What is a Certified Medical Assistant?

Think about the last time you received care at a healthcare facility. You might have crossed paths with a certified medical assistant, or CMA. Even if you did not, it is common to find CMAs working alongside other healthcare workers to provide the best care for patients.  

Certified medical assistants are medical assistants that have earned a certification from organizations such as the AAMA, AMT, or NHA. They assist other healthcare staff by performing clinical and administrative tasks.

Most states do not require medical assistants to be certified. Despite this, it can be a great idea to earn a certification. One of the benefits is that employers tend to view certified applicants more favorably when choosing who to hire. 

This guide will go over what a certified medical assistant is, what they do, where they work, and more.

What is a Certified Medical Assistant?

A certified medical assistant is similar to a medical assistant. The main difference is that a CMA has earned a certification from an accrediting organization. While not all medical assistants need experience or certification, being certified shows that they've met the highest standards for competency in their profession.  

In order to deliver quality care to patients, a healthcare facility requires the contributions of many different healthcare professionals. Certified medical assistants play an essential role in making sure everything runs smoothly. 

They assist other staff by performing both clinical and administrative tasks, which are outlined in the next section.

What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?

During a typical workday, a certified medical assistant performs tasks that are usually divided into two categories: clinical and administrative. A CMA may focus on one group or the other depending on the needs of their workplace and their own capabilities. 

Clinical Duties of a Certified Medical Assistant

Certified medical assistants work closely with physicians to provide patient care. Some clinical duties they are responsible for include:

  • Provide assistance during medical procedures
  • Prepare laboratory specimens for further analysis in the laboratory
  • Use the electronic health record to document patient information
  • Perform basic clinical testing
  • Take patients' blood pressure, heart rate, and other vitals
  • Prepare patients for medical procedures

Administrative Duties of a Certified Medical Assistant

In addition to clinical tasks, certified medical assistants can perform administrative tasks. Some examples of these duties include:

  • Initiate and answer phone calls to patients
  • Work with insurance and medical billing
  • Welcome patients and direct them to the exam room
  • Keep up-to-date patient records
  • Schedule appointments

Overview of Certifications for Medical Assistants

There are several organizations that provide certifications for medical assistants. Each certification has slightly different exam content and eligibility requirements. Here are the three main certifications.

AAMA (CMA)

American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) awards qualified medical assistants with a CMA certification. They require the completion of at least two college semesters of an accredited medical assistant program.

In addition, they require that you pass their competency exam. The exam is made up of 200 multiple-choice questions that cover a range of topics including clinical knowledge, legal and ethical issues, communication, and administrative tasks. 

AMT (RMA)

American Medical Technologists (AMT) provides qualified medical assistants with an RMA certification. Their exam is made up of 210 questions that cover topics such as anatomy and physiology, clinical medical assisting, administrative medical assisting, and clinical patient interaction. 

However, to take the exam, certain requirements must be met. There are several routes for becoming eligible to take the RMA certification exam.

These routes include completing an approved medical assistant training program or a work-study/training program. Also eligible are medical assistants who have been employed for at least three years within the last seven years.

NHA (CCMA)

National Healthcareer Association (NHA) provides a CCMA certification to medical assistants who pass their CCMA exam. Their 150-question exam covers topics such as basic science, anatomy and physiology, clinical patient care, and administrative assisting.

To be eligible to take the exam, applicants need to have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete an approved medical assistant training program. 

Medical assistants who have worked for at least one year within the last three years or for at least two years within the last five years are also eligible to take the CCMA exam. 

Note that Stepful’s online medical assistant training program prepares you to take the CCMA exam and helps you get a job.

Certified Medical Assistants vs. Medical Assistants

Although certified medical assistants and medical assistants are quite similar to each other, there are a few key differences. 

The first difference is that certified medical assistants undergo more training than medical assistants. Becoming a certified medical assistant will require additional education and passing a certification exam.

In comparison, there are no formal requirements for becoming a medical assistant, besides having a high school diploma or GED. As a result, the path to becoming a medical assistant is usually shorter.

Another difference is that certified medical assistants may be trusted to perform more difficult tasks. This is due to their increased level of training and knowledge compared to a medical assistant who has not earned a certification. 

Certified medical assistants also have the potential to earn higher salaries than non-certified medical assistants. Because of their certification, they have a greater likelihood of being hired at more competitive and higher-paying workplaces. 

It is also important to note that most states do not require medical assistants to be certified in order to work. However, when applying for jobs, certified medical assistants stand out compared to non-certified medical assistants. Their certification shows that they have demonstrated their ability to excel in their profession. 

>> Read More: MA vs CMA vs RMA

Where Do Certified Medical Assistants Work?

Certified medical assistants usually work in outpatient settings like physician private practices, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. Each location offers a different environment and pace of work. Schedule flexibility may also vary depending on where a CMA is employed. 

In a larger-scale facility like a hospital, certified medical assistants can expect a fast-paced work environment where they may have to spend more time on their feet. Some of their duties would include taking a patient’s health history, preparing specimens for the laboratory, and scheduling appointments. 

In a smaller workplace environment like a private practice, the pace of work may be slower. They may work with fewer patients than CMAs who work at a hospital. However, because there are fewer total employees, certified medical assistants will need to be more flexible and take on a greater variety of tasks. 

Certified medical assistants typically work full-time schedules. There may be less schedule flexibility when working in a hospital. It is not uncommon to have to work weekends, nights, and holidays. 

In comparison, certified medical assistants working in a private practice are more likely to enjoy a greater degree of schedule flexibility. Depending on the office, they may only have to work during normal daytime working hours.

Certified Medical Assistant Salary & Job Outlook

According to medical assistant salary statistics, the 2021 median annual salary for medical assistants nationwide was $37,190, which comes out to $17.88 per hour. 

The data does not break down medical assistant salaries by certification. However, certified medical assistants are more likely to be hired at competitive workplaces that offer higher salaries. Thus, they can expect to earn more as a certified medical assistant. 

The top 10% of medical assistants earned an annual salary of $48,170 or more in 2021. In comparison, the bottom 10% of medical assistants earned an annual salary of $29,070 or less in 2021.

Workplace plays a significant role in salary differences. Outpatient clinics were among the highest paying workplaces. Medical assistants who worked in this type of location earned a median salary of $38,270.

In comparison, chiropractic offices tended to pay less than other workplaces with a median salary of $30,100.

Medical assistants, in general, have a positive job outlook, with employment over the next decade predicted to grow by 18%. As a career, it is growing faster than the nationwide average of all jobs. 

It is important to note that certified medical assistants enjoy an advantage in getting hired, when compared to non-certified medical assistants. In other words, there should be plenty of positions available for certified medical assistants. 

Skills Required to Be a Certified Medical Assistant

The scope of practice for certified medical assistants allows them to perform a wide variety of tasks. Because of this, they need to be proficient in several skills to do their job to the best of their ability. 

Some of the most important skills for CMAs include:

  • Critical thinking: This especially applies to clinical tasks such as collecting specimen samples, taking vitals, and recording patients’ health history. Certified medical assistants will need to know how to troubleshoot and identify when things appear abnormal. 
  • Flexibility: The responsibilities of a certified medical assistant may vary depending on their workplace. They should be flexible as they can expect to be called on to assist with a variety of tasks and procedures. They may also be trained on-the-job for new and unfamiliar tasks.
  • Good grasp of medical terminology: To efficiently work with physicians and other healthcare staff, certified medical assistants should have a strong grasp of medical terminology. They should understand how to use medical vocabulary and abbreviations.
  • Interpersonal communication: An important aspect of patient care is making the patient feel comfortable and understood. Certified medical assistants will need to be able to communicate information to patients in a clear and respectful manner. Other related communication skills include cultural competence and empathy.
  • Technical skills: Certified medical assistants will need to know how to use various devices and software. For example, they should be able to navigate through the electronic health record. They also need to be able to type quickly and accurately when recording patient information. 

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant & How Long It Takes

To become a certified medical assistant, you will need to pass a certification exam. Different exams have different eligibility requirements. 

In general, they require the completion of an approved medical assistant postsecondary program, such as Stepful’s 4-Month Online MA Program

The length of medical assistant school and programs varies depending on where you take them. Some places that offer these programs include community colleges, vocational schools, and online courses. They can take anywhere from 4 months to 2 years to complete. 

 In addition, some organizations only allow medical assistants who have worked for a certain number of years to take the exam. 

Here are some general steps to become a CMA:

1.) Obtain your high school diploma or GED. This is considered the minimum requirement to become a medical assistant. As a result, it is also a requirement to become a certified medical assistant.

2.) Complete an accredited postsecondary program. These programs help teach the foundational knowledge and practical skill needed in order to become an effective CMA. Completion of an approved program is required to take one of the certification exams.

3.) Pass a certification exam. These exams assess whether a medical assistant has the knowledge and ability required to meet the standards of certification. Once you pass the exam, you have earned your certification. 

4.) Apply for jobs. Now that you are a certified medical assistant, you will have an advantage over other applicants when applying for jobs. 

>> Read More: How to Become a Medical Assistant

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