Medical assistants play an integral role in the practices in which they work. With both administrative and clinical competencies, they are trained to handle tasks from scheduling and billing to caring for patients. Medical assistants perform phlebotomy, administer EKGs and injections, record patient history and vital signs, and complete administrative tasks related to scheduling, billing, and insurance.

With certification, you can work in doctors’ offices, general medical and surgical practices, hospitals, or even health insurance agencies. Because you're involved in nearly every aspect of the patient visit—scheduling, rooming, vital signs, medical history, procedures, billing, and insurance—there will be variety in the day-to-day duties. 

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

In most cases, medical assistants need both education and a credential in order to begin work.

First, a high school diploma or GED is typically required prior to applying for a medical assisting program. Students who do not have a high school diploma will need to earn their diploma or GED in order to meet the prerequisite requirements of most medical assisting programs.

The next step is choosing a medical assistant program that best fits your needs. Things to take into consideration when choosing a program include:

  • Admission requirements and what steps you would need to take in order to meet those prerequisites

  • Whether courses are online, on-campus, or blended—a combination of online and on-campus courses and labs

  • How long it takes to complete the program; it can take between 36 weeks and one year to complete the course work, depending on the college

  • Whether the program is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)

  • Which expenses are included in your tuition; some programs will include the cost of certification in your tuition, so you don't have that extra expense before you can begin work

Other factors to consider include program costs, student satisfaction, externship opportunities, and graduation and placement rates.

After you graduate from an accredited medical assisting program, you'll receive a certificate and be eligible to take a national certification exam. After passing the exam, you are a Certified Medical Assistant and can begin applying for jobs. You can also seek out specialty certifications if you're interested.

In some cases, you can become certified with work experience alone, but finding an employer who is willing to provide the experience you need is a common barrier.

National Medical Assistant Certifications

When it's time to take your national certification exam, you'll find there are several different exams available. Most employers will accept any national medical assistant certification.


CMA is awarded to those who achieve Certified Medical Assistant certification from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The exam is taken in four 40-minute sessions and includes 200 multiple choice questions. To sit for the exam, you must have graduated from an ABHES or CAAHEP accredited medical assistant program.


RMA, or Registered Medical Assistant certification, is offered by American Medical Technologists (AMT). To sit for the exam, candidates must have graduated from an accredited program in the last four years, have at least three years of work experience in the last seven years, or have completed a work/study program that fulfills the requirements for certification. While the CMA exam is administered by a third-party testing center, the RMA exam can be administered by your school.


NCMA refers to Nationally Certified Medical Assistant and is administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Like the RMA, work experience, completion of an accredited program, or military experience can all qualify a candidate to sit for the test.


NRCMA stands for Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant. This exam is administered by the National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP). To take the exam, candidates must have completed an accredited program, received formal training in the military, or have adequate, relevant work experience.

Specialty Certifications

Medical assistants can also seek out specialty certifications. A specialty certification indicates that you have the knowledge and experience required to work in specialized environments and can help you move your career into the roles and practices you're most interested in. Specialty certifications exist in a variety of fields, including:

  • Family Medicine

  • Internal Medicine

  • Geriatrics

  • Cardiology

  • Dermatology

  • Endocrinology

  • Oncology

  • Orthopedic Surgery

  • Pediatrics

  • Transplantation Surgery

  • Urology

  • OB/GYN

  • Women's Health

One example of a specialty certification administered by Specialty Certified Medical Assistant (SCMA) is Specialty Certified Medical Assistant in Internal Medicine (SCMA-IM). Both new and experienced MAs can seek out specialty certification to demonstrate their competency in a specific area, improve their resume, and increase their likelihood of finding a job in the field they enjoy the most.

Which Certification Is Best?

Most employers will accept any of the four medical assistant credentials outlined above, as well as specialty certifications. In highly competitive environments, the CMA credential may be preferred because the eligibility requirements are more restrictive—work experience alone does not meet the requirements to sit for the exam. Likewise, RMA certification requires the most experience for those qualifying based on work experience only, making it an attractive qualification for employers.

When determining which certification is right for you, consider the following:

  • Is a specific exam included in the cost of your tuition?

  • Can your school administer the exam, or will you have to schedule a time in a testing center?

  • How much does the exam cost?

  • Do you meet the eligibility requirements to sit for the exam?

  • Which credentials are accepted by employers in your area, specifically your employer of choice?

  • What is the pass rate for the exam?

CHCP Can Help Prepare You for Your Healthcare Career

The College of Health Care Professions offers Medical Assistant Programs designed to help prepare students for both the Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant Exam and their future careers as certified medical assistants. A few of the courses you can expect to take during your program include HIPAA/OSHA/Infection Control, Medical Psychology, Medical Insurance and Managing Medical Records, and more. You'll also complete an externship during your program that meets the eligibility requirements for all four certifications and provides you with hands-on experience that will likely be invaluable as you start your career.

Your tuition at The College of Health Care Professions includes the cost of certification, and we administer it right here, taking one big item off your to-do list as you prepare to pursue your first job as a certified medical assistant. You can start with no experience at all and become a certified medical assistant in as few as 36 weeks in our blended program or in as few as 40 weeks in our online program.

Ready to become a medical assistant? Take the first step by applying for our program online today.