Wondering if getting certified as a medical assistant is worth it or not? What is the difference between a certified medical assistant and an uncertified one?

These questions must have popped into your mind when thinking of medical assistance as a career.

We’ll discover all these questions and more in this guide, and help you decide if getting certified is the best option for you or not.

With the rise in the baby boomer population, medical assistants are in high demand recently, with the BLS reporting over 123,000 jobs projected every year.

You might also be wondering what more there is in pursuing a career as a certified medical assistant, let us discover that and more.

We’ll also uncover-

  • What is a certified medical assistant?
  • How to become one?
  • How much do they earn?
  • What do they do?
  • Is certification necessary?
  •  What is the difference between a medical assistant certificate and a medical assistant certification?
  • Other FAQs

Let’s get started.

Learn more: Is Medical Assistant a Good Career?

What is a Certified Medical Assistant?

Certified Medical Assistants (CMA) are medical assistants who have completed their training programs and have cleared their certification exams.

The AAMA and the NHA both offer certification exams for aspiring medical assistants, such as-

  • The CMA exam offered by the AAMA, and
  • The CCMA and CMAA exams offered by the NHA

You can become eligible to get certified by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) by completing an accredited medical assistant program that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education.

We’ll discover more about these as you read ahead.

See more: What is a Medical Assistant

To know more, check out this guide on CMA vs CNA here.

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How To Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

Now, you must be wondering if getting certified as a medical assistant is really necessary.

Most states do not require you to get certified as a medical assistant, however, it is generally preferred by most employers.

But, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants over uncertified ones, and certified medical assistants also earn nearly 10% more.

So now the question is, how do you get certified as a medical assistant?

Becoming a certified medical assistant might sound intimidating at first, however, it is an easy process.

Also see: How to Become a Medical Assistant

Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can become a certified medical assistant-

1. Obtain your high school diploma or GED-

Entering the workforce as a medical assistant has very limited restrictions, and completing your high school diploma or a GED is generally the only requirement.

2. Choose the right training program-

Choosing the right training program is important as it not only prepares you with the right skills and education needed to become a medical assistant but also prepares you for the certification exam.

Completing a training program in medical assistance will equip you with all the necessary skills that you would need to perform on a daily basis as a medical assistant.

Read: Medical Assistant Skills

There are three main sources through which you can get your medical assistant training. Let’s dive into those.

  • Associate’s Degree- 

Associate degrees are usually offered by technical universities. The duration of this program is generally up to 2 years, wherein you get a comprehensive learning experience in addition to gaining practical skills.

An associate’s degree has its own pros and cons. Let us take a look at a few of them.

One of the major advantages of getting an associate’s degree is that you get to take home a professional degree after you complete your course. You get qualified as a professional. Holding a degree obviously has immense value and makes you a valuable potential employee.

The biggest con is the highly expensive tuition fees.

The average fees for an associate degree range between $10,000 to $20,000, excluding the costs of living and travel, in case you decide to move to another city or country. This mostly results in students having to take the burden of an education loan.

Attending classes on a schedule set by the university is another disadvantage you might face if you decide to go ahead with an associate degree.

If you happen to miss a few classes, rescheduling them is a big hassle and you may have to sometimes wait an entire year to retake a few missed classes. This results in the wastage of resources such as time and money.

Read: Is Medical Assistant Degree Required

  • Diploma-

Another method of getting your medical assistant training is through a diploma that is usually offered by community colleges or trade schools.

These are considered to be better than associate degrees since they are cheaper and can be completed quickly. However, it also has some cons.

A medical assistant diploma usually costs around $5,000 to $10,000 and can be completed in under a year. However, one disadvantage prominent here as well is scheduled classes and the lack of flexibility provided, as in you will need to travel to and from the college to attend these classes.

  • Online programs (Most recommended)-

Completing your medical assistant training through an accredited online program is the most recommended due to the several advantages it offers, such as-

  • Highly affordable, online training programs only cost around $2,000-$5000, making it the cheapest alternative.
  • Allows flexibility, wherein you can learn from the comfort of your home.
  • If you choose a self-paced program, you can decide your speed of learning.

Read more on Which Medical Assistant Certification is the Best here.

3. Apply for the CCMA Certification Exam Through NHA-

After you complete your training program, the next step is to get certified.

Here is how.

There are legitimate certification exams available if you wish to focus on the clinical side of medical assistance. The CCMA (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant) exam offered by the NHA (National Healthcareer Association) is the most recommended and might be a better fit for you.

On the other hand, if you wish to focus more on the administrative side of medical assistance or want to balance both aspects, then you can choose other certification exam alternatives, such as-

  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam, offered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) exam, offered by the NHA
  • Nationally Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam, offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

4. Get Clinical Experience Through an Externship or an Internship-

Externships are considered to be important for medical assistants since they provide real-world experience, allowing medical assistants to apply their knowledge and skills in a clinical setting.

Once you complete your training program, you will be provided with externship opportunities local to your area, wherein you can choose to gain practical experience by working in a clinic, hospital, or physician’s office.

Most accredited online programs also offer externships after you complete their courses, making it an ideal program to choose from its alternatives.

Read more: Medical Assistant Externship

5. Sit for the Certification Exam-

After you are done with your training program and have gained relevant experience through an externship, you are ready to sit for the certification exam.

You can opt for any of the legitimate certification exams such as the CCMA, CMA, or the RMA certification exams. Each of these exams has its own unique structure, so it’s important to go through the format and structure of each of them.

For more information, check out these guides on Registered Medical Assistants here.

An important thing to note is that medical assistant certification is required to be renewed every two years.

6. Apply for Jobs-

Congratulations, you are a certified medical assistant! You can now start applying to your desired companies.

Read more: 12 Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant

How Much Does a Certified Medical Assistant Make?

Now, you might also be wondering how much a certified medical assistant makes in a year. Let us answer that.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average mean wage earned by medical assistants is $37,190, which is around $17.88 per hour.

There are many influencing factors that govern how much you can make as a medical assistant. These factors include job location, certifications, experience, etc.

The BLS also reported that the lowest 10% of medical assistants earned less than $29,070, while the highest 10% earned more than $48,170. So, getting certified might just be worth it.

Read more: Medical Assistant Job Outlook

Additionally, the job prospects and growth for medical assistants look fairly positive for the next decade. The BLS reports an expected increase in job growth by 16% by the year 2031, which is much faster than the average growth of 5% in other professions.

Also see: How to get Medical Assistant jobs with no experience

What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?

So the next question is, what do certified medical assistants do?

As mentioned earlier, medical assistants perform both clinical and administrative tasks in their respective work settings.

Let’s discover more about their main responsibilities-

  • Recording patient medical histories
  • Measuring and recording patient’s vital signs
  • Prepping the patients and examination room
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Answering phone calls
  • Handling billing and insurance
  • Preparing and administering medicines

One point to note here is that some states may require medical assistants to get certified in order to perform some clinical tasks such as phlebotomy and administering vaccines.

See: Can Medical Assistants Draw Blood?

Know more: CMAA vs CCMA

Do You Have to Be a Certified Medical Assistant?

Getting certified as a medical assistant is not required by most states (except Washington), however, it offers several advantages that make it worth it.

Getting employed as a medical assistant without certification is also possible, even if you don’t have any experience in healthcare.

Even though it is not required, becoming a certified medical assistant can increase your chances of getting an increase in salary or getting better employment opportunities.

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) also stated in their Industrial Outlook Survey that nearly 89% of employers require or highly prefer medical assistants to get certified.

So, when deciding if getting a certification is right for you, bear in mind the pros of becoming a CMA.

See: Certified Medical Assistant Salary

What is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant Certificate and Medical Assistant Certification?

You must be confused between the terms ‘Medical Assistant Certificate’ and ‘Medical Assistant Certification’. How are these different? Do I need to choose one?

Allow us to answer this common dilemma.

Even though both the terms sound very similar, there is a key difference between getting a medical assistant certificate and a medical assistant certification.

To answer simply, after you complete your medical assistant training program, you get an educational credential called a Medical Assistant Certificate, whereas a Medical Assistant Certification is what you earn after you pass a certification exam.

Also read: Medical Assistant Degree vs Certificate

Where Can I Take the Certified Medical Assistant Exam?

The CCMA certification exam can be taken both online and offline. They are either conducted at different NHA-affiliated schools or test centers, or online with live proctoring. So you can choose according to your comfort and circumstances.

The CMA exam, however, can only be taken at specified test centers such as the Prometric Testing Centers that are affiliated with the AAMA.

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant Without Going to School

Becoming a certified medical assistant has many advantages, and you must now be curious if you can become one without having to attend school.

Yes, it is possible to become a certified medical assistant with no medical assistant educational background.

But how?

By completing an online medical assistant training program. Choosing an online program will allow you to gain full freedom over your learning hours, and since they are mostly 100% online, you can choose to learn from anywhere as opposed to attending regular classes.

Online training programs also prepare you for certification exams, in addition to offering a certificate after course completion.

Where Can You Work as a Certified Medical Assistant?

The healthcare field is vast, including many different types of industries, and as a certified medical assistant, you will have many options to choose from in terms of your work setting.

Let’s discover some common work settings where you can work-

Physician’s Offices-

CMAs are often employed in private medical settings such as the offices of general practitioners and specialists, including chiropractors and cardiologists.


There are a number of different departments within a hospital, where CMAs can be employed. Some of such common departments include emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, and surgical units.

Outpatient Centers-

CMAs are also frequently employed in clinics or outpatient care centers, wherein they help physicians or other healthcare professionals with primary care and diagnostics.

Medical Laboratories-

A few of the common responsibilities of CMAs also include specimen collection and performing basic lab tests, and hence they are also sometimes employed in medical laboratories.

Will Your Certification Be Valid Across the USA?

Yes, medical assistant certifications are generally valid across the country.

Some certifications are nationally recognized, including the CMA and the CCMA certifications, and obtaining any one of these will help you get a job as a certified medical assistant anywhere in the country.

So you must have now gained a clear insight into what certified medical assistants are, what they do, and whether getting certified is a good decision for you.

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