Even though most states don’t have formal education requirements for medical assistants, you went the extra mile. You enrolled in a medical assistant school and you graduated with a diploma, certificate, or maybe even your AAS degree (Associate of Applied Science) in Medical Assisting. Now the question remains: Are you going to get certified? And do you really need to?
There are several organizations offering certification for medical assistants, but the National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredits four certifications for this profession:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
Seem overwhelming? Let’s whittle it down: While three out of four certifications require no formal education to take the certification exam, the CMA can be earned only by medical assistants who have graduated from a postsecondary medical assistant program accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Medical assistants can have only a high school diploma, but by obtaining the CMA certification, you’re setting yourself apart from others in your profession by gaining a credential that can only be earned by those with postsecondary education. Those three letters immediately make that fact evident.
Why Become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)?
The first reason is better job prospects. “More employers of allied health personnel were preferring or even insisting that their medical assistants have the CMA (AAMA) credential,” an AAMA article says. The organization says it responds to more than 100 employer requests for CMA certification verification per day.
Secondly, CMAs are more likely to have higher salaries over non-CMAs. An AAMA survey of more than 4,000 medical assistants revealed, “Fulltime medical assistants holding a CMA (AAMA) certification earn an average of $15.13 per hour or average annual earnings of $29,618. These earnings are above the averages of $13.69 or $26,527 collected for full-time medical assistants who do not hold a CMA (AAMA) certification and may or may not hold another type of medical assisting certification.”
The third reason applies to certifications as a whole and may come down to one word: Litigation. AAMA executive director, legal counsel Donald A. Balasa states in his article, “Employers of allied health professionals have correctly concluded that having credentialed personnel on staff will lessen the likelihood of a successful legal challenge to the quality of work of the employee.” Even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) decided last year that only “credentialed medical assistants” would be permitted to enter certain information into the computerized provider order entry system.
Certification isn’t required, but it can enhance your career as a medical assistant. If you’re still unsure about whether or not to become a CMA, consider asking your advisor or professors – especially those who have worked in the industry – for advice.
 BLS OOH, “Medical Assistants: How To Become One,” http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4 (Retrieved 17 Feb 2013).
 AAMA, “Why more employers are hiring CMAs (AAMA),” http://www.aama-ntl.org/resources/library/WhyMoreEmpsHireCMA.pdf (Retrieved 17 Feb 2013).
 AAMA, “2012 Medical Assisting Compensation and Benefits Report,” (2012).