10 Reasons to Get Certified in Medical Assisting

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated April 12, 2024
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    While certification is not required for medical assistants in most states, these 10 reasons may motivate you to become certified.
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    Medical assistants (MAs) perform a variety of clinical and administrative skills in healthcare settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth in this career to be 14% from 2022-2032, faster than average.

    Becoming a nationally certified MA can open doors to employment opportunities and advancement. Explore this page to learn more about career benefits and how to earn certification as an MA.

    Getting Certified as a Medical Assistant

    There are several certifications for MAs, but the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers the most well-known and respected certification examination for nationally certified medical assistants that covers administrative and clinical duties.

    The AAMA has identified four categories of eligibility for the certification exam:

    • Category 1: Students may take the exam no more than 30 days before completion of an accredited medical assisting program or within 12 months of graduation.
    • Category 2: Candidates can apply for certification 12 months after graduation from an accredited program, or graduate within 36 months before the program was accredited.
    • Category 3: A candidate who has passed the CMA Certification Exam and is applying for recertification may take the exam.
    • Category 4 (Alternative Pathway): A candidate who graduated from a qualified postsecondary MA apprenticeship program that meets the AAMA requirements qualifies for the exam.

    Nationally certified medical assistants (CMAs) must recertify every five years, either by retaking the examination or submitting 60 continuing education units (CEUs) in administration, clinical, and general categories. Not every employer or state requires certification, but consider how these 10 benefits can help improve your employment opportunities.

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    Top 10 Benefits of Becoming a Nationally Certified Medical Assistant

    1 | Employers Preferred Certified Medical Assistants

    Many employers prefer, and some require, that MAs hold a nationally certified medical assistant qualification. Certification demonstrates professional credibility and may help protect an employer against a malpractice lawsuit.

    The AAMA CMA certification program is accredited. This can help healthcare institutions in a variety of legal situations, including a malpractice lawsuit. An increasing number of malpractice insurance carriers insist that MAs have a nationally certification, and many name the AAMA credential.

    2 | Certification Vouches for Knowledge and Skill

    Certification verifies that an MA has been educated and tested on the administrative and clinical skills required to carry out their job. An MA’s certification status is a matter of public record and can be released to current and potential employers.

    The AAMA’s national certification is the only certification examination for MAs that requires graduation from an accredited program or apprenticeship that meets strict requirements.

    Students take coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, medical administration, record keeping, coding, and office practices. Learners are also required to complete an unpaid practicum as part of their education.

    3 | Being Certified Reflects Quality Training

    Certification reflects a completed quality education and unpaid on-the-job training (practicums). The accreditation of the certification itself demonstrates the candidate’s rigorous preparation for the career.

    To maintain a nationally certified medical assistant credential, you must either retake the certification exam or submit approved continuing education credits by participating in professional development activities. This ensures a CMA stays current in their field and continues to refine their skills.

    Certification also demonstrates a commitment to upholding professional standards of practice and ethics, which contributes to a culture of excellence and patient-centered care.

    4 | Certified MAs Get Better Pay

    The 2023 CMA (AAMA) Compensation and Benefits Report surveyed over 11,000 MAs who were working full time. The data showed those with current CMA certification had an average hourly salary of $21.64, while the average hourly salary of those without CMA certification was $20.84.

    Experience, geographical location, work setting, and practice specialty also impact earning potential. Monetary benefits that influence income include a variety of insurance benefits, professional organization membership dues, and conference registration fees. Of those surveyed, only 4% did not receive benefits.

    5 | Getting Certified May Be Required

    Medical assisting is one of the few medical careers that doesn’t require licensing or certification in most states. However, certification gives you an advantage in the job market. In 2005, Family Practice Management reported that 15% of MAs were certified.

    In 2023, the AAMA reported that 75,659 MAs were CMAs. According to the BLS, there were 764,400 jobs in 2022, indicating roughly 10% of MAs were CMAs.

    While the percentage of CMAs appears to have remained relatively steady in the last two decades, the number of states that require certification or accredited education has grown. According to the AAMA, several states require a formal program, and others require certification to increase your scope of practice.

    Check the AAMA for links to practice laws in your state.

    Formal Education

    • California: Training must meet requirements or in a formal setting
    • Massachusetts: Not required but increases scope of practice
    • Arizona
    • New Jersey
    • North Dakota
    • South Dakota
    • Washington

    Certification or Competency Assessment

    • Connecticut: Increases scope of practice
    • Delaware: Increases scope of practice
    • Nebraska: Must pass a competency assessment
    • New Jersey: Increases scope of practice
    • North Dakota: Increases scope of practice
    • South Carolina: Increases scope of practice
    • South Dakota: Increases scope of practice
    • Tennessee: Increases scope of practice
    • Washington: Four categories of MA positions with established scopes of practice, including certification

    6 | Increased Job Options

    Most employers seek medical assistants who are certified, since certification demonstrates the applicant’s interest in professional development and reflects the quality of their education. Many MA skills are shared with other healthcare jobs, and certification improves employment opportunities in other fields as well.

    The education and training as an MA, along with nationally certified medical assistant certification, may increase your employability as a patient services representative, medical clerk, medical office manager, or medical claims examiner.

    7 | Hospitals Seek Certified Nurses and Medical Assistants

    There is an increasingly growing litigious environment in the U.S., which hospitals hope to offset by hiring certified healthcare personnel. Certification demonstrates a healthcare professional’s dedication to their career and provides specialized knowledge and expertise in their field.

    CMAs can work in a variety of healthcare environments that place them in situations that may result in malpractice lawsuits. These environments include:

    • Physician’s offices
    • Hospitals
    • Outpatient clinics
    • School clinics
    • Nursing homes and residential facilities
    • Clinical trials
    • Diagnostic facilities
    • Prisons and jails

    8 | Getting Certified Validates Clinical Judgment

    MAs work in clinical and administrative roles, treating more complex patients who require advanced technology and ongoing clinical assessment.

    Certification demonstrates to employers that you have the skills and training needed to do your job well and protect the health of the patients under your care. Earning a certification through an accredited organization offers increased evidence of your skills.

    9 | CMAs Have Access to CEU Resources

    CMAs require 60 CEUs to recertify through the AAMA. Some employers sponsor CEUs to support the knowledge base of the medical staff in their specialty. Nationally certified medical assistants who are certified through the AAMA also have access to CEU resources from the certifying organization.

    MAs who complete all CEU requirements through the AAMA are eligible to recertify online or on the phone. You can choose to earn 30 CEUs from other sources, but must recertify online or using a mail-in application. The AAMA offers CEUs through an eLearning center, tests within the professional magazine, self-study courses, and at the annual conference.

    10 | CMAs May Have Increased Respect

    MAs work in healthcare often as part of a multidisciplinary team, surrounded by medical professionals who are licensed and certified in their fields. Certification demonstrates their commitment to professional development and continuing education, which contributes to better patient outcomes.

    Professional certification can increase your colleagues’ respect for your work toward professional development. Employees who feel more respected are generally more satisfied at work and loyal to their employer.

    Page last reviewed on February 26, 2024