Do you still need a medical assistant certification if you’ve already been working as one for several years? Many veteran MAs got the job without the benefit of formal training. Unlike today when education is an important requirement to be considered for the job, a high school diploma was enough prerequisite then to work in a doctor’s office doing both secretarial and minor clinical functions.
Medical assistant certification is voluntary and not mandated by law to work as a medical assistant. But the nature of health care service delivery has become more complex and being a fast learner just won’t cut it for most employers. Not only do they prefer training for the job, but the credentials to go with it as well.
If you plan on relocating to another town or state and want to find a similar position, being certified will boost your chances of getting the job. Experience matters definitely, but a paper attesting to your knowledge and competence in medical assisting will give you the edge over other candidates. Remember, competition is tough because of so many schools offering a medical assistant program.
What does it take to become a certified MA? Below is a guide to help you.
What Are the Requirements to Complete the Medical Assistant Certification?
There are several professional organizations that grant the certification status. But the most notable are the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Association of Medical Technologists or AMT. Pass their medical assistant certification tests and you’re given nationally recognized credentials.
However, a word of caution. There is some issue between these two organizations that led to the AAMA fighting for the exclusive right to use the term “certified.” If you take the AMT test and pass, you will receive the title registered medical assistant or RMA.
There is actually no difference between a CMA and RMA because both tested for the same knowledge and skills. Should you run into some problems because you are registered rather than certified, just indicate in small letters after your name, “certified medical assistant”. A letter from the AMT to attest that you are such is also available should you need one.
If you’ve been employed as a medical assistant for at least five years but without formal education, you can still qualify for the medical assistant certification exam with AMT. The AAMA does not offer this option.
Otherwise, you should have completed an accredited program for medical assisting, whether it is for a certificate or associate degree. Usually, schools or programs are accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Employers rely on the medical assistant certification as an indication you have had sufficient classroom or instructional work as well as practical training through internship. To qualify for the medical assistant certification exam, you need at least 760 to 900 hours combined of didactic sessions and laboratory or hands-on training.
How Much Does the AAMA Certification Test Cost?
Once you’ve completed the medical assistant training program, you can apply for the test of AAMA and pay the fee. If you are a member of the organization, is a recent graduate of, or will be graduating from a CAAHEP or ABHES program, you only need to pay $125. Otherwise, the regular fee is $250. Payment will pave the way for scheduling you for the test.
Upon receipt of your application and payment, you will be notified for the schedule of the exam, which is approximately three weeks before the exact date. You will be instructed how to set an appointment at the Prometric test center in your area. The exam can be taken throughout the year.
How Much Does the AMT Certification Test Cost?
The application fee for the medical assistant certification test given by the AMT is $95. This is provided you have met the qualifications for applicants, including completion of an accredited medical assisting program or scheduled graduation from one or been trained in the military or have at least five years experience as one. Tests are scheduled at Pearson VUE centers closest to you or in your school. Should you opt to take the exam at the center, you can choose the schedule you want at your convenience instead of wait for months in advance if you opt for the school-based test.
How Can you Prepare for the Test?
While you should receive adequate preparation in school while training to be a medical assistant, you can make things less stressful by going over your notes and reviewing the subject matter, including everything you learned during practicals.
Better yet, psyche yourself for the exam by practicing. How? Both the AAMA and AMT take you through the steps with reviewers and practice tests. This is to familiarize examinees with the process and give them an idea what is to be tested. Both have content outlines available as guide for what the test coverage will include. AAMA has exam review courses and if you can attend one in your area, this is supposedly going to help in your preparation. AMT, on the other hand, has a half-length test for $15 that you can take.
If you can network with professionals or volunteer your services, you give yourself an even better advantage as you prepare for the medical assistant certification exam. Those who will just be taking the exam but have been working for several years will also need some review courses. While actual practice does reinforce knowledge, it also needs to be refreshed for written purposes.
The exams are basically the same with 200 multiple-choice questions that will be answered in 160 minutes. Results will be immediately known but the formal notification will come through mail after a few weeks. Some employers, especially those where you may have taken your externship, may not have to wait before you actually receive your credentials before taking you in. Some graduates are not so fortunate even when they are properly credentialed and even with some experience.
What Are the Career Prospects for a Certified MA?
It will help that before you actually decide to enter a training program for medical assisting that you have an idea of the demand for workers in your area. With so many medical assistant schools offering courses, there may be a surplus of graduates but not enough opportunities to accommodate everyone. If you can volunteer your services beforehand, just to “introduce” yourself to prospective employers, do so because it could be worth your time and resources once you actually go to medical assisting school.
Understand that there will be places where there is a higher need for medical assistants, while there may be towns or states where the job market is saturated. Consider, too, the salary paid for these workers. Remember, a medical assistant certification is not mandated by law but having one could be a big boost to your chances of bagging that position.