3 Medical Assistant Certifications You Can Achieve

Thinking of becoming a medical assistant? Congratulations! Medical assisting is a rewarding career with a lot of variety. On top of that, medical assistants are in demand.

Medical assisting is a great option if you’re considering a career in the medical field but don’t know where to start. You can decide to spend your entire career as a medical assistant or use your education as a foundation for other opportunities in the medical field.

Before you go into medical assisting, be sure that you like working with people. You’ll have to have excellent interpersonal skills, as medical assisting involves a lot of patient interaction.

In addition, you’ll have to get along well with your co-workers. Medical assistants are a vital part of the healthcare team. Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Checking patients in and out
  • Taking patient vital signs
  • Recording medical histories/updating electronic health records
  • Assisting with exams and procedures
  • Performing EKGs
  • Taking blood and administering injections and medications
  • Returning patient phone calls
  • Performing routine administrative duties, allowing physicians to see more patients.

An In-Demand Occupation

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • The need for medical assistants is projected to grow 18 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than other occupations. That translates to about 104,400 job openings for medical assistants each year over the decade.
  • The median salary for a medical assistant is $32,480. The ninetieth percentile made $45,900 or more.

Medical assistants are needed to replace workers who move to different occupations or retire. In addition, the aging baby-boomer population and the growing population in general are continuing to increase the demand for primary care physicians. Most medical assistants work in primary care settings.

Work Conditions

Medical assistants enjoy a lot of variety in their jobs and each day is different from the last. Some days are busy, some are quiet. Some are filled with “easy” patients and others are filled with those with more challenging needs.

Medical assistants are employed in large hospitals, private doctor’s offices, health practitioner offices, and outpatient care centers.

Thanks to the different types of work settings, medical assistants enjoy a degree of flexibility with their work hours. Some work traditional Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm shifts, while others work evenings and weekends in 24-hour facilities. Part-time hours are often available as well.

Medical assistants have a variety of environments from which to choose. For example, those who like working with children may seek positions in pediatric practices. Others may prefer working with cancer patients in oncology.

Many medical assistants get a great deal of fulfillment from their jobs. They enjoy working with people and being in a helping profession. Burnout rates are low, thanks to the variety of duties performed on the job and the different work settings from which to move if a change of scenery is desired.

What Do Employers Look For

When screening medical assistant applications, employers look for:

  • Basic life support/CPR certification (48%)
  • Years of experience (56%)
  • Medical assistant training (58%)
  • Medical assistant certification (72%).

Employers also look for medical assistants who are flexible, empathetic, and detail-oriented. They also look for people with good listening and communication skills who are effective problem solvers. The ability to collaborate with the healthcare team is important, as is the ability to multitask.

Why Get Certified?

According to the 2020 Industry Outlook Report from the National Healthcareer Association, 89% of employers require or encourage certification for medical assistants. In addition, 63% of institutions offer more pay when an employee is certified.

Although medical assistants are not required to hold a state license or certification, it’s still a good idea to get certified. The more credentials you have, the more duties you can perform. In addition, medical assistants in certain medical specialties must have specific training and certification, for example, those who work in ophthalmology and podiatry.

To summarize, certification can help you:

  • Meet employer requirements
  • Gain important knowledge
  • Sharpen your skill sets
  • Achieve better career opportunities
  • Increase your earning potential
  • Increase your value to the healthcare team
  • Give you more power to find flexible employment opportunities

Let’s look at the three types of medical assistant certification.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). It is said to be a good option for students who want to focus more on clinical than administrative functions.

To be eligible to sit for the exam you must have a high school diploma or GED/high school equivalency and either:

  • Have completed a medical assistant training or education program within the last five years
  • Have one year of supervised on-the-job experience in medical assisting within the last three years.

Subjects on the exam include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Clinical patient care
  • Patent education
  • Office administration
  • Communication and customer service
  • Legal and ethical issues

The CCMA exam consists of 180 questions (150 scored and 30 pre-test questions) over three hours. The pass rate is 78%.

Certifications must be renewed every two years and require 10 continuing education credits through the NHA online library.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA AAMA)

The Certified Medical Assistant credential, known as the CMA (AAMA), is issued through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). It is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners. It is one of the most widely recognized certifications and also the most difficult to obtain.

According to the AAMA, it responds to more than 100 employer requests per day to verify CMA (AAMA) certification for both current and prospective employees.

The CMA (AAMA) certification is rigorous. To sit for this exam, you must have graduated from a postsecondary accredited medical assisting program. Only two types of accredited programs qualify. You must also have completed a practicum, such as on-the-job training in an ambulatory health care setting.

Candidates are tested on clinical and administrative areas such as:

  • Human anatomy, physiology, and pathology
  • Medical terminology
  • Lab techniques
  • Clinical and diagnostic procedures
  • First aid
  • Coding and insurance processing
  • Recordkeeping and accounting

The exam takes place over four, 40-minute segments. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. The pass rate is 67%.

The CMA (AAMA) credential must be recertified every five years by exam or continuing education.

There are many reasons why CMAs (AAMA) are in demand. These include managed care pressures, litigation risks, and state and federal laws.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) is administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT).

To sit for the RMA certification exam, you must be one of the following:

  • A recent or nearly completed graduate of an accredited medical assisting program with at least 720 hours of instruction, including at least 160 hours of externship
  • A recent or nearly completely graduate of a medical services training program of the U.S. military
  • Employed as a medical assistant for at least five of the last seven years (with no more than two of those years as an instructor in a medical assistant program)
  • Employed as an instructor of an accredited medical assisting program for at least five years, full-time (applicants with less than five years but more than one year can provide documentation of at least three years of full-time clinical work experience in a healthcare profession).

The exam consists of 210 questions over four areas:

  • Anatomy and physiology – 46 questions
  • Administrative medical assisting – 75 questions
  • Clinical medical assisting – 31 questions
  • Clinical patient interacting – 58 questions

The test is scored with 70 as a passing grade. The pass rate is 77%.

Recertification takes place every three years through an AMT Certification Continuation Program (CCP). You use an AMT computer program called AMTrax to record activities that earn points. You need 30 points to renew your certification.

Obtaining Your Medical Assistant Training

Some medical assistant training is available on-the-job, but most employers want to hire assistants who have been through a formal education program.

Medical assistant training is usually available at your local community college, trade school, or private for-profit institutIons. Some offer programs that take less than one year to complete.

Community colleges usually offer either a certificate of proficiency in medical assisting or an associate of applied science degree (a two-year degree). If you obtain a certificate, you can start working right away and continue your education toward the two-year degree if you so choose.


Medical assistants are in demand. The job offers a variety of administrative and clinical tasks to keep medical offices running smoothly.

If medical assisting is the path you choose, be sure to explore all the certification programs available. The administrator of your education program might recommend one over another. If not, ask other medical assistants for their input.

In any case, certified medical assistants have an edge when it comes to securing employment and often make more than non-certified assistants.

If you’re looking for a rewarding career that can lead to future advancement if so desired – and you like people and working as part of a team – then medical assisting may be just the path for you.

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Matt Lane

Matt graduated with a BSEd in Kinesiology from University of Georgia and is now pursuing a medical degree. He enjoys sharing his experience with other ambitious young people.