Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification

Medical assistants, both clinical and administrative, perform a vital role in administering healthcare. These professionals assist doctors, nurses, and other staff members in clinical settings, allowing for the improved treatment and care of visiting patients.

The career outlook for CMAs is positive, and a wealth of opportunities are predicted to become available in the coming decade. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that between 2019 and 2029, medical assistant careers are projected to grow at a rate of 19 percent, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations at 4 percent (BLS 2020). This means an estimated 139,200 new positions will be created in the same decade, adding to the 725,200 already employed medical assistants.

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). This organization 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 signal 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 – How to Become a CMA

In general, medical assistants are 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 other healthcare-related professions. This extracurricular experience will boost a resume and provide students with 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 enroll in and complete a program that meets these specific criteria as set forth by the AAMA 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:

  • Human anatomy, physiology, and pathology
  • Medical terminology
  • Keyboarding and computer applications
  • Recordkeeping and accounting
  • Coding and insurance processing
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Clinical and diagnostic procedures
  • Pharmacology
  • Medication administration
  • First aid
  • Office practices
  • Patient relations
  • Medical law and ethics

Finally, 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.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification Exam Preparation

Once the student has met all of the eligibility requirements 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 retake it 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. Being diligent and covering specific subject areas throughout studying 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 content outline for the AAMA certification exam, which will be effective on and after July 15, 2021, to help you understand which topics to cover as you study.

  • A-D Clinical Competency
    • Vital Signs
    • Medical Terminology
    • Interviewing Techniques
    • Documentation of Care
    • Patient Screenings/Wellness Assessments
    • Processing Provider Orders
    • Infectious Agents
    • Infection Cycle/Chain of Infection
    • Modes of Infectious Transmission
    • Standard Precautions and Exposure Control
    • Medical Asepsis
    • Biohazard Disposal/Regulated Waste
    • Safety Resources
    • Safety and Emergency Procedures
    • Emergency Management, Identification, and Response/Basic First Aid
    • Body Mechanics/Ergonomics
    • Risk Management, Quality Assurance, and Safety Procedures
    • Prepare Patients for Examinations, Procedures, and Treatments
    • Supplies, Equipment, Techniques, and Patient Instruction
    • Surgical Assisting
    • Wound Care
    • Instruments
    • Anatomy and Physiology
    • Specimen Collection Techniques
    • Prepare, Process, and Examine Specimens
    • Laboratory Quality Control/Quality Assurance/Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA) Requirements
    • Laboratory Panels and Selected Tests
    • Medications
    • Preparing and Administering Oral and Parenteral Medications
    • Immunization Resources
  • E-F Communication
    • Legal and Ethical Issues
    • Communication
  • G-H Administrative
    • Coding Applications
    • Insurance Fraud and/or Abuse
    • Coverage for Patient Services and Waivers
    • Insurance Types/Third-Party Payers
    • Authorization Resources
    • Financial Terminology
    • Patient Account Financial Procedures
    • Financial Calculations
    • Billing/Collections
    • Scheduling Appointments
    • Medical Reception/Patient Registration
    • Electronic Health Records

Here, it is vital to note that each sub-bullet shown on the list contains additional sub-points on the AAMA’s website. The list above is intended to offer a glimpse into the comprehensive and rigorous nature of the examination and help ensure those considering this path are fully prepared for what to expect on the test day.

Finally, the AAMA also provides a breakdown of the percentage of the test allocated to each category listed above and 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 to succeed throughout the examination process:

  • Step 1: Verify that you are eligible for the examination by determining that you have met all of the prerequisites set forth by AAMA.
  • Step 2: Gather all documentation that demonstrates that you are eligible to sit for the examination to become a Certified Medical Assistant.
  • Step 3: Review all of the exam policies and information. To sit for the examination, the individual must agree to adhere to all regulations set forth by a handbook provided by AAMA.
  • Step 4: 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 5: 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 6: Apply for the examination. This includes submitting the application and candidate fee and having all documentation gathered during Step Two.
  • Step 7: 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 8: Schedule the examination. This should take place as soon as possible after printing a scheduling permit.
  • Step 9: Prepare for the examination using the material listed above and the information provided on the website of AAMA.
  • Step 10: 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 11: Watch for official score reports. The applicant should receive official exam scores within 10 weeks of the exam date.
  • Step 12: 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.

CMA Renewal & Recertification

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 continually, every 60 months. Recertification through AAMA may be completed by retaking the examination or by completing continuing education hours.

Medical Assistant State Certification & Licensing

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states do not require medical assistants to hold certification as a requirement for employment. However, many employers may require certification as a minimum qualification for a job or look more favorably on medical assistant applicants who have demonstrated their commitment and competencies through earning certification.

The AAMA offers a State Scope of Practice Laws, a resource which CMAs are encouraged to use when looking for employment in a particular state. From this resource, CMAs can also contact AAMA’s CEO and staff legal counsel to learn if their state requires for CMAs to graduate from an accredited program or hold certification to be legally eligible for employment.

Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).