POP QUIZ: Who greets and rooms patients, schedules appointments, draws blood and administers injections in a clinical facility?
They sound like tasks for a team of people, but that’s not the case. Those tasks fall to the resident jack-of-all-trades: the medical assistant.
After you decide to become a medical assistant and learn the ins and outs of the field, you’ll need to earn your medical assistant degree or diploma. But there’s still another important step before you set off on your job search if you want to be marketable: passing the credentialing exam.
Passing the exam shows employers that your program taught you everything you need to be successful on the job and that you’ve learned and retained that information. Once you submit your application and pass your credentialing exam, you’ll receive a medical assisting certification.
Certifications can be confusing in the medical world, so let’s explore some commonly asked questions:
Question 1: If I want to be a medical assistant, do I need a medical assisting certification?
Medical assistants are not required to be certified, but it will help with your job search.
Employers want to hire people that are certified, says Lynn Skafte, national medical assisting program coordinator at Rasmussen College. Thus, when you pass a certification exam, you may very well be a more sought-after candidate.
Question 2: Which medical assisting certification exam should I take?
Which exam you take will depend on your specific program and its accreditation status. While you shouldn’t necessarily choose your program based on which exam you can take afterward, accreditation status is always something you want to double check before starting school to make sure the program is what you expect.
There are four certifications for medical assistants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
Skafte says CMA and RMA are the most commonly recognized credentials in the industry due to the long-standing histories of their associations – AMT having been around since 1939 and AAMA following in 1955.
Question 3: What kind of questions are included in a medical assisting certification exam?
These exams are designed to cover every part of your education, Skafte says. That means they cover general, administrative and clinical questions.
Here’s an example question from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) practice exam: Which of the following physicians specializes in treating patients with diseases of the liver?
- A. Hematologist
- B. Hepatologist
- C. Nephrologist
- D. Oncologist
- E. Rheumatologist
As any astute medical assisting student knows, the correct answer is hepatologist.
While the CMA and RMA exams lead to different certifications, they cover many of the same areas in testing. For both exams you can expect to be tested on:
- Medical terminology (the question above would fit into this category)
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical laws
- Insurance protocol
- Taking and recording vital signs
- First aid
- Sterilization techniques
If that sounds like a lot, it is. And that’s not even an exhaustive list. But don’t worry – your medical assisting program and coursework should help you prepare you for whichever credentialing exam you take after you earn your degree!
Hands-on experience can also give you an edge once it’s time to take the exam. Many programs offer externships where you can receive on-the-job experience in a medical facility before you graduate. The benefits of an externship are twofold: 1) It will be easier to remember terms for the exam because you’ve worked with them in the real world; 2) You can add relevant work experience to your resume.
The bottom line
Medical assisting jobs are projected to grow 31% through 2020, according to the BLS. Employers aren’t looking for just any candidates though, and earning a certification can give you an edge. A medical assisting certification means you’ll be better prepared to snap up one of those jobs and start your career.
Here’s a final tip from Skafte: Some degree programs will include the credentialing exam fee for your first attempt. That alone can reduce your educational costs by up to $250.
Now that you’ve learned about medical assisting certifications, it’s time to decide whether you’ll earn a diploma or a degree. Check out Medical Assistant Degree vs. Diploma to find which is best for you.