What Is Medical Assistant Certification And Why Pursue It?

Topics on this page:

What is a certified medical assistant?

skeptical kidA certificate is an awarded credential providing clear proof of your vocational competency. As a certified medical assistant you can practice in a variety of environments, backed by the undeniable fact that you have proven yourself capable of comprehending the concomitant knowledge that is essential for working and thriving in the specialized health care field.

One of the main differences between a non-certified medical assistant and a certified one is having to take and pass a comprehensive examination that has been issued and/or approved by one of the recognized certifying bodies such as, AAMA, AMT, NHA or NCCT.

It should be noted that there are no existing federal or state regulations that explicitly require medical assistants to be officially certified. This means that one is able to work in a medical practice, hospital, or health care clinic without a certification or license without worrying about the resulting legal repercussions. Regardless of this fact, the majority of employers in the medical field prefer or even require certification for their medical assistants. This is usually a precautionary measure to avoid potential lawsuits and to ensure that their medical assistants have the essential knowledge and skills required of the job. With that being said, future medical assistants are encouraged to undergo a accredited MA program in order to expand their potential employment opportunities as well as appear more skilled to their potential employer.

Why is it important to pursue certification?

There are many benefits for those who pursue the official medical assistant certification. The main benefits include, but are not limited to, increased earning potential, higher rate of employability and future career advancement.

  • According to salarylist.com and payscale.com, the average salary for a medical assistant in the United States is $26,687 with a median income of $24,960. The high end of the salary range for a medical assistant is about $40,000, which is definitely possible to reach as demand in this area continuously increases. Additionally, it has been reported that certified medical assistants end up earning 3 to 10 cents more per hour than non-certified assistants, which ends up adding up to a decent sum of money over time.
  • In regard to employability, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that certified medical assistants will have more benefit in terms of future job prospects than non-certified medical assistants. Holding a recognized national certification demonstrates to employers and patients that you have a standardized body of knowledge and contemporary understanding of health care delivery.
  • In the domain of employment growth, it has been established that certified medical assistants are typically awarded more trust and personal discretion in regard to having more responsibilities in comparison to non-certified ones, which can eventually lead to better and more frequent promotion opportunities.

How to get certified?

The main obstacle to becoming a certified medical assistant is to find a medical assistant training program that is accredited and affordable. The program should also fit in with your lifestyle in regards to time constraints and other commitments. The two main accreditation organizations for medical assistants are the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). As of now, there are approximately 600 CAAHEP and 200 ABHES accredited programs throughout the United States.

The CAAHEP associate degree program requires a total of 33 lecture hours, 18 lab hours, 15 clinic hours, and 47 total credit hours. This is completed over the course of three semesters, taking approximately two years, and including the time necessary for exam preparation. The ABHES associate degree program also outlines a completion time of approximately two years. It is crucial to note that both these programs are also available as one-year certificate programs. However, bear in mind that a commonly known fact should be taken into account: More education equals more job opportunities!

It should also be stressed that professional certification for medical assistants is an entirely voluntary process, which is strongly recommended by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and several other certification bodies. Certification is a way to assure the aptitude of a medical assistant at an entry level job in an increasingly competitive market.

Certifying bodies

The final step in becoming a certified medical assistant is to complete the certification/recertification examination. AMAA is considered the gold standard among other organizations. This certification examination is administered regularly at computer based testing centers all over the country for students who have successfully completed CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting programs. Taking the exam is entirely voluntary. Committed felons or people convicted of serious crimes are not eligible to take the exam and thus cannot become certified.

There are three other organizations offering alternate options for those who meet the background requirements or have different motives in regards to becoming a medical assistant.

  • The American Medical Technologists (AMT) agency certifies medical assistants as Registered Medical Assistants (RMA’s), which also involves a similar sort of voluntary credentialing process. In order to be eligible, one must have been graduated from a school accredited by one of the two organizations ABHES or CAAHEP or possess a minimum 5 years of experience.
  • The National Health-Career Association (NHA) is a new organization that offers certification for medical assistants in either the Clinical or Administrative realm. This specialized certification allows individuals the opportunity to become either a Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) or a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA). Therefore, this option offers a slightly different alternative than many other programs.
  • There is also the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), which offers a strict testing process to certify the most highly qualified medical assistants after an extensive background check and competitive application process. These applicants must have several years of experience and have a proper education consisting of a high school diploma or equivalent degree, as well as an associate’s degree or higher.