First, an introduction to medical assisting… A medical assistant is someone who has gone to school to learn how to assist a physician in a medical setting. A medical assistant can work in hospital, urgent care centers, jails or doctor’s offices, among other places. They usually perform triage tasks such as weight, height and blood pressure and are trained to perform tasks such as administering vaccinations, drawing blood, giving medications, and dressing wounds.
To become a medical assistant, you should research local schools in your area. Almost every city has at least one technical school that will train you in Medical Assisting. Upon graduation, you are now a Medical Assistant, or MA. Further steps are not required to obtain employment as an MA.
What is certification, and why should you want it?
A Certified Medical Assistant, or CMA, is someone who has graduated from an accredited school as well as sat through an examination set by the American Association of Medical Assistant (AAMA). Being a CMA is completely optional. But if being certified is optional, why would you want to pay more money and sit through another exam when you just finished your degree?
While it’s easy to get burnt out on school (medical assisting career programs are vigorous and demanding), it’s important to look at the big picture. People who hold the CMA title are usually considered the “cream of the crop”. While many doctor’s offices and clinics will employ non-certified MAs, many choose to restrict hiring to those who obtain the title. Most hospitals, jails and big organizations will only hire CMAs, for example.
Further, even in settings that don’t typically require you to be a CMA, having the title does set you apart from other candidates for the job who don’t have it. It highlights your dedication to the field, your knowledge of the subject and how serious you are about your career. It can also lead to high salaries – someone who has earned the CMA title can sometimes earn quite a bit more than their non-certified colleague.
Additionally, if you are ever interested in teaching medical assisting in a school setting or becoming a “lead” or “head” MA within your company, being a CMA is usually all but required.
How do I become a CMA?
The very first steps to becoming certified start before you even attend school. It’s very important to choose the right school – in this case, one that is accredited either by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (abbreviated as CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (abbreviated as ABHES).
If the school you chose is not accredited or if you’ve already graduated from a non-accredited school, you won’t be allowed to take the exam to become certified. If you have any questions or are unsure if the school you chose is accredited, you can contact those agencies to find out. Those agencies’ respective websites will have lists of schools in your area that carry accreditation.
Once enrolled, it’s important to do your best in school. Only those who graduate (or are about to graduate) will be allowed to sit for the exam; if you flunk out or drop out, you won’t be able to get certified. After completing school (or just before), you can sit for the exam as either a “completing student” (meaning you are set to graduate from an approved school in 30 days or less), or a “recent graduate” (meaning you graduated from an approved school within the past 12 months).
Those of you who graduated from an approved school more than 12 months ago can still sit for the exam as a “non-recent graduate”. All of these statuses have specific eligibility requirements and fee schedules which can be found on the AAMA website. Many schools will have advisers and staff on hand to assist graduates with sitting for the exam. Contact your school’s career or student services offices to inquire about any assistance they might have.
If you still have questions or are pursuing the certification on your own, the AAMA website has detailed instructions on how to do so. Generally, you determine eligibility, set aside the money for your exam, and gather your documentation (transcripts and other documents, all of which can be found on the AAMA website) . Finally, choose a date for your exam.
Again, the AAMA website has lists of dates from which you can choose. You will also be applying for the exam through this website. At this point, once the AAMA has accepted your application and added you to the test date, all that’s left to do is study and pass!
Passing the examination and obtaining certification
The exam to obtain certification is intense. It covers every topic you learned in school. You will be tested on your knowledge on anatomy and physiology, the body’s systems (nervous, cardiovascular, reproductive, lymphatic, etc.), the names of bones and muscles, phlebotomy and more. In addition to questions about the hands-on aspect of medical assisting, there will also be questions on back office and billing procedures and ethics.
Passing the exam is critical to obtaining certification, so it’s important to study as much as you can. Try not to stress too much – you know the answers, you just graduated school. Consider this your very first chance of many in your career to demonstrate what you have learned. Congratulations, you passed! You are now a Certified Medical Assistant!
As such, you are now free to include those letters after your name on resumes, emails and business cards if you have them. Your certification is good for 5 years, after which you will have to re-certify either be taking another exam or completing study hours through the AAMA. Your certification sets you apart from other medical assistants.
It proves your dedication and knowledge and shows your deep understanding of the field.
Being a Certified Medical Assistant, or CMA, is completely optional and completely worthwhile. You increase your chances of finding and keeping gainful employment. You are distinguished amongst your peers. You have increased earning potential. You have the potential to teach and lead others. You’ve proven your knowledge on the scope of medical assisting. Having the CMA title is an important tool in the building of you career!
If you have further questions on becoming a CMA, visit the American Association of Medical Assistant’s website at http://www.aama-ntl.org. You can also contact the student or career services office of your school. You can also obtain valuable information from the accreditation agency’ websites at http://www.caahep.org/ for the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or http://www.abhes.org/ for Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Congratulations!
You’ve taken an important step in your career. You will find medical assisting, especially being certified, to be rewarding and lucrative.