Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification
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Medical assistants, both clinical and administrative, perform a vital role in the administration and delivery of healthcare. These professionals assist doctors, nurses, and other staff members in clinical settings, allowing for the improved treatment and care of visiting patients.
The prerequisites to become a medical assistant are not extremely limiting; in fact, it is possible to become a medical assistant by completing a certificate or associate’s degree in the same field. That said, those who are committed to a medical assisting career, and who wish to obtain additional skills and knowledge, and likely a competitive advantage, should consider pursuing Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), an organization that aims to “provide the medical assistant professional with education, certification, credential acknowledgment, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered healthcare.”
Ultimately, if you are currently employed as a medical assistant, or you are considering a career in this field, and you hope to advance in the profession, obtaining CMA certification will signify to colleagues, managers and potential employers that your expertise and knowledge exceed established standards, and that you are dedicated to the profession. To help you on this path, we have provided a brief overview below, which details the requirements for the CMA certification exam, how to prepare, and what to expect.
Early Preparation in High School
In general, medical assistants will be required to hold a high school diploma or a GED. And while it is not required, high school students who are considering this type of work, or most any type of medical or healthcare-oriented work, may wish to begin preparation early by taking as many relevant courses in science and math as possible, focusing particularly on biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other life sciences. Performing well in these rigorous courses will provide a solid base level of knowledge upon graduation or attainment of a GED.
Furthermore, it may also prove beneficial to volunteer in a clinical setting whenever possible, and interact with those in this career or in other healthcare-related professions. This extracurricular experience will not only boost a resume, but will also provide the student of an idea of what to expect should he or she continue down a medical career path.
Post-High School CMA Certification Preparation
While additional post-high school education is not required to simply work as a medical assistant in many states, those who hope to become a Certified Medical Assistant through the AAMA must fulfill additional educational prerequisites before they may sit for the exam. Specifically, according to AAMA regulations, only those who have graduated from a postsecondary medical assisting program accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation are eligible to pursue certification as a Certified Medical Assistant. Furthermore, the AAMA goes on to assert that “only graduates of medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools are eligible to take the CMA Certification Examination.” As such, any student who hopes to become a Certified Medical Assistant should make sure to enroll in, and complete, a program that meets these specific criteria as set forth by the AAMA in order to be eligible to sit for the examination.
Of course, there is a specific purpose for completing one of these accredited medical assisting programs. To be sure, the AAMA stipulates that students in one of these programs must “receive administrative and clinical training in a variety of areas, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Human anatomy, physiology, and pathology;
- Medical terminology;
- Keyboarding and computer applications;
- Recordkeeping and accounting;
- Coding and insurance processing;
- Laboratory techniques;
- Clinical and diagnostic procedures;
- Medication administration;
- First aid;
- Office practices;
- Patient relations;
- Medical law and ethics.”
Finally, in order to become fully eligible to sit for the examination, students must complete a practicum as part of the program; this consists of an unpaid, supervised on-site work experience in an ambulatory healthcare setting.
CMA Certification Exam Preparation
Once the student has met all of the eligibility requirements in order to pursue certification as a Certified Medical Assistant, he or she should decide when to sit for the exam. However, before scheduling a date to take the exam, the individual should make sure that he or she is fully prepared to succeed. Taking the exam without adequate preparation could lead to poor results, and likely would require the individual to take it again at some point in time in the future.
In reality, there is no one single best way to study for the examination, as each student will benefit more from certain methods than others. That being said, remaining diligent and covering specific subject areas over the course of study will help ensure that the individual is fully prepared for what to expect.
According to the AAMA, the examination consists of 200 multiple-choice questions administered in four 40-minute segments. AAMA provides a comprehensive overview of the examination outline on its website; for convenience, we have provided a brief layout to help you understand which topics to cover as you study.
- A-G General
- Medical Law/Regulatory Guidelines
- Medical Ethics
- Risk Management, Quality Assurance, and Safety
- Medical Terminology
- H-M Administrative
- Medical Reception
- Patient Navigator/Advocate
- Medical Business Practices
- Establish Patient Medical Records
- Scheduling Appointments
- Practice Finances
- N-V Clinical
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Infection Control
- Patient Intake and Documentation of Care
- Patient Preparation and Assisting the Provider
- Collecting and Processing Specimens
- Diagnostic Testing
- Emergency Management/Basic First Aid
Here, it is extremely important to note that each sub-bullet shown on the list contains additional sub-points on the AAMA’s website. This is only to offer a glimpse into the comprehensive and rigorous nature of the examination, and to help ensure those considering this path are fully prepared for what to expect on the day of the test.
Finally, the AAMA also provides a breakdown of the percentage of the test allocated to each category listed above, as well as sample questions to help individuals understand the nature of the questions that are likely to be asked on the examination, and prepare for them.
To recap, the AAMA provides a convenient step-by-step process that an individual should follow in order to succeed throughout the examination process:
- Step One: Verify that you are eligible for the examination, by determining that you have met all of the prerequisites as set forth by AAMA.
- Step Two: Gather all documentation that demonstrates that you are eligible to sit for the examination to become a Certified Medical Assistant.
- Step Three: Review all of the exam policies and information. In order to sit for the examination, the individual must agree to adhere to all regulations as set forth by a handbook provided by AAMA.
- Step Four: Determine the start date for the 90-day testing period. The applicant must select the 90-day testing period will begin, which determines when he or she should apply for the exam. Specific timelines for both online and paper applications can be found on the AAMA website.
- Step Five: Monitor your e-mail address. AAMA requests that applicants use an e-mail address that will be valid for the next school year, and to add CMAExam AT aama-ntl DOT org to their approved e-mail list so any communications are not sent to a spam folder.
- Step Six: Apply for the examination. This includes submitting the application and candidate fee and including all documentation that was gathered during Step Two.
- Step Seven: Make name, e-mail, and postal address corrections on a timely basis. This is to ensure that all communications are sent to the correct individual.
- Step Eight: Schedule the examination. This should take place as soon as possible after printing a scheduling permit.
- Step Nine: Prepare for the examination using the material listed above, as well as the information provided on the website of AAMA.
- Step Ten: Complete the examination. AAMA states that once the applicant has completed the examination he or she will receive a pass/fail notification at the testing center. The official scores will also post within eight weeks after the exam date.
- Step Eleven: Watch for official score reports. The applicant should receive official exam scores within 10 weeks of the exam date.
- Step Twelve: Watch for the certificate. If the applicant passes the examination and is allowed to receive an official score report, his or her certificate and wallet card should be expected to arrive within 10 weeks after receiving the official scores. CMAs may also view information about their official certification online, specifically through this website provided by AAMA.
Once an individual has passed the examination, he or she may work in the capacity of a Certified Medical Assistant. However, the certification process does not end there; instead, all Certified Medical Assistants are required to recertify with AAMA on a continual basis, specifically every 60 months. Recertification through AAMA may be completed by taking the examination again, or by completing continuing education hours.