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The Best Certifications for Your Medical Assistant Career

Learn What Optional Certifications Can Advance Your Career as a Medical Assistant

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Medical Assistants (MAs) play an important and expanding role in our healthcare system. MAs are medical professionals responsible for providing direct patient care, as well as many other clinical functions such as preparation, ECG, phlebotomy, and pharmacology. Some Medical Assistants may also provide administrative services, including maintaining patient records, bookkeeping, and billing and insurance processing. Medical Assistants are seen as the “backbone” of most healthcare facilities, and doctors and nurses would have less time for treating patients if they weren’t around.

Within today’s healthcare settings, the role of the MA has been expanding to include more sophisticated administrative duties and many of the complex clinical tasks that only registered nurses handled in the past. For this reason, most employers now require or prefer MAs who have earned certification.

There are six different Medical Assistant certifications you can earn once you’ve graduated from an accredited MA program. This article covers all six of these certifications, the specific competencies each cover, and the value of that certification to your MA career.

The Best Medical Assistant Certifications

The primary certifications for Medical Assistants include the following credentials:

  1. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
  2. Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  3. National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
  4. Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
  5. Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified (PMAC) from American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)
  6. Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) from International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO)

Why Earn a Medical Assistant Certification?

Most medical assistants (MAs) are not required to hold a state license or certification to practice in the field. However, 89% of today’s employers either require or strongly prefer MAs with at least one certification. According to the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), MAs who perform specific duties (such as phlebotomy or x-rays) or who work in specialized fields (such as podiatry or ophthalmology) may be required to have specific training and certification in their area of specialty. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ruled that only credentialed MAs are allowed to enter the laboratory, radiology, and medical orders into their computerized system.

Even if not required, certification shows that you have met specific, industry-recognized standards for competence as a medical assistant. It assures your employer that you are prepared to begin work in a medical assisting position or take that role to the next level of performance. As a result, certification can offer opportunities for greater responsibility, more career options, and higher income.

1. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

About the CMA Exam

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) recognizes a Medical Assistant who has been credentialed through the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). According to the AAMA, CMAs are proficient in many administrative and clinical tasks, and are widely viewed by physicians as vital partners in increasing medical office productivity. MAs with a CMA certification enjoy increased respect and recognition from professional peers, broader career advancement opportunities, and enhanced job security.

CMA Exam Content

The CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam requires a thorough, broad, and current understanding of healthcare delivery. A wide scope of knowledge is required in general, clinical, and administrative categories. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions administered in four 40-minute segments.

Nurse typing on a laptop

CMA Exam Eligibility

Only candidates who meet one of the following three categories of exam eligibility are allowed to sit for the exam:

  1. Student or Recent Graduate. Applicant must be a completing student or recent graduate of a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
  2. Nonrecent Graduate. Applicant must be a nonrecent graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program.
  3. CMA (AAMA) recertificate. Applicant must have previously passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam and is applying to recertify the CMA (AAMA) credential.

CMA Exam Statistics

Below are the statistics on the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam from July 2019–July 2020:

Exams Administered: 7,482 CMA (AAMA) Certification Exams were administered from July 2019–July 2020

Exam Pass Rate: 67%

Total CMAs (AAMA) as of February 19, 2021: 87,623

CMA Exam Locations

Once you’ve earned your MA diploma, you can schedule an appointment online at a Prometric test center in your area. The sooner you schedule your appointment, the more likely you will receive your preferred time and location.

About AAMA

The mission of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is to provide the medical assistant professional with education, certification, credential acknowledgment, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered healthcare.

2. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential offered through American Medical Technologists (AMT)

About the RMA Exam

The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification confirms a Medical Assistant who has been credentialed through American Medical Technologists (AMT). According to AMT, benefits of the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification include:

  • Getting Hired: Employers look for AMT credentials when hiring.
  • Cost-Effective Maintenance: Practical requirements and reasonable costs.
  • Easy Process: Simple and straightforward testing and credentialing process.
  • Exclusive Membership Benefits: Includes continuing education, career development, networking opportunities, and others.

RMA Exam Content

The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Certification Exam requires an in-depth understanding of the human body, the administration and clinical delivery of medical assisting, and patient interaction.

Here is a chart that gives you an in-depth proportional breakdown of the exam’s 210 questions:

Work Area Number of Questions Percentage of Exam
I. Anatomy and Physiology 46 21.9%
II. Administrative Medical Assisting 75 35.7%
III. Clinical Medical Assisting 31 14.7%
IV. Clinical Patient Interaction 58 27.6%
Total 210 100.0%

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RMA Exam Eligibility

Applicants must meet one of the following criteria to be eligible to take the RMA certification exam:

  1. Applicant must be a recent graduate of, or scheduled to graduate from, an accredited MA program or a program that is housed within an accredited institution.
  2. Applicant must be a recent graduate of, or scheduled to graduate from a formal medical services training program of the United States Armed Forces.
  3. Applicant must be employed as a medical assistant for a minimum of 5 of the last 7 years (with no more than 2 of those years as an instructor in a post-secondary medical assistant program).
  4. Applicant must be currently teaching at an accredited medical assisting program, have completed a course of instruction in a healthcare discipline related to medical assisting, and have a minimum of five years of full-time teaching experience in a medical assisting discipline.

RMA Exam Statistics

Below are the statistics on the RMA Certification Exam for 2020:

Exams Administered: 8,193 RMA (AMT) Certification Exams were administered in 2020.

Exam Pass Rate: 77%

Total RMAs (AMT) as 2020: 66,603

RMA Exam Locations

Pearson VUE testing centers are available at several hundreds of locations in the United States, its territories and at sites worldwide. You can find complete and current information regarding testing sites at www.pearsonvue.com/amt.

About AMT

American Medical Technologists (AMT) is a not-for-profit association of allied health professionals. In addition to certification, AMT provides members ongoing support to maintain skills and competencies, learn and grow in their chosen professions, and sustain quality in the workplace.

3. The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) offered through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

About the NCMA Exam

The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) test offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) reflects the critical MA job competencies identified by a national job analysis study. Like the CCMA, the NCMA focuses more on assisting physicians with patients than overall office administration. It includes 150 scored questions and 15 unscored pretest questions. Candidates are allowed three hours to complete the exam.

NCMA Exam Content

The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Certification Exam is intended to certify that a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the duties of a Medical Assistant.

Here is a chart that gives you a proportional breakdown of the exam’s 150 questions:

Scored Questions Content Category
21 Pharmacology
28 Clinical Medical Procedures
21 Phlebotomy
18 ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests
21 General Office Procedures
25 Medical Office Management
16 Law and Ethics

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NCMA Exam Eligibility

Applicants must meet one of the following criteria to take the NCMA certification exam:

  1. Applicant must be a current student in a medical assistant program from an NCCT (authorized) school.
  2. Applicant must be a graduate of a NCCT (authorized) school, within the past five years.
  3. Applicant must have two years of verifiable full-time experience as a medical assistant practitioner within the past five years.
  4. Applicant must have completed medical assistant training or its equivalent during U.S. Military service within the past five years.

NCMA Exam Statistics

Below are the statistics on the NCMA Certification Exam for 2020:

Exams Administered: 7,019 NCMA Certification Exams were administered in 2020.

Exam Pass Rate: 60%

Total NCMAs (NCCT) as 2020: 90,335

NCMA Exam Locations

The NCMA exam is administered as either a computer-based or paper-based exam. Candidates work with NCCT (by calling 800-875-4404) to determine test dates and test sites.

About NCCT

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an independent credentialing organization that has tested healthcare professionals and instructors throughout the United States since 1898, with public safety in mind. NCCT provides multiple qualifying paths for certification in allied health roles.

4. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) offered through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

About the CCMA Exam

The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification confirms a Medical Assistant credentialed through the NHA. Like the NCMA, the CCMA is geared towards Medical Assistants who wish to be more involved with clinical procedures than with overall office administration.

According to NHA, earning your CCMA credentials may help you:

  • Meet employer requirements
  • Access better career opportunities
  • Maximize earning potential
  • Enhance knowledge and skills

CCMA Exam Content

The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Certification Exam is intended to certify that a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the duties of a Medical Assistant. The exam contains 150 scored questions and 15 unscored pretest questions. Candidates are allowed three hours to complete the examination.

Here is a chart that gives you a breakdown of the exam’s 150 questions:

Scored Questions Content Category
15 Foundational Knowledge and Basic Science
12 Anatomy and Physiology
81 Clinical Patient Care
7 or 8 Patient Care Coordination and Education
19 or 20 Administrative Assisting
7 or 8 Communication and Customer Service
7 or 8 Medical Law and Ethics

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CCMA Exam Eligibility

Applicants must meet one of the following criteria to take the CCMA certification exam.

  1. Possess a high school diploma or GED/high school equivalency PLUS completed a medical assistant training or education program within the last 5 years
  2. Possess a high school diploma or GED/high school equivalency PLUS 1 year of supervised work experience in the medical assisting field within the last 3 years

CCMA Exam Statistics

Below are the statistics on the CCMA Certification Exam for 2020:

Exams Administered: 36,217 CCMA Certification Exams were administered in 2020.

Exam Pass Rate: 77.53%

Total CCMAs as 2020: 132,421

CCMA Exam Locations

The CCMA Certification Exam is offered through NHA-affiliated schools and through PSI, a third-party testing administrator. If you are not currently enrolled at an NHA partner school or employer, you will take your exam at a PSI Testing Center.

About NHA

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) develops certifications that demonstrate both a proven level of knowledge and a relentless desire for real-world application. Accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the NHA exams work to ensure that those certified have acquired the skills and knowledge that are meaningful to potential employers and relevant to today’s job market.

5. The Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified (PMAC) Certification offered through the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)

About the PMAC Exam

The Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified (PMAC) is the only assistant certification recognized and accredited by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). The ASPMA certification sets the standard for excellence in the profession of podiatric medical assisting.

According to the ASPMA, when you become a PMAC (Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified), you may:

  • Increase your prestige and status among your peers
  • Gain satisfaction in the proof of your expertise
  • Enjoy additional competence in your work
  • Upgrade the professionalism of podiatry in your office
  • Enhance your credibility in caring for patients in your doctor’s practice

PMAC Exam Content

The APMA offers three exam options: Administrative, Clinical, and Radiology. Each exam’s content is outlined below:

Administrative: 390 questions

  1. General Background
  2. Anatomy/Biomechanics
  3. Terminology
  4. Emergency Med & CPR
  5. Medical Jurisprudence
  6. Office Policy and Procedure
  7. Billing and Coding

Clinical: 339 questions

  1. General Background
  2. Anatomy/Biomechanics
  3. Terminology
  4. Emergency Med & CPR
  5. Clinical Testing & Procedures
  6. Surgical Assisting

Healthcare professionals walking in a hallway

Radiology: 135 questions

  1. Fundamentals of Healthcare and Podiatry
  2. A Brief History of the X-Ray
  3. Radiation Physics and Creating an Image
  4. Ionizing Radiation and Biological Effects
  5. Radiation Exposure
  6. X-Ray Equipment
  7. Radiation Safety and Protection
  8. Film Radiography
  9. Digital Imaging (including both Computed and Direct Radiography Systems)
  10. Quality Control and the Diagnostic Medical Physicist
  11. Anatomic Planes and Motion (including Directional Terminology)
  12. Positioning Techniques and Radiograph Views
  13. Advanced Imaging (including Directional Terminology)
  14. A Review of Radiology Terms
  15. Understanding Medical Terminology
  16. Anatomy and Physiology

PMAC Exam Eligibility

In order to apply, you must be a podiatric medical assistant employed in a podiatry office that is in good standings with the ASPMA. Applicants must become a member of ASPMA, then register at least 30 days in advance for any scheduled exam by submitting the required registration form and fee to the Qualifying and Examining chairperson.

PMAC Exam Locations

There are two ways to take the PMAC exam:

  1. Online certification.
  2. Written form with a review course at several conference locations.

About ASPMA

The purpose of the ASPMA is to promote, foster, improve, sustain and advance the profession of Podiatric Medical Assistants. Their goal is to elevate the standard of education of Podiatric Medical Assistants. The ASPMA also plays a role in the advancement of the podiatric medical profession and the improvement of public health.

6. The Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) Certification offered through the International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO)

About the COA Exam

The Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) from the International Joint Commission on Allied Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO) is the entry-level certification designed to start eye care professionals on the path to success. According to the IJCAHPO, four out of five ophthalmologists agree that certified Allied Ophthalmic Personnel (AOP) render their practice more productive. Studies have shown that certified AOP contribute more than non-certified personnel to the efficiency and quality of care in a practice.

COA Exam Content

The Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) Certification confirms a Medical Assistant who has been credentialed through the International Joint Commission on Allied Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO). The COA designation confirms an assistant’s knowledge on 22 specific content areas. The exam is three hours in length and is comprised of 200 scored questions.

Below is an in-depth percentage breakdown of the exams 200 questions:

Content Areas Percent of Exam
History and Documentation 5%
Visual Assessment 6%
Visual Field Testing 4%
Pupil Assessment 3%
Tonometry 4%
Keratometry 2%
Ocular Motility Testing 4%
Lensometry 3%
Refraction, Retinoscopy, and Refinement 5%
Biometry 3%
Supplemental Testing 3%
Microbiology 3%
Pharmacology 3%
Surgical Assisting 4%
Ophthalmic Patient Services and Education 14%
General Medical Knowledge 14%
Optics and Spectacles 2%
Contact Lenses 2%
Ophthalmic Imaging 5%
Photography and Videography 5%
Equipment Maintenance and Repair 2%
Medical Ethics, Legal, and Regulatory Issues 4%

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COA Exam Eligibility

Applicants must meet one of the following routes to take the COA certification exam:

COA-A1

Required Education: Completed an International Council of Accreditation (ICA) accredited clinical training program. If you completed the program more than 12 months ago, you will need to submit 18 IJCAHPO Group A credits for each year following graduation.

Required Work Experience: None necessary.

COA-A2

Required Education: Completed an International Council of Accreditation (ICA) accredited non-clinical training program including distance learning programs. If you completed the course more than 12 months ago, you will need to submit 18 IJCAHPO Group A credits for each year following graduation.

Required Work Experience: 500 hours under the supervision of an ophthalmologist within 12 months prior to submitting application.

COA-A3

Required Education: Graduated from High School or the equivalent and completed an approved independent study course such as the JCAT course or the AAO Ophthalmic Medical Assisting course. If you completed the course more than 36 months ago, you will need to repeat the course or submit 18 IJCAHPO Group A credits for each year following the 36-month period.

Required Work Experience: 1000 hours under the supervision of an ophthalmologist within 12 months prior to submitting application.

COA Exam Statistics

Exam Pass Rate: Over 70%

Total IJCAHPO Certifications as 2020: More than 26,000 ophthalmic professionals hold IJCAHPO certification.

COA Exam Locations

Candidates may schedule their examination at a Pearson VUE test center upon receipt of the confirmation notice. Candidates can call the toll-free number (888) 231-1929 or visit www.pearsonvue.com/jcahpo.

About IJCAHPO

The International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO) serves to promote global eye health and prevent blindness through training program accreditation, education, and the certification of Allied Ophthalmic Personnel.

Start Your Journey by Earning an MA Diploma at Eagle Gate College

Founded in 1979, Eagle Gate College has provided thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in nursing and healthcare. With a curriculum continually updated to meet healthcare needs, state-of-the-art labs, and hands-on training from experienced healthcare professionals, we prepare graduates to make a positive impact starting with their first day on the job. Our robust Medical Assisting program combines virtual instruction, hands-on lab exercises, and supervised externship and can be completed in as little as 9 months. Eagle Gate College offers a premier healthcare education at multiple campus locations in Utah and Idaho.

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