Medical assistants play an integral role in the practices in which they work, often balancing both administrative and clinical competencies. Due to the multifaceted nature of the position, medical assistants need to have a thorough foundation of knowledge and skills, typically earned through training in medical assistant certification programs.

Medical assistant programs like the Medical Assistant Certificate Program at the College of Health Care Professionals are designed to not only help students to enter the field of medical assisting, but to also help prepare them to sit for various certification exams. As you start on your journey in medical assisting, understanding the certification options and specialties can make it easier to chart your educational path.

To help, we’ve compiled an in-depth guide to the different types of medical assistant certifications below. For more information on what medical assistants do and how to start your career, you can visit our detailed medical assistant career guide.

In This Article:


Becoming a Medical Assistant | Overview

In most cases, medical assistants need both education and a credential to begin work. Before applying to a medical assisting program, you’ll typically need to have a high school diploma or GED. Some programs may include additional prerequisites outside of this, including scoring within a particular range on cognitive ability tests such as the Scholastic Level Exam (SLE).

Choosing a Medical Assistant Program

The next step in the process 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 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 coursework, depending on the college.

  • 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.

Graduation and Employment

After you graduate from your 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.

The Types of Medical Assistant Certifications

Graduating from a Medical Assisting Certificate Program will include a certification of completion, becoming a certified medical assistant is a secondary step that involves sitting for and passing specific exams. Scope of practice laws, which determine what certification or experience a medical assistant needs to perform certain duties, vary by state, so it’s important to understand the regulations in your location.

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.

Certified Medical Assistants (CMA)

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-accredited institution or CAAHEP-accredited medical assistant program.

Registered Medical Assistants (RMA)

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.

Nationally Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

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.

Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant (NRCMA)

The NRCMA 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.

CMAA vs CCMA Certification

While medical assistants will generally perform a blend of administrative and clinical duties, it is possible to obtain certifications that demonstrate proficiency in one specific facet of the role. For those interested in the full spectrum of medical assisting responsibilities, it’s recommended to become both a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) and a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), or to pass a comprehensive certification. Curious about the types of medical assistants and clinical roles? Explore our guide to clinical medical assisting.

Specialty Certified Medical Assistants (SCMA)

Medical assistants can also seek out specialty certifications, sometimes referred to as SCMA.  A specialty MA 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. For instance, a pediatric medical assistant specialization like the SCMA-PD reflects specialized knowledge in working with young children and infants. 

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. Specialty certifications exist in a variety of fields, including:


Which Medical Assistant 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 in Medical Assisting

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 medical assistant in as few as 36 weeks in our blended program or in as few as 48 weeks in our online program.

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