Guide to Medical Assistant Certification

Kasia Kovacs, MS
Updated November 7, 2023
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Medical assistants perform essential roles in healthcare settings. If you’re interested in this career, you can impress employers, earn better wages, and validate your skills with professional certification. Some states also require certification to work as a medical assistant.

Discover how to become a certified medical assistant (CMA) and what you need to know about each certification.

Did You Know…

Medical assistants are in high demand, with a projected job growth of 14% from 2022-2023.

Source: BLS

What is a Certified Medical Assistant?

Certified medical assistants perform various duties in healthcare settings, including recording patients’ medical histories, taking their vital signs, and helping doctors with medical exams. They also complete some administrative tasks and maintain medical supplies.

Although medical assistants work with patients in physicians’ offices and hospitals, their roles differ from nurses and doctors. They cannot independently practice medicine or prescribe medication.

Becoming a CMA is a good way to enter the healthcare industry. It’s an in-demand profession projected to grow by 14% from 2022-2032, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS). However, CMAs make a median annual pay of $38,720, less than the national average salary of $46,310.

Benefits of Medical Assistant Certification

Medical assistants often pursue certification to qualify for new jobs, obtain higher salaries, and demonstrate knowledge and skills.

  1. 1

    New Career Opportunities

    Certified medical assistants may qualify for more jobs. Employers typically prefer candidates with experience and professional expertise. Certification demonstrates advanced skills and a dedication to the healthcare field.
  2. 2

    Higher Salary

    States requiring certification may offer higher median salaries for medical assistants. These additional earnings can help workers make up for higher costs of living, save for retirement, and enjoy a higher quality of life.
  3. 3

    Professional Development

    Medical assistants take professional development classes to maintain their certification. These classes help workers stay current on medical assisting knowledge and best practices. Professional development classes also serve as networking opportunities.
  4. 4

    Demonstrates Competency

    Earning one or more certifications demonstrates knowledge and expertise in the field. Certified professionals’ opinions, decisions, and actions may carry additional weight.
  5. 5

    Meets Requirements

    Some states require medical assistants to hold certification. In these states, obtaining certification qualifies individuals to pursue entry-level medical assistant positions.

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How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

  1. Obtain Necessary Education: Medical assistants need a high school diploma and should complete an approved and accredited medical assisting program after high school. Different certifying organizations may have different credentials for approved programs, so check to ensure your program fits your ideal certification.
  2. Gain Required Experience: Not all certifications require work experience. However, some certifying organizations allow you to substitute supervised work experience for traditional education requirements. You may also need to follow a certain timeline. For example, you may only qualify for certification if you gained experience less than five years ago.
  3. Pass a Certification Exam: You must pass a certification exam, no matter which qualifying path you choose. These exams can cost $100-$400, ranging from 100-365 questions.

Medical Assistant Certifications at a Glance

Medical Assistant Certifications
Points of InterestCertified Medical Assistant (CMA)Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
Eligibility and RequirementsGraduated from an accredited medical assisting program, completed practicum of at least 160 hoursGraduated from an accredited medical assisting program, completed an externship of at least 160 hours; OR participated in a medical assisting work-study/training program; OR have worked as a medical assistant for a minimum of three years within the past seven years.Graduated from a NCCT-authorized program; OR completed at least two full years or 2080 hours of work experience; OR carried out medical assistant training in the militaryCompleted a medical assistant training or education program; carried out 1-2 years of supervised work experienceCompleted a medical assistant training or education program; carried out 1-2 years of supervised work experience
Exam Content180 questions210 questions150 scored questions and 15 unscored questions150 scored questions and 30 unscored questions110 scored questions and 25 unscored questions
Recertification RequirementsEvery 60 months, candidates must pass the exam again or complete 60 continuing education creditsEvery three yearsEvery two yearsEvery two yearsEvery two years

Medical Assistant Certifications

Several organizations offer medical assistant certifications. Each certification has separate application requirements and renewal conditions. Here are some common certifications for medical assistants:

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Certifying Body:American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

You must complete an accredited medical assisting program and take a qualification exam within 30 days of graduating. You can apply separately as a “nonrecent graduate” if you finish your education more than a year before the exam. The exam costs $125 for AAMA members and $250 for nonmembers.

The medical assisting program must include at least 560 academic contact hours and a 160-hour practicum/externship in an outpatient setting.

As a CMA, you need to recertify every 60 months. You can do so by passing the CMA exam again or by completing 60 continuing education credits.

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

Certifying Body:American Medical Technologists (AMT)

You can take several routes to qualify for the RMA exam: education, apprenticeship, military, or work experience

  • Education: You must complete an accredited medical assisting program with at least 720 hours of instruction and 160-hour externship. You must take the exam within four years of graduation.
  • Apprenticeship: You must complete a federally-recognized apprenticeship or AMT-approved workforce development program. You must take the exam within four years of completion.
  • Military: You must complete a U.S. military medical services training program. You must take the exam within four years of graduation.
  • Work Experience: You must provide documentation of valid CPR certification and at least three years of full-time medical assistant employment within the past seven years.

The RMA exam costs $135 for all candidates. To recertify, you must pay a $75 annual fee and earn at least 30 continuing education points every three years.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

Certifying Body:National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

To take the NCMA exam, you can follow three routes: education, work experience, or the military.

  • Education: You must graduate from an NCCT-authorized medical assisting program. You must take the exam within five years of graduation.
  • Work Experience: Within the last five years, you must have at least two years of full-time employment as a medical assistant under the direct supervision of a licensed primary care provider.
  • Military: You must complete a U.S. military medical services training program and take the exam within five years of completion. The NCCT also certifies military service members with at least one year of full-time medical assistant employment in the last five years.

All candidates must pay the $119 exam fee. Medical assistants can recertify every two years if they keep up with annual continuing education requirements.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

Certifying Body:National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

The NHA offers two medical assisting credentials, including the CCMA certification for professionals who want to demonstrate competency in clinical knowledge and skills.

To qualify for the exam, you must either complete a medical assistant training program or demonstrate 1-2 years of supervised work experience within the last 3-5 years. The exam fee is $160.

Certified professionals need to renew their credentials every two years. Renewal requires enrolling in 10 continuing education credits and paying a fee.

Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)

Certifying Body:National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

If you prefer the administrative side of medical assisting — corresponding with patients and maintaining patient records — you can consider this certification, also offered by the NHA.

To qualify for the exam, which costs $160, you need to graduate from a medical assistant training or education program. Alternatively, you can demonstrate 1-2 years of supervised work experience within the last 3-5 years.

Similarly to CCMA-certified professionals, CMAA medical assistants should renew their credentials every two years by completing 10 continuing education credits.

Specialty Medical Assistant Certifications

CMAs who want to work within one particular field of medicine can opt for specialty certifications. These credentials show employers that medical assistants not only possess the skills they need, but also the specialized knowledge necessary for certain areas of medicine. Although not all specialty physicians offices require these certifications, these credentials can still give job candidates an extra boost.

Certified Paraoptometric (CPO)

Certifying Body:American Optometric Association

The American Optometric Association offers four certifications, including the entry-level CPO credential. This certification recognizes medical assistants who have demonstrated an understanding of the concepts used in optometric care.

You can qualify for this credential with at least six months of full-time optometric eye care experience. After that, you must pass a CPO qualifying exam, which you can only take during May and November. The exam costs $285, and it consists of 100 questions that test-takers must complete in 90 minutes.

CPO-certified medical assistants should renew their credentials every three years. They must enroll in 18 continuing education credits to qualify for renewal, and they should pay a $95 fee.

Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA)

Certifying Body:American Optometric Association

The CPOA certification is the intermediate-level credential from the American Optometric Association.

To be eligible for this credential, you need CPO certification and an additional six months in the optometric eye care field. You must also meet the educational requirements, having completed or finishing up a CPC-approved optometric assistant program.

The CPOA exam comes with a $305 application fee. It lasts 2.5 hours and includes 200 questions.

CPOA assistants should renew their certification every three years by finishing 18 continuing education credits and paying a $95 fee.

Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC)

Certifying Body:American Society Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)

Medical assistants interested in working in the podiatric field — the medical study and care of feet and ankles — can apply for the PMAC certification.

You must become a member of ASPMA before you can register for any of the three qualifying exams. These exams include administrative, clinical, and radiology, and they all come with a flat fee of $400.

The administrative exam includes 365 questions about HIPAA, office procedures, and medical billing and coding.

The clinical exam covers topics like surgical assisting and clinical testing and procedures. It consists of 339 questions.

The radiology exam includes 135 questions, and students are only allowed one retake. Exam topics include x-ray equipment, film radiology, and digital imaging.

To recertify, medical assistants must complete at least 20 continuing education credits each year.

FAQ From the Expert: Yolanda Patterson

Yolanda Patterson, BSN, MBA

Yolanda Patterson, BSN, MBA, is the director of the medical assistant and medical office administration programs at the Concorde Career Institute in Tampa, Florida.

What is the best thing students can do on their own to prepare for a certification examination?

Paying close attention in class and in clinical settings translates to great study opportunities outside of class. By reviewing their class notes and drawing on the clinical experiences they had, students will gain the connective information that will assist them in theory-based learning, as well as clinically, for their certification exam. Most certification organizations also provide resource tools that students should leverage to prepare. These resources are normally available once the registration process has been completed.

How can a student choose which certification is best?

History has shown that students decide which certification is best based upon their specific post-graduation interests. This decision is normally based on their externship experience. Many students choose the NCMA option, which gives them a broader spectrum of opportunities. I have also had students choose a more specific certification, such as the Phlebotomy Technician Certification. All in all, students should choose an area that most interests them, as this tends to be the most rewarding career path.

What areas do students tend to struggle with the most when preparing for the exam?

Students tend to struggle the most with theory-based questions. We encourage them to answer the questions and to not get caught up in trying to analyze what a question “could” possibly mean by adding their own hypothetical theories to their response.

Any advice you might offer to students who are preparing to become a medical assistant?

At Concorde, we tell our medical assisting program students to know their medical terminology, reflect on the passion and empathy needed to succeed in the healthcare field, and embrace patient education. You will master the rest throughout the program and your career. We also tell them to simply believe that all things are possible.

Which Medical Assistant Certification is Right for You?

With various medical assistant certifications available, it’s important to research which credentials can help launch or advance your career. Reference the following guidelines to narrow your options and select the right certification.

  • chevron-right

    Employer Preference

    If you’re currently employed as a medical assistant, ask your supervisor or human resources representative whether a promotion or raise requires certification. They may also recommend a specific credential or suggest a certification agency.
  • chevron-right

    State Requirements

    Some states require medical assistants to hold certification to practice. Contact your state’s department of health for more information.
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    Certification Focus

    Consider your career focus and aspirations before pursuing a certification. Credentials can significantly impact your career prospects.
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    Some employers prefer certifications with statewide or national recognition. Students and practicing medical assistants should compare certification agencies’ reputations before signing up for an exam.

Medical Assistant Certification Study Aid Resources

AAMA CMA Exam Study Resources

The AAMA provides free online practice questions and full-length exams to help medical assistants pass the certification exam. You can sign up for a review class through a local AAMA chapter.

CCMA Exam Content Outline

The NHA offers a test plan to help you pass the CCMA exam. The plan covers foundational knowledge, anatomy and physiology, clinical patient care, and infection control.

CMA Exam Content Outline

The AAMA offers a detailed content outline for its certified medical assistant exam. The outline details the questions in each content category, including clinical competencies, general, and administrative.

NCMA Detailed Test Plan

The NCCT provides an in-depth test plan for NCMA candidates. The plan covers content categories, including pharmacology, clinical medical procedures, and phlebotomy. The final page covers the essential knowledge you need for the exam.

Page last reviewed on November 1, 2023

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