In any profession, certification signifies a high-quality hire. Certifications are awarded by reputable, third-party organizations—across a variety of industries—to professionals who meet certain qualifications and standards of excellence in their fields. In medical assisting, there are different types of certifications you can pursue to show your competence on the job. No matter which one you choose, becoming a certified medical assistant promises many benefits.
Medical assistants are part of a vital support team, helping to keep operations running smoothly in a healthcare facility. It takes as little as one year to get started as a medical assistant, but many choose to pursue professional certification to advance their careers. In this guide, we’ll discuss the benefits of medical assistant certification and what it means to become certified in this line of work.
What is a Certified Medical Assistant?
A certified medical assistant is a medical assistant who has pursued training and earned a professional endorsement (i.e. certification) in their field. To become certified, a medical assistant typically needs to complete an accredited medical assisting program and pass a nationally recognized certification exam.
As described above, there are different types of certifications you can pursue as a medical assistant. One of the most popular is the CMA (AAMA) credential. Granted by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the CMA designation stands for Certified Medical Assistant. This credential is awarded to those who have passed the AAMA’s certifying examination, which tests medical assistants on a range of general, clinical, and administrative competencies.
Other types of medical assistant certifications include the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), awarded by the National Healthcareer Association, and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) designation, awarded by the American Medical Technologists.
What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?
A certified medical assistant will typically carry out the same day-to-day tasks of any medical assistant. These might include clinical and patient care duties, as well as administrative medical office tasks. The responsibilities of a medical assistant will vary depending on where they work, but might involve:
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Taking medical histories for patients
- Measuring patient vital signs
- Preparing exam rooms for patient visits
- Preparing laboratory samples for testing
- Ordering medical supplies and managing inventory
- Assisting physicians during exams
- Handling bookkeeping, record filing, and patient referrals
While their tasks may look the same, certified medical assistants often have more advantages and upward mobility than their non-certified counterparts. For example, certified medical assistants may find jobs more easily, qualify for growth opportunities, and receive higher pay. If you’re currently a medical assistant or considering this path, keep reading to learn about the benefits of certification.
3 Reasons to Become a Certified Medical Assistant
1. More Employment Opportunities
Employers are very likely to prefer candidates with professional certification in the medical assisting field. This is for several reasons. On one hand, certification verifies a medical assistant’s knowledge and skill. It demonstrates they have the aptitude needed for the job. It also showcases their dedication to the field, as certification is voluntary for medical assistants today.
Nurse Journal also reports that certified medical assistants are less likely to be involved in legal challenges, stating that “medical assistant certification is one way healthcare providers can protect themselves against malpractice lawsuits.” This can be another perk for potential employers.
With increased job opportunities comes more choice for medical assistants. When you earn certification, you are likely to receive more job offers – and therefore more options – than your non-certified counterparts.
2. Higher Salary Potential
Nationwide, medical assistants earn over $37,000 annually, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the salary potential varies greatly depending on where you work—and your level of experience in the field.
The highest paying state for medical assistants is Washington, with an average salary of $47,320 per year. Washington requires that all medical assistants in the state are certified. As reported by Nurse Journal, states that require medical assistants to become certified pay more than states that do not.
However, certification can position you for higher pay even in areas where it is not required. The highest 10 percent of medical assistant salaries is more than $48,000 in the United States, and this is attainable with certification and experience under your belt.
The American Association of Medical Assistants also reports higher pay among certified medical assistants. In their 2022 report, the AAMA found that full-time medical assistants holding a current CMA certification earn an average of $20.76 per hour. This is about 16 percent higher than the median hourly wage reported by the BLS ($17.88), which includes non-certified medical assistants.
3. Job Security and Room for Growth
Medical assistants will always be needed to support the healthcare system. However, preference is often granted to those holding education, training, and certification in the field. With the completion of a medical assistant program, on top of professional certification, you can expect to find more stability and security in your role. You may also find more doorways open up along the way.
If you aspire to grow in the medical field, certification and education can help to propel you forward. On top of pay increases, you may find more promotion offers, leadership opportunities, and specialization options unfold as you build experience in the field. According to Nurse Journal:
“Especially in states where a certification is not yet mandatory, [certification] shows your employer dedication to excellence. Employers seeking to fill positions in specialty fields, such as podiatry or pediatrics, are more likely to hire certified people.”
The Path to Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
Becoming a certified medical assistant begins with education and training. All professional certification options for medical assistants require you to graduate from a postsecondary training program.
For example, the eligibility requirements for the CMA (AAMA) credential state that you must have graduated (or are about to graduate) from an accredited medical assisting program.
To earn certification as a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), you must have also graduated—within the past four years—or be scheduled to graduate from an accredited medical assisting school. This will make you eligible to take the AMT certification exam. Alternative work and military experience may also qualify you for certification, as noted here.
To become a certified clinical medical assistant through the NHA, you must complete a medical assistant training program (graduating within the last five years) or possess at least one year of work experience in the field.
If you are new to medical assisting and looking to break into the field fast, the best place to begin is through an accredited Medical Assisting Certificate program. These programs do not require a significant time investment, but can position you to earn professional certification – and launch a successful career – after graduation. Goodwin students can complete their MA certificate in as few as 12 months. After graduation, you will be immediately eligible to apply for:
- The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination
- The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination
- The Medical Assistant Certification (CCMA) examination
You may also continue on to pursue your associate degree in Medical Assisting.
Are you ready to get started? Contact Goodwin University online to learn more about our medical assistant program options. Or, if you’d like to learn more about the pathway to becoming a medical assistant, you may download our free guide below: