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Medical assistants are some of the most valuable members of a healthcare team. Their comprehensive education enables them to handle both administrative and clinical duties, and some days they need to do both nearly simultaneously. Medical assistants are found all across the healthcare spectrum, including assisted living facilities, hospitals, doctors offices, and small clinics.

Given the rapid growth of the healthcare field, there is a greater demand for MAs now than ever. Professionals in the field usually hold a diploma or associate’s degree, but many also have professional certification from an agency or association.

Eligibility for Professional Medical Assistant Certification

To be the most qualified medical assistant, you will want to first complete a diploma or degree program. Make sure your program is fully accredited and that you get the absolute most out of every course. Your program needs to have full accreditation from either the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). You can confirm your program’s accreditation with your advisor or the department head—or look at the school’s website where you want to attend classes.

Once you have graduated, you can go on to become professionally certified by taking an exam. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) oversees the examination process. Once you have passed the exam, you can become a full member of their association and enjoy the rewards, respect, and fellowship that professional certification holds. There are different exam levels for different credentials, depending upon where you are in your medical assisting career ladder. Keep reading to learn more about the exam, one of the most important for your career progress.

Taking the Exam

Whether you are a graduate who has been working for awhile as a medical assistant or a recent graduate, your program’s director must first confirm that you have finished your education with a satisfactory performance. If your education is recent, you will not need to provide transcripts and you will only be asked to pay a $125 examination fee.

If, for some reason, you have waited longer than 12 months after finishing your program, you will need to provide official transcripts to the AAMA. If you have joined the AAMA, your fee is still $125, but non-members pay $250. The same fee schedule applies to those who are recertifying after an absence from the job or if they’ve let their certification lapse.

Once your application has been processed, you can set a date for the exam. Your exam date must fall within a 90-day time frame that begins either on the 1st or 15th of the month, depending on when you submit your application. Applications received in the first half of the month begin their 90-day window on the 1st of the following month, applications received after the 15th begin their window on the 15th of the following month.

What To Study to Prepare

The professional certification examination covers a wide range of topics you studied in your medical assisting program. You can also find review courses and study guides—as well as sample exam questions— though participating chapters of the AAMA. There may also be options online if there are no options in your local area.

The exam consists of 200 items that are tested in four, 40-minute increments. The test itself is broken down into three basic categories: General (28%), Administrative (25%) and Clinical (47%). According to the AAMA website, these subject areas cover these sub-topics:

General Knowledge Section

  • Psychology
  • Communication
  • Professionalism
  • Medical Law/Regulatory Guidelines
  • Medical Ethics
  • Risk Management
  • Medical Terminology

Administrative Section

  • Reception
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Medical Business
  • Medical Records
  • Scheduling
  • Finances

Clinical Section

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Infection Control
  • Intake and Documentation
  • Prep and Assisting the Provider
  • Nutrition
  • Specimen Handling
  • Diagnostics
  • Pharmacology
  • First Aid/Emergency Management

Practice Tests

Review courses may be a great option for those who have been away from the classroom for over a year, but more current graduates might consider taking practice tests to help sharpen their knowledge. Prior to taking a practice test, you may want to use the examination breakdown above to sort your notes and other materials. Study for the practice test as you might the real thing. Then, when you take the trial run, you will be able to assess your overall knowledge and performance capability.

You might consult your program for advice on practice tests, but a great place to start is at the AAMA itself. Their website includes practice tests for Anatomy and Physiology as well as Medical Terminology.

Start Preparing Today

Passing the AAMA certification exam will be the capstone of your education. Once you are finished, you can add the letters CMA to your name and resume. That could help turn heads in the allied health community when you start looking for work. Further, you will be able to join the AAMA, which will facilitate further networking and educational opportunities.

Whether you are about to apply to a program or have been out of school for a while, now is a good time to start thinking about professional certification and gearing your studies to help you prep for the exam.