main benefits include access to better paying jobs, a better chance of getting hired, and a better chance of getting a promotion in the future.

Here are some of the main advantages of getting your medical assistant certification:

1) Increased Opportunities for Employment

This certification is a great thing to put on your resume, and it could be the thing that makes you stand out from other candidates. Having your certification shows that you have the knowledge and training required to do the job well.

2) Better Salary

You may not get the job that you want if you don’t have the certification. If you have the medical assistant certification, you will be more valuable to employers, which could lead to a better pay rate. You can learn more about medical assistant salaries here and certified medical assistant salaries here.

3) More Job Stability

If a hospital or other healthcare facility has to cut staff, they are likely to start with those who have less training and experience. Getting your MA certification can increase the chances that you keep your job in the case of job cuts.

4) Potential for Growth

The medical assistant role is a great entry point to the healthcare field. You will get exposed to a mix of administrative and clinical tasks. This will allow you to get a good grasp of the healthcare industry and help you focus on what you want to do next in your healthcare career. Having your certification can help open up opportunities for advancement into other healthcare roles.

5) Creates a Safer & Better Healthcare Experience for Patients

Last, but certainly not least, certified medical assistants can provide better care for patients since they have the training and knowledge required to successfully do the job. Certified medical assistants are typically better at working with patients and handling the diverse tasks that come up during a MAs day-to-do work.

Is a Medical Assistant Certification Required?

Not all medical assistant jobs require certification. While some do, there are certainly job openings available for people with no experience who want to become a medical assistant with no experience. In this case, you'll typically be trained on the job.

Still, it's often worth getting your certification so you know that you're prepared for the job. Having your certification can also help you get hired faster and lead to better pay as a medical assistant.

Think about it: if you were looking to hire a new medical assistant, would you rather have someone with no experience or training that you would have to train on the job OR someone that you know has the knowledge and skills required to do the job?

Note that if you want to specialize as a certain type of medical assistant, you may also have to get additional training and certifications.

>> Learn More: Medical Assistant Degree vs. Certificate

Is a Medical Assistant License Required?

One common point of confusion is the difference between a license and a certification. Generally speaking, a license gives a worker permission to legally work in a particular state. 

There is no nationwide medical assistant licensing requirement. However, some states like Washington require that medical assistants have a license. 

A certification is given to medical assistants who have met the highest standards in the field. Most states do not require certification in order to work. However, medical assistants with a certification have an advantage when seeking employment. In addition, some employers may expect applicants to be certified. 

Medical assistant certifications are awarded by national organizations such as the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). To get one, you need to complete an accredited medical assistant program or have a certain amount of experience and pass a certification exam. 

Medical Assistant Certification Requirements by State

  • Alabama: Alabama has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Alaska: Alaska has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Arizona: Arizona has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Arkansas: Arkansas has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • California: California has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Colorado: Colorado has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Connecticut: Connecticut has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Delaware: Delaware has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Florida: Florida has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Georgia: Georgia has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Hawaii: Hawaii has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Idaho: Idaho has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Illinois: Illinois has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Indiana: Indiana has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Iowa: Iowa has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Kansas: Kansas has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Kentucky: Kentucky has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Louisiana: Louisiana has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Maine: Maine has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Maryland: Maryland has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Massachusetts: Massachusetts has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Michigan: Michigan has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Minnesota: Minnesota has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Mississippi: Mississippi has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Missouri: Missouri has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Montana: Montana has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Nebraska: Nebraska has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Nevada: Nevada has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • New Jersey: New Jersey has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant. However, only certified medical assistants can perform injections on patients. 
  • New Mexico: New Mexico has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • New York: New York has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • North Carolina: North Carolina has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • North Dakota: North Dakota has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant. However, only certified medical assistants can perform injections on patients. 
  • Ohio: Ohio has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Oregon: Oregon has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Rhode Island: Rhode Island has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • South Carolina: South Carolina has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • South Dakota: In order to work as a medical assistant in South Dakota, you will need to register with the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners. They require a certification in order to become registered. 
  • Tennessee: Tennessee has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Texas: Texas has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Utah: Utah has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Vermont: Vermont has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Virginia: Virginia has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Washington: In Washington, you will need a certification to work as a medical assistant. In addition, you will need to apply for a license with the Washington State Department of Health.
  • West Virginia: West Virginia has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Wisconsin: Wisconsin has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.
  • Wyoming: Wyoming has no certification requirements to work as a medical assistant.

How Stepful Can Help You Get Your Medical Assistant Certification

If you want to become a certified medical assistant, you should consider Stepful's CCMA Certification Training Program. Stepful prepares students to pass the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and once you complete your training, Stepful helps you find a job within 6 months of graduating or you get your money back.

>> Read More: MA vs. CMA vs. RMA

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