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Ask a Nurse: Can a Certified Medical Assistant Become a Registered Nurse?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 10, 2023
    Are you a certified medical assistant interested in becoming a nurse? Read below to find out the next steps you need to take.
    A young Filipino American nurse is standing with her arms crossed in a hospital hallway. She is wearing gray scrubs and her staff badge, and has her long black hair down around her shoulders. She is looking at the camera with a confident smile.Credit: John Fedele / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: Can a certified medical assistant (CMA) become a registered nurse (RN)? What are the benefits of completing CMA training before starting nursing school?

    Answer: Absolutely! In fact, there are many benefits for certified medical assistants who decide to make the leap and become nurses. A CMA who returns to nursing school may have access to tuition reimbursement programs at their workplace and/or connections at their current job that will help them find employment after graduation. In addition, they have a better idea of how the healthcare system works and what their role will be within it.

    Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about how to actually do this.

    First, you’ll want to find a nursing program that works for you and your goals. There are many options out there, and the trick is to be diligent about finding the right program. Do you want to earn an associate degree or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)? Would you prefer a community college or a four-year school? Are you aiming for part-time or full-time enrollment?

    The quickest option is to earn an associate degree at your local community college. When all is said and done, you may be able to graduate and get back to work within 2-3 years. However, it is also important to consider your long-term goals as well.

    For example, if your ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist, you’ll eventually need to earn a master’s or doctoral degree. In that situation, it may be easier to earn your BSN right off the bat and continue your education later on.

    And of course, we can’t talk about going back to school without thinking about the financial aspect. Let’s face it: Money is a big part of the decision. Some employers will offer tuition reimbursement assistance, which is definitely worth exploring. Degrees from community colleges also tend to cost less money per credit than those from four-year schools.

    One final option worth considering is a Test-Out Program, like those offered by Achieve. While this program isn’t a direct bridge from CMA work to nursing, Achieve offers test preparation classes that help you test out of many of the prerequisite courses required for nursing school.

    This can help you save time and money by taking fewer credits. However, it is important to think carefully about this option. Nursing programs often go into greater depth and detail than medical assisting programs. Having a strong understanding of these basic concepts is crucial to success in nursing school and your career.

    Is it worth becoming a CMA before entering a nursing program? Possibly, depending on your situation and goals. Some people do this because they wish to start earning a salary right out of high school with the intention of returning to school later in life. Others become CMAs to take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs or because they prefer to get some experience in the field prior to committing to nursing school.

    Nursing school is doable, however you decide to go about it. Keep your mind focused on the end goal, and you’ll get there!

    Good luck!

    In Summary

    • It is possible for CMAs to transition into a nursing career.

    • CMAs should explore the different options available for nursing school and how they fit into their lifestyle and career goals.

    • In some situations, it might be beneficial to intentionally become a CMA prior to nursing school.

    Written by:

    Portrait of Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN is an RN who started on a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care, where she worked for almost 10 years. Galan has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. She currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.