What is a Certified Medical Assistant?
A certified medical assistant is an individual who has been awarded a certification credential by a professional organization.
Generally, certified medical assistants work a standard 40 hour week, although some work part time, evenings or weekends. It depends on the healthcare facility and the job description, but the day to day work is varied.
- Administration work, including scheduling appointments and lab tests, answering phones, completing insurance forms
- Clinical tasks, including collecting specimens, changing dressings
- Preparing examination rooms for patients such as sterilizing instruments, removing contaminated waste
- Recording test results and vital signs
- Interviewing patients, explaining treatment plans, preparing patients for tests and procedures
Employment Outlook and Salary Range
Figures published by Gray Associates indicate that in 2014 the overall number of job postings and ads for medical assistant positions grew by 15 percent.1 According to a recent report by Gray Associates over 25 percent of medical assistant job postings ask that applicants hold at least one certification.2 This suggests that demand for credentialed medical assistants is growing.
A key reason for this increased demand for medical assistants with credentials such as CMA (AAMA) or RMA (AMT) is changes to federal regulations and healthcare reform programs, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Incentive Program. This is commonly known as Meaningful Use (MU) and offers healthcare practices financial incentives to adopt Electronic Health Records (EHR).
An important point is that medical assistants must be credentialed in order to perform the duties involved in meeting electronic order entry goals. An entry level medical assistant without certification would not be allowed to carry out these tasks. It is advantageous to a healthcare facility to employ medical assistants for MU order entry because the practice can claim tens of thousands of dollars in incentives. Using medical assistants to fulfill this role not only offers more profits for practices, it also frees up the time of doctors and nurses to allow them to devote more time to delivering direct patient care.
With regards to expected earnings and annual income for Certified Medical Assistants, the recent AAMA Medical Assisting Compensation and Benefits Survey shows that of the currently CMA (AAMA) certified medical assistants surveyed and pursuing careers in this field, the average hourly wage is $15.77 and the average annual salary is $30,186. Of the survey participants, approximately 97 percent receive hourly pay and 3 percent are paid an annual salary. Wages vary according to several factors, including years of experience, geographic region and work setting.
What is the Name of the Professional Organization Related to Medical Assisting?
There are a number of professional organizations that offer credentialing opportunities for medical assistants to become certified:
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
The AAMA runs a national certification examination for eligible graduates of medical assistant training programs. If they pass the AAMA exam, they will be awarded the credential of Certified Medical Assistant, CMA (AAMA).
If you become a Certified Medical Assistant you will have gained a nationally recognized credential in the medical assisting field. The abbreviation for this title is CMA (AAMA). Although there are many jobs in this area of healthcare, being certified by the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) can give you an advantage over medical assistants without this qualification. We discuss the AAMA certification process in more detail below.
The American Medical Technologists (AMT)
The AMT also offers a nationally recognized registered medical assistant exam in which successful candidates will be awarded the title of Registered Medical Assistant, RMA (AMT). Other agencies that offer certification include the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC).
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
Originally established in 1955 with the aim of getting medical assisting formally recognized as a career, the AAMA now publishes a bimonthly magazine for its members, CMA Today, which features articles related to education and legislation in the medical assisting field. Membership of the AAMA brings access to a range of products, services and support. As an association offering a professional credential, the AAMA provides a verification service that enables doctors and other employers to verify the CMA (AAMA) credentials of job applicants or existing staff members.
You will need to take the Certified Medical Assistant exam in order to gain your CMA (AAMA) qualification, to demonstrate that you have sufficient knowledge to deliver the highest standard of service. Before you can sit for this exam, you need to have completed your medical assistant training on a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited diploma, certificate or Associate’s degree program.
Anyone who graduates from a program not accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) will not be eligible to take the AAMA test. This is a crucial thing to bear in mind when choosing a medical assisting training program.
You will need to apply through the AAMA to take the examination. The exams are run year round at locations throughout the country at Prometric testing center sites. Candidates have a period of 90 days in which to sit the exam. You will need to submit your application at least 90 days before the first of the month in which you want to take the test.
In this time you will need to do exam prep and practice answering test questions. Some schools and colleges offer a CMA (AAMA) exam review course as part of their training program, or you may be able to find one run by your local chapter of the AAMA. Full details of the areas covered in the exam can be found on the AAMA website.
CMA (AAMA) Certification and Recertification
Providing you are successful in passing the exam, you will be awarded an official certificate. This credential will allow you to work under the title of Certified Medical Assistant, CMA (AAMA) for the next 5 years.
To be specific, the CMA (AAMA) credential is current for 60 months from the end of the calendar month of the original certification or the more recent recertification. For example, medical assistants who passed the exam on May 14 2015 will be able to use their current CMA credential through May 31 2020, after which they will need to be recertified.
Regular recertification is necessary to maintain the validity of the CMA credentials. Certified Medical Assistants can meet the recertification requirements by either retaking the certification examination, or by earning 60 continuing educations units (CEU) or hours or academic or other formal credit.
Benefits of Being Certified
Becoming certified upon graduation is not essential, and there is no federal or state law that all medical assistants must be certified or licensed, but it does have a number of advantages. Many of the top schools – those with the highest job placement rates – recognize the value of certification and as such tailor their training programs to prepare students for the relevant exams. The best certified medical assistant schools offer as part of the curriculum study guide classes and courses geared to prepare students to take certification exams. Here are some reasons why you might choose to become certified:
- Certification validates a medical assistant’s competency in the eyes of both employers and patients
- CMAs may find it easier to find a job and earn higher wages than those without an extra credential
- With the multiple skills and competencies required to be a medical assistant, those with additional qualifications will be looked upon favorably by employers as being flexible and competent at performing a wide range of duties and procedures
Do You Have What it Takes to Become Certified?
If you have a desire to become a certified medical assistant, it is clearly important that you want to help others. In addition to being empathetic, you will need to be reliable and able to work under pressure. You must be a good listener and have excellent verbal and written communication skills, and be polite to both patients and co-workers at all times. You will be responsible for handling confidential private information and will be required to pay attention to detail.
On the administrative side, good computer skills will be needed. You will be trained in billing and coding, and you will need to be able to understand and interpret data. The clinical aspect of the job will require you to have the physical ability to assist with routine medical procedures, including taking vital signs and using basic clinical instruments.