Medical assisting is one of the fastest growing careers in healthcare. There are ample jobs available, but many of the best positions are highly competitive. This means that many medical assistants are now deciding to become certified since the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential represents the highest standard of professionalism in the field.
By earning the CMA credential, you are showing prospective employers that you have met the rigorous standards of the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
Here you’ll find everything you need to know to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA).
What Is a Certified Medical Assistant?
Certified medical assistants work in physicians’ offices, clinics, or other healthcare facilities. They are responsible for performing physician support services that help ensure medical facilities run smoothly. Certified medical assistants may work in a clerical, administrative, or clinical capacity, and may even be asked to perform more specialized tasks.
While you can work as a medical assistant without being certified, employers are more often looking for the best of the best. Becoming certified through the AAMA demonstrates to employers, coworkers, and patients that you have mastered the knowledge and skills necessary to provide high quality service.
In order to be eligible to sit for the Certified Medical Assistant exam, you must complete a formal medical assisting program from a school that has received accreditation from either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
If you graduate from a program that has not been accredited through one of these agencies, you will not be allowed to take the examination. If you are not sure of your school’s accreditation status, check the CAAHEP and ABHES websites for listings of accredited programs in your area.
Once you complete your educational program, you can apply to take the certification examination through the AAMA. After you receive approval, you can schedule a time and date to take the exam.
When you pass the examination, you will receive an official certificate allowing you to identify yourself as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). The certification is good for five years, after which time you will need to be recertified through examination or by earning continuing education credits.
Not everyone is cut out to be a certified medical assistant. The ideal candidate should be highly empathetic, dependable, and have immense tolerance for stress. Certified medical assistants should be courteous at all times, and use integrity and discretion when collecting and accessing private information.
The best certified medical assistants pay very close attention to details, and have enough visual acuity and manual dexterity to work deftly in a clinical setting.
In addition to these traits, the best medical assistants are those who truly enjoy helping, educating, and communicating with people from all walks of life.
Aside from the personality traits and characteristics needed in this field, certified medical assistants also need to possess certain applied skills. One of the most important skills is the ability to communicate well. Successful medical assistants not only have excellent written communication skills, they are also good listeners who ask relevant questions. Certified medical assistants must also be able to communicate their own ideas clearly, whether talking to physicians or patients.
Analytical skills are also vital to being a successful certified medical assistant. CMAs must be able to understand diagnoses and medical charts, and may be required to perform medical coding for the purpose of billing. Since much of the work is done on computers, certified medical assistants must be familiar with commonly used software and applications.
Finally, certified medical assistants must have technical skills related to the job. Many of the job duties involve using basic clinical instruments and other specialized equipment to take vital signs and perform routine care.
Nature of the Job
A typical day in the life of a certified medical assistant is anything but boring. Most assistants work a standard 40-hour week and enjoy a clean working environment and professional coworkers. Some certified medical assistants may be required to work part-time, weekends, or evenings, though this is uncommon.
Since the daily tasks of a certified medical assistant are broad and can vary from day-to-day, the job is seldom boring. During the course of a typical day, certified medical assistants may schedule appointments, answer telephones, and prepare treatment rooms for patient examinations. Prepping exam rooms may involve cleaning and sterilizing instruments and disposing of contaminated materials. Daily duties may also include recording medical information and test results, conducting patient interviews, taking and recording vital signs, collecting specimens, and administering medication under physician supervision.
Although these are some of the most common tasks that certified medical assistants perform, daily duties depend largely upon the type of medical facility and the job description. CMAs often perform administrative tasks that may include arranging laboratory tests and hospital admissions for patients. The clinical duties they perform may include changing wound dressings, preparing patients for x-rays and other procedures, explaining treatment plans, and more.
Education and Training
Certified medical assistants most often come from a background that includes formal training through an accredited program, whether a one-year certificate program or a two-year associate’s degree program.
If you get your education through an associate’s degree program, it will likely involve a two-part training regimen inclusive of both administrative and clinical training. In addition to general administrative and clinical training, these programs will likely include courses in insurance processing, accounting, and record-keeping procedures. Some programs may also include courses in ethics, patient relations, and medical law.
Whether you are considering an online or traditional program, look for a school that has received accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Many of these programs will provide you with internship opportunities in clinics or hospitals as part of comprehensive training. A clinical rotation would allow you to get some real-world, hands-on experience in the field before entering the workforce.
Certified medical assistants enjoy a professional working environment, a challenging and stimulating workday, and a lucrative salary of $42,000 a year on average. In many cases, CMAs also enjoy job benefits that include medical insurance, vacation pay, and more.