Online Certification for Medical Assistants

Learn why certification matters and the key steps for taking and passing the certification exam.

Last Updated: 08/07/2020
——

Earning your medical assistant certification online is one way to set yourself apart from other job candidates. Employers often pay more for trained professionals who have demonstrated their knowledge and expertise. The following guide walks through everything you need to know to earn your medical assistant certification online, from the types of certifications available to the entire exam process from start to finish. Take the next step toward medical assistant certification.

Types of Online Medical Assistant Certification

Deciding to pursue certification can be an easy decision to make. After all, it can open the door to new job opportunities and possibly greater income potential. More difficult is knowing which certification option to pursue. Medical assistants have several choices, each offered by a different professional organization. Here’s a look at some of the available programs, their eligibility requirements, and who may benefit from them.

Certified Medical Assistant

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation is one of the most recognizable credentials in the field. It’s offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants and only available to those who meet certain education requirements. To become a CMA, you must first graduate from an approved medical assisting program. This can be a certificate, diploma, or degree from a school accredited by either The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Then, you need to pass a certification exam.

Once obtained, the CMA designation is valid for five years before a medical assistant needs to recertify. CMAs can recertify by either taking the certification exam again or obtaining 60 re-certification points through continuing education. Points can be earned be earned through contact hours, college courses or continuing education classes. However, at least 30 of the 60 points must cover the following areas:

  • Administration – 10 points
  • Clinical – 10 points
  • General – 10 points

Once re-certified, the CMA designation is valid for another five years.

Registered Medical Assistant

Becoming a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) is another option for professionals in this field. Offered by American Medical Technologists, there are four routes to earning the designation.

Education

Using this route, applicants must have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program within the past four years. The program must have included the equivalent of a minimum 720 clock-hours, including 160 hours of a clinical externship.

Military

Military members are also eligible for RMA credentialing so long as they have graduated from a formal medical services training program within the past four years. The program can be one offered by any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Applicants using this certification route must also provide evidence of relevant work experience in three of the previous five years.

Work Experience

High school graduates already working as medical assistants are eligible to become RMAs assuming they have been employed full-time in the field for five out of the previous seven years. No more than two of those years can be spent working as a medical assisting instructor at a post-secondary school, and work experience must include both administrative and clinical duties.

Instructor

Current medical assisting instructors can become RMAs so long as they have five years full-time teaching experience in an accredited program. Those with fewer than five years of teaching experience can be eligible for registration if they also have three years of clinical work experience.

Regardless of the route they take, all applicants must pass a certification exam. The computer-based exam takes approximately two hours to complete and there is a $120 application fee. To maintain certification, RMAs must pay a $50 annual fee and earn 30 points of continuing education every three years.

NCMA, CCMA, CMAA, and Specialty Certifications

While the CMA and RMA are two of the most common designations for medical assistants, there are a number of other options available, including specialty certifications. These include the following:

National Certified Medical Assistant

Offered by the National Center for Competency Testing, this credential is for those who have graduated from an authorized medical assisting program in the past ten years, have at least two years of full-time work experience within the past ten years, or have at least ten years of experience as a medical assistant instructor.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant

The CCMA designation is administered by the National Healthcareer Association and made available to those who have completed a medical assisting training program or have one year of work experience.

Certified Medical Administrative Assistant

Also offered by the National Healthcareer Association, this certification is for those who want to specialize in administrative, rather than clinical, tasks.

Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified

The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants offers this designation specifically for those medical assistants working in podiatry offices.

Certified Ophthalmic Assistant

This specialty certification is provided by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology for those assistants who are seeking employment in offices devoted to eye health.

Medical Assistant Certification

To receive the MAC designation, applicants must pass a 100-question test offered by the American Medical Certification Association.

Certified Chiropractic Clinical Assistant

A program of the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards, this specialty certification is available for those who want to work alongside chiropractors.

Specialty Certified Medical Assistant

The SCMA program is overseen by the CertiTrek and offers certifications in 13 health care specialties:

  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology
  • Family Medicine
  • Geriatrics
  • Internal Medicine
  • OB/GYN
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Transplantation Surgery
  • Urology
  • Women’s Health

What’s the AAMA and Why Are They Important?

While there are many certification programs available, the CMA is considered by many to be the gold standard in the field. That’s due, in part, to the fact that it’s the only certification offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

The AAMA is the only nationwide organization devoted exclusively to the medical assisting profession. The group can trace its roots back to 1956 and has since devoted itself to fostering excellence among workers in the field. Given this strong reputation, the CMA has become the certification of choice for many medical assistants.

FAQs About the Medical Assistant Certification Exam

Since the CMA is one of the most sought after certification programs, we’re going to provide you with all the information you need to prepare for and pass its examination. The following are the most critical questions about the exam along with answers vetted by our experts.

Am I eligible for the exam?

Graduating from a medical assistant program doesn’t automatically mean you can become a CMA. Instead, you need to fall into one of the following categories:

Completing student or recent graduate – Only those who have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program are eligible for this category. That accreditation must come from either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Completing students must take the exam within 30 days of finishing their formal education and practicum while graduates have 12 months to apply.

Non-recent graduate – If you miss the 12-month window, you can still qualify to take the exam as a non-recent graduate. To be eligible in this category, your program must have been accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES or you must have graduated with 36 months prior to the program becoming accredited.

Re-certificant – The third category of eligibility is for those who have previously passed the CMA examination and are applying for recertification.

How do I apply for the exam?

Once you’ve established that you’re eligible to take the exam, you’ll need to go through the application process. To do that, complete the following steps:

1. Gather any necessary documentation – If you’re a completing student or recent graduate, you won’t need to provide any documentation although your program director will have to verify you’ve finished your education before you can receive your scores and certification. Non-recent graduates will need to submit official transcripts from their program, and re-certificants will only have to provide their certificate number and most recent certification date.

2. Read the applicant handbook – The AAMA publishes a handbook for CMA applicants that covers testing periods, scheduling and other details of the examination. Become familiar with these rules and regulations to ensure your testing process goes smoothly.

3. Review the testing period dates – There is a 90-day testing period in which you can take the exam. This period begins based on when you submit your application. The following charts review the start of the testing period depending on how and when you apply.

Online applications submitted on or betweenTesting Period Starts
1st to 14th of any month1st of next month
15th to end of any month15th of next month
Mailed application received on or betweenTesting Period Starts
1st to 14th of any month15th of next month
15th to end of any month1st of month after the next month

4. Submit your application – You can apply either online or use the paper application in the handbook. Make sure your name on the application exactly matches the name on your government issued identification. Include any required documentation and the applicable fee. Keep a copy of your application for your records and detach the paper application from the handbook before mailing.

5. Watch for your Scheduling Permit – Once your application has been received and processed, you’ll receive a Scheduling Permit that will allow you to take the exam. The permit will be accessible three days prior to the start of your 90-day testing period, and you will receive an email notice when it is available.

6. Schedule your exam – The CMA exam is administered at sites across the country through the testing firm Prometric. Once you have your scheduling permit, you can proceed to www.prometric.com/aama to schedule your exam. Testing spots are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What content does the exam cover?

To earn the CMA designation, you must have comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of medical assisting. The AAMA ensures applicants have the right level of expertise by testing three areas: General, Administration and Clinical.

Within these, dozens of topics are reviewed. In total, applicants are asked 200 multiple-choice questions, and 180 are scored. You’ll need a score of at least 430 to pass.

Here’s a breakdown of exactly what to expect in each test section:

General

The general section of the CMA exam covers seven subsections:

Psychology

Questions on psychology will look for your understanding of human behavior and theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Erikson’s stages of psychological development. Knowledge of human growth, development and death and dying may also be tested.

Communication

The CMA test will also look for how well you understand verbal and nonverbal communication as well as interpersonal skills.

Professionalism

Applicants will need to be able to answer questions on how to perform their duties professionally while working as part of a health care team.

Medical law/regulatory guidelines

This is the most extensive part of the general section. Applicants should be ready to answer questions about advance directives, living wills and medical durable power of attorney forms. Applicants may be asked about confidentiality, criminal laws and health care rights and responsibilities. Plus, they may be quizzed on laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act.

Medical ethics

Medical ethics questions may cover both legal and moral matters.

Risk management, quality assurance and safety

Future CMAs need to know about how to avoid workplace accidents, promote a safe environment and report potential problems.

Medical terminology

In asking about medical terminology, the CMA examination may have applicants define diseases as well as break words down to their roots, prefixes and suffixes.

There are 50 questions in the general section, representing 28 percent of the total test score.

Administrative

The next section of the CMA exam is concerned with the administrative duties of a medical assistant. Under this category, six subsections are covered.

Medical reception

Medical reception questions may focus on how to avoid identity theft, handle business vendors and inform patients of office policies and financial responsibilities.

Patient navigator/advocate

To be a patient advocate, medical assistants are expected to know how to provide information about community resources, facilitate referrals and follow-up on those referrals as needed.

Medical business practices

This subsection of the CMA exam looks at whether an applicant knows how to do office tasks such as drafting letters, maintaining equipment and managing email and software.

Establishing patient medical record

Good patient records are crucial to proper care, and the CMA exam includes questions on how to recognize and interpret patient data as well as use common charting systems.

Scheduling appointments

As its name suggests, this subsection will include questions about proper scheduling guidelines and protocols.

Practice finances

Medical assistants need to understand office and insurance billing procedures, and CMA applicants should be prepared to answer questions about financial terminology, coding applications and the various types of insurance.

There are 45 questions related to administrative duties on the CMA exam, and these will make up a quarter of your final grade.

Clinical

The largest section of the CMA exam is related to clinical work. These are questions pertaining to direct patient care and cover nine different subsections.

Anatomy and physiology

The anatomy and physiology questions will cover various parts of the body and body systems. Applicants will need to know both the normal structure and diseases related to respiratory, nervous, urinary, digestive and other systems.

Infection control

Controlling the spread of disease is crucial in every medical setting, and this section of the CMA exam ensures medical assistants understand how illnesses are spread, the importance of good hygiene and standard precautions to take.

Patient intake and documentation of care

These questions review an applicant’s knowledge of how to properly record a patient’s complaint and medical history at the start of a visit.

Patient preparation and assisting the provider

Questions in this subsection are designed to test whether someone knows how to take vital signs and assist with common procedures such as changing dressings or removing stitches. Patient education and preventive screenings may also be covered under this topic.

Nutrition

Medical assistants need to have an understanding of nutrition basics and special dietary needs. This subsection tests for that knowledge.

Collecting and processing specimens

To answer these questions, you’ll need to know the proper method of collecting and testing blood, urine, fecal specimens, sputum specimens and swabs.

Diagnostic testing

Diagnostic testing questions cover cardiovascular, vision, hearing, respiratory and allergy testing.

Pharmacology

Before taking the CMA exam, you’ll want to review the 50 most commonly prescribed medicines and know how medications are prescribed, administered and recorded. Immunizations are also covered by this subsection of the exam.

Emergency management/basic first aid

This section of the test looks at whether an applicant knows how to respond to a number of health emergencies including burns, seizures, shock and animal bites.

There are 85 clinical questions on the CMA test, which accounts for 47 percent of the scored questions.

What’s the best way to study for the exam?

With so much covered on the CMA examination, you don’t want to go into the test without the right preparation. This is particular true if some time has passed since you completed your medical assisting program. The AAMA reports 60 percent of new applicants passed the test in 2017, and you don’t want to be part of the 40 percent to receive a failing grade.

Here are a few of the ways the AAMA recommends people study for the CMA exam.

Review the content outline

We’ve provided a review of all the major test subsections above, but the AAMA exam content outline goes into even greater detail. Take some time to look over all the topics to pinpoint which subjects you know well and which deserve some extra study time.

Try sample questions

The AAMA website includes sample questions on both anatomy and physiology and medical terminology. Review these to determine where you might have gaps in your knowledge.

Familiarize yourself with common medications

For the pharmacology subsection, you may be quizzed on common medications. You can use the ClinCalc website to identify and learn more about the drugs most often prescribed in the U.S.

Sign-up for a review course

Check with your medical assisting program or local chapter of the AAMA to see if they offer a review course for CMA applicants.

Use a textbook

If you still have a textbook from your medical assisting class, it likely has much of the information you need to study. If you no longer have a book, check with your local library or bookstore to see if they have one available.

Take a practice exam

The AAMA offers a CMA practice exam that you can try online before taking the official test. There are also practice tests available through some third party websites.

How much does the exam cost?

For members of the AAMA, it costs $125 to take the CMA exam. Completing students and recent graduates of CAAHEP or ABHES programs also pay $125. For nonmembers and non-recent graduates, the cost is $250. If you’re applying for recertification and let your certification expire, you’ll be charged an additional $50 reactivation fee.

When can I take the certification exam?

As mentioned in the application section above, there is a 90-day testing window. Once you receive your Scheduling Permit, you can sign up for any open testing spot within those 90 days.

The exam is administered by Prometric testing centers, and these are typically open 5-6 days per week and 8-10 hours per day.

How do I know if I passed?

You’ll know immediately after completing the exam whether you’ve passed or failed. An official notification of your status will be provided at that time. Then, an official report and score will be sent within three weeks of the exam date. You can also log into your AAMA account to check for updates on your exam status and scores.

Resources for the Medical Certification Exam

If you’re looking for more exam resources for medical assistant students, try the following links:

American Association of Medical Assistants – The AAMA is the go-to resource for students planning to become a CMA.

CMA Candidate Application and Handbook – This is the official handbook and application from the AAMA for those applying to be CMAs.

CMA Testing Tutorial – While this tutorial won’t go over the content of the CMA examination, it will prepare you for how to navigate the testing software.

American Medical Technologists – If you plan to earn a RMA designation, the AMT offers free practice questions and a list of reference materials on its website.

National Healthcareer Association – Although not free, the NHA offers an online study guide and practice test for CCMA and CMAA applicants.

Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards – The FCLB offers resources on its website for those pursuing the Certified Chiropractic Clinical Assistant designation.

National Center for Competency Testing – The NCCT offers the NCMA credential and details about eligibility and exam contents can be found here.

Specialty Certified Medical Assistant – If you’re interested in becoming certified for a medical specialty, visit SCMA to learn more.

Union Test Prep – At Union Test Prep, you’ll find free practice tests, flashcards and study guides for medical assistants.

Test-Guide – This website has free practice questions for the NCMA, RMA and CMA exams. Scroll past the sponsored searches ads at the top to find the practice test links.