How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant

Registered Medical AssistantDefinition

A Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) is a medical assistant who has passed the AMT Certification Exam and has been awarded the credential of RMA.

Job Description

There are many tasks that are the responsibilities of a Registered Medical Assistant. The exact role will vary according to the type of facility, but administrative and clinical duties are likely to include:

  • Welcoming patients
  • Preparing them for exams or treatment
  • Collecting specimens or taking vital signs
  • Maintaining patient records, scheduling appointments and hospital admissions
  • Cleaning rooms and sterilizing equipment in preparation for patient examinations or treatment
  • Taking blood, giving shots, cleaning and dressing wounds (under the supervision of a physician)

You will need to be organized, efficient and adaptable, as the role will require you to carry out a variety of both administrative and clinical duties. The job involves interacting with sick patients, so you will need to be compassionate and good at listening to their needs and concerns. The abilities to think quickly, solve problems and remain calm under pressure are crucial.

In addition to having these characteristics, campus-based or online medical assistant programs provide training in the clerical and clinical skills required for the role. You will complete courses covering subjects such as medical terminology and procedures and you will learn how to read patient charts and treatment plans. You will be taught how to use doctors’ office software to perform tasks such as billing, arranging appointments and updating patient records. Your diploma or degree training program will also teach you how to use clinical tools and equipment so that you can competently assist other medical staff such as doctors and nurses.

Registered Medical Assistant vs Certified Medical Assistant

It is not necessary to be licensed in order to work in medical assisting. However, medical assistants with at least one certification credential such as Certified Medical Assistant, CMA (AAMA) or Registered Medical Assistant, RMA (AMT) have an advantage over those that are unregistered when it comes to getting the best jobs and earning higher wages. There is no qualitative difference in the CMA and RMA credentials – the title given simply depends in the certifying organization to which the medical assistant belongs.

There are a number of professional associations that offer certification opportunities. The American Association of Medical Assistants, also known by the abbreviation AAMA, awards the title of Certified Medical Assistant, CMA (AAMA) to those who successfully pass its examination. The American Medical Technologists association, or AMT, offers the credential of Registered Medical Assistant, RMA (AMT). Those with the title of RMA are still certified, they just have a different title.

Benefits of Getting Registered

According to the AMT employees who are certified earn a higher salary and have better opportunities for promotion and to advance in their careers than those that don’t have this credential. More and more healthcare practices are looking to hire medical assistants with a certification credential. Having the title of RMA shows an employer that you meet the standards of performance required to be successful in the role and this can be verified by a nationally recognized third party professional organization. It also demonstrates that you are dedicated to maintaining quality, competency and professionalism in your work.

Pay and Employment Outlook

The average annual salary range for medical assistants nationally is between $21,080 to $41,570, with the median pay being $29,370. These figures are based on 2012 statistics from the AMT1. The majority of medical assistants are paid an hourly wage and the exact amount of income will depend on variables such as type of training, length of experience, geographic location and practice setting. Those holding a current Registered Medical Assistant credential have the potential to earn a higher salary than those without any form of certification.

Medical assistant employment is predicted to increase by 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. In 2012 over 50 percent of medical assistants had jobs in physicians’ offices. The baby-boomer population is aging, leading to more demand for healthcare services. Practices are increasingly hiring medical assistants instead of nurses to carry out routine clinical and administrative duties, which gives nurses more time to focus directly on patient care.

Another factor causing an increased demand for medical assistants is the CMS Meaningful Use regulations that offer financial incentives for healthcare practices to switch to Electronic Health Records (EHRs). The new rule is that medical assistants must be credentialed “in order to enter orders into the Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) system for medication and for laboratory and radiology services”. Therefore medical assistants with just a degree or diploma cannot perform this role and it is necessary to become certified upon graduation in order to fulfill the requirements. The AMT’s RMA certification meets this condition, as does the AAMA’s CMA credential. Figures from a report by Gray Associates2 suggest that 25 percent of medical assisting job ads are requesting applicants have at least one certification.

The Exam

In order to become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), you will need to apply to The American Medical Technologists association (AMT) to sit for the national certification exam. AMT was established in 1939 and provides certification for various allied health professionals including:

  • Medical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
  • Dental Assistants and Phlebotomists
  • Medical Assistants

The registered medical assistant exam assesses the competencies of candidates to work as an entry level medical assistant. AMT also offers an exam to earn the credential of Certified Medical Administrative Specialist (CMAS) for those who want to specialize in front office work. More information on the competencies and topics covered in the test can be found on the AMT website. One you have applied and received your Authorization to Test letter you can arrange to sit the exam at a Pearson VUE testing center near where you are located. Applications can be made online and incur a non-refundable fee of $100 at the time of writing.

In order to stay certified and for your title to remain valid, you will need to pay an annual fee and recertify every 3 years by obtaining a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs), currently 30 points every 3 years, under the Certification Continuation Program (CCP).

There are certain eligibility requirements that must be met before you can take the exams and different routes you can take:

  • Education
    The exam is open to recent graduates of an accredited medical assistant degree, diploma or certificate program, and to graduates of medical assisting programs from accredited institutions. Organizations that accredit educational institutions include the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET). An additional requirement is that if you completed your education at an accredited institution rather than on an accredited program, you must have received at least 720 clock hours of training, of which a minimum of 160 hours must have been clinical externship experience. This requirement may vary according to state law.
  • Military
    Graduates from a US Armed Forces formal medical services training program can also apply to take the exam. Applicants must have graduated within the last 4 years or have had relevant work experience for 3 of the previous 5 years.
  • Work Experience
    Individuals who have been employed full time as a medical assistant for at least 5 of the last 7 years and who have experience of both clinical and administrative duties can apply to sit the exam.
  • Instructor
    The AMT RMA exam is also open to medical assistant program instructors with at least 5 years teaching experience of clinical and administrative duties at an accredited school or career college or on an accredited training program. Instructors with less than 5 years but more than 1 year of teaching experience may also be eligible if they can provide evidence of 3 years of clinical experience in a healthcare field where the scope of practice is similar to the medical assisting scope of practice.
  • Other Certification
    If an applicant meets any of the above criteria and has already passed another organization’s certification exam that has been approved by the AMT, then they do not need to take the examination. However, the AMT currently only accepts one certification agency and applicants must phone the AMT to make sure they qualify.

Choosing a Training Program

If you wish to begin a career in medical assisting the first step is to complete your education on an accredited medical assistant training program. Schools and colleges throughout the country offer diploma, certificate and degree programs that involve on-campus classes, while some also offer medical assistant training online. The top schools are those with the best job placement rates and completion rates and usually include internship or externship clinical experience in addition to classroom and lab based courses.

To keep your career options open, it is important to complete your training on a course that meets the conditions of a professional certification association, so that you will be able to take a certification exam after graduating. As stated previously, gaining the title of Certified or Registered Medical Assistant is voluntary, but can enhance your employment prospects and earning potential. Some programs include certification exam preparation courses as part of the curriculum. Why not being your search for a medical assistant training program today?


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Medical Assistants
  2. Gray Associates, Inc., The Medical Assisting Education Market, February 2015, page 42, and WANTED Analytics