How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

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A certified medical assistant (CMA) is a credential given by the AAMA, or American Association of Medical Assistants. In order to receive the CMA credential, you must take and pass an examination testing your knowledge of medical assisting. Those who receive their CMA credentials are subject to greater job security, increased respect from employers and a professional advantage in finding employment as a medical assistant.

1. Do you meet the eligibility criteria?

Before undertaking any CMA certification exams, you must first ensure that you meet the following eligibility requirements. You must:

  • Have a clean criminal record free of any felony convictions. If you’ve been found guilty of a felony, or if you pleaded guilty to a felony charge, you will not be eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) exam. However, you may submit a waiver form explaining any mitigating circumstances, at which point AAMA will make a determination as to your eligibility.
  • Be a graduate of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assistant program. If you apply for the examination 12 or more months after graduation, you may be required to submit an official transcript provided by the school from which you graduated. In addition, an MA program director will need to confirm your participation in the program. Alternatively, you may take the exam no more than 30 days prior to completing your formal education and practicum in the semester in which you expect to graduate.
  • Be within 60 months on the date of a MA program completion. If you fail to take the examination within this 60-month time frame, you will be required to complete another MA program. Note that this policy does not apply to you if you graduated before January 1, 2010.

Once you have your CMA (AAMA) certification credential, you must renew it every 60 months either through continuing education or recertification exam in order to demonstrate your current knowledge. You’ll need to provide a photocopy of your original CMA certificate in addition to proof of a current CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification.

2. Complete an accredited MA program

In order to be eligible for the CMA (AAMA) exam, you’ll need to attend and graduate from a medical assisting program accredited by the CAAHEP and/or ABHES. Lists of medical assisting programs accredited by these organizations can be found in our school directory.

Completing an accredited medical assisting program is important not only because doing so is an eligibility requirement, but also because accreditation ensures that you’ll receive the proper training, skills and knowledge that you’ll need in your career as a medical assistant.

It is advisable to investigate several different accredited MA programs before choosing one because different programs have different parameters, including how long it takes to graduate, the nature of the practicum, the type of degree you’ll receive upon graduation and more. Accredited MA programs typically last either 8 moths to 2 years, and result in either a certificate/diploma or an associate’s degree.

The length of your program and the total number of required credit hours will vary depending on whether you choose to pursue a certificate program or an associate’s degree program. Typical diploma programs last for 8 months to 1 year, while associate’s programs include roughly 60 credits and last for approximately 2 years. Regardless of the educational path you choose, you’ll be required to complete a practicum at the end of your formal studies.

The completion of a practicum is requirement of all CAAHEP/ABHES accredited medical assisting programs. In addition to completing a practicum, you’ll learn about all of the following topics and more through classroom-based studies in any accredited medical assisting program:

  • Medical law and ethics
  • Medical terminology
  • Basic human anatomy, physiology and pathology
  • Patient relations
  • Office practices
  • First aid
  • Medication administration
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical and diagnostic procedures
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Coding and insurance processing
  • Recordkeeping and accounting
  • And more

3. Apply for the CMA exam

After completing a medical assistant program you must fill out an application, which can be downloaded and printed. Your application should be received by the AAMA three months or 90 days before your preferred 90-day testing period start date.  For example, if you want your testing period to start in May, your application should be in by the 1st of February. Please allow at least 10 days for the application to travel through the mail to avoid missing the due date.

Note that email applications are not accepted. You must also pay a fee while submitting your application. Discounts are available for AAMA members, and certain schools will cover the cost of your CMA (AAMA) exam regardless of whether you are an AAMA member.

CMA (AAMA) exam application fees are as follows:

  • $125 for AAMA members
  • $125 for recent graduates of CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting programs (fewer than 12 months after the date of completion)
  • $250 for all other individuals
  • Fees are not refundable

AAMA membership fees vary by state and range from $77 to $107 per year. Although AAMA membership is not required for certification, you may be able save money by becoming a member prior to submitting an application. Also, AAMA membership comes with a number of benefits in addition to exam application discounts.

Your non-refundable application fee can be submitted using any of the following methods:

  • Institution check
  • Certified check
  • Cashier’s check
  • Debit card
  • Credit card
  • Money order

You must send the application, including your payment, to the following address:

 AAMA Certification
7999 Eagle Way
Chicago, IL 60678-1079

In case of a determination, the AAMA Certification Department will notify you within 30 days of your original mailing date.

4. Schedule an exam appointment

Once your application is approved and successfully processed, you’ll receive an email including Scheduling Permit of your 90-day testing period. The Scheduling Permit is what allows you to create an exam appointment.

By following the instructions in your Scheduling Permit, you’ll be able to schedule an exam appointment at your convenience on any day except Sundays within your 90-day testing period. Exam appointments can be made online or by phone, as per the instructions in your Scheduling Permit.

If you fail to take the exam within your 90-day testing period, you’ll need to submit a new application along with another application fee.

5. Prepare for the exam

Properly preparing for the CMA (AAMA) certification exam is obviously a highly important part of the process, since failure to pass the exam could result in paying additional fee or even worse, the withholding of your CMA credential. There are many ways for you to prepare for the CMA exam:

  • Start by reviewing the Exam Content Outline, available directly from the AAMA website.
  • Take our online practice test.
  • Review current medical publications that include clinical and administrative content related to health care law and ethics, laboratory principles, medical terminology, human anatomy and physiology and medical assisting.
  • Take a CMA (AAMA) exam review course if one is available in your area. CMA exam review courses are offered by both accredited medical assisting programs and local AAMA chapters.
  • Join the AAMA to receive mailings regarding local events, and to get connected with other medical assisting students who could serve as study partners while you’re preparing for the exam.

6. Sit for the exam

Now that your preparations are in place, you can feel more confident and face the test calmly. On your scheduled examination date, you’ll need to bring a printed copy of your Scheduling Permit along with a government-issued ID that includes your signature and photograph, such as a passport or driver’s license. The examination must be taken at an authorized test center, not at your home computer.

AAMA does not conduct its own examinations. Instead, the exams are conducted by Prometric, a subsidiary of Educational Testing Service (ETS). It provides computerized testing and assessment solutions to a wide variety of industries, including the medical assistant examination. You can locate a test center near you by visiting the AAMA page on the Prometric website.

The CMA exam format is as follows:

  • 200 multiple choice questions with 5 options each, including only one correct answer
  • 180 questions are scored, while 20 questions are pretested
  • Computerized format
  • Questions are posed in no particular order
  • Test takes a total of 160 minutes, including four 40-minute segments

Please note that the video below shows a tutorial on navigating a PMP (Project Manager Professional) exam at Prometric.

You will receive an AAMA official score report within 10 weeks of your exam date. The score report will include your percentile rank in three categories: General, Administrative and Clinical. So long as you pass the exam, you’ll receive a wallet card and a certificate verifying your credential within another 10 weeks.

You are allowed to retake the exam three times within a 60 month time frame. If you fail to pass the exam within this time frame, you will no longer be eligible for the CMA credential.

7. Maintain your CMA credential

Once you have your CMA credential, you must recertify it every 60 months, either through examination or continuing education, in order to keep it current and active.