Healthcare workers consulting a chart

The Best Medical Assistant Certification for Your Career

From price to preparation time, here are the advantages of some of the top Medical Assisting certification exams

Healthcare workers consulting a chart

When beginning a career as a Medical Assistant, many graduates choose to become certified in the field. Although certification is optional, holding a Medical Assistant certificate can go a long way towards landing a job, negotiating better pay, or opening up additional opportunities for advancement.

Furthermore, even though many states won’t require it, some employers will only hire certified Medical Assistants.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

Where the issue of certification becomes complicated, however, is in deciding which certification to pursue.

Unlike nurses and similar positions, there isn’t just one exam a Medical Assistant can take. There are many, each with their own advantages, and selecting the right one is vital to reaching your goal as a Medical Assistant.

The Top Medical Assistant Certifications

The primary certifications for Medical Assistants include the following credentials:

  1. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
  2. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
  3. The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
  4. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
  5. Specialty Certifications

Continue reading for a breakdown of each exam; who offers it, what material is covered, the number of questions, exam requirements, and the unique characteristics of each test.

1. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Medical assistant taking a patient's vitals

Offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the CMA exam is perhaps the most popular and most widely recognized of the Medical Assistant Certifications.

While certification isn’t required by state law, many employers prefer that their Medical Assistants hold a CMA because, according to the AAMA, it “provides evidence that the employer is exercising a high degree of care and diligence in its medical assisting employment procedures.”

CMA Exam Requirements

  • “Candidates must be a graduate of a one- or two-year medical assisting program offered by a school with institutional or programmatic accreditation from ABHES (the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) or that is programmatically accredited by CAAHEP (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs).”
  • Candidates must take and pass the CMA Certification Exam.

CMA Renewal

  • The CMA must be renewed every five years. Recertification can be accomplished by taking the recertification exam or by earning continuing education credits.

CMA Exam Cost

  • The exam fee for the CMA ranges from $125 to $250, depending on how quickly you register for the exam following graduation.

CMA Exam Topics

Students taking the CMA will be graded on the following subjects:

  • Psychology
  • Communication
  • Professionalism
  • Medical Law / Regulatory Guidelines
  • Ethics
  • Risk Management
  • Medical Reception
  • Medical Terminology
  • Office Administration
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Infection Control
  • First Aid
  • Diagnostic Testing

A full walk-through of CMA exam topics can be downloaded here.

CMA Exam Length

  • The CMA consists of 200 multiple choice questions administered across four 40-minute segments.

Who Should Take the CMA Exam?

The CMA certification is one of the most widely recognized for Medical Assistants and the requirements are simple and straightforward. If you’re looking for an exam with the best “bang for the buck” and you’ve met the prerequisites, this certification is a great place to start.

Before making your final selection, however, be sure to double check your potential employer’s requirements to make certain the CMA certification is needed or will be accepted.

CMA Exam Preparation

Click here to learn our 10 essential test prep tips for passing the CMA certification exam, on your first try.

2. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

Smiling medical assistant with a young patient

The RMA certification is the second most recognized certification for Medical Assistants. While the CMA was established first (and is more widely known), the RMA covers much of the same material and provides an excellent demonstration of your skills as a Medical Assistant. The RMA certification is provided through the AMT (American Medical Technologists).

RMA Exam Requirements

The RMA requirements are slightly broader than the CMA requirements, allowing for experience in some cases over graduation from specific programs. Requirements for the RMA include:

  • Graduation from an approved Medical Assisting program. This program must be approved by the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or by the AMT board of directors.
  • OR graduation from a formal medical training service in the US military.
  • OR candidates with five years of experience as a Medical Assistant.
  • OR candidates who hold another Medical Assisting certificate from a qualified organization.

RMA Renewal

  • In order to maintain RMA certification, Medical Assistants must earn a certain number of CCP (Certification Continuation Program) points every three years. These can be earned by taking continued education courses, employer verification, or participation on related work committees.

RMA Exam Cost

  • The exam fee for the RMA is currently $120.

RMA Exam Topics

Students taking the RMA will be graded on the following subjects:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Human Relations
  • Ethics
  • Patient Education
  • Medical Records
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical Administration
  • Identifying Symptoms

A full walk-through of RMA exam topics can be downloaded here. Students must score a 70% or higher to pass.

RMA Exam Length

Examinees have three hours to pass the RMA exam, which consists of 200-210 questions.

Who Should Take the RMA Exam?

The RMA certification is very similar to the CMA certification and is recognized by most employers, though it’s important to check the individual requirements of your potential employer before deciding on your certification. For example, medical offices in Connecticut do not currently recognize the RMA.

However, if you have already accumulated several years of MA experience, are a veteran of the US military, or have already earned certification as a Medical Assistant by another organization, the RMA may be the best choice for you.

RMA Exam Preparation

Click here to learn our 10 essential test prep tips for passing the RMA certification exam, on your first try.

3. The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

Medical receptionist assisting a patient

The NCMA certification is offered through the National Center for Competency Testing and differs from the RMA and CMA by focusing more on assisting physicians with patients than overall office administration.

NCMA Exam Requirements

Requirements for the NCMA include:

  • Graduate (within the last ten years) of a Medical Assisting program approved by the NCCT.
  • OR applicant must be a foreign RN or physician with documented US equivalency.
  • OR applicant must be a Medical Assistant instructor with 10 or more years experience.
  • OR applicant must have completed a Medical Assisting program within the US Military.
  • OR applicant must possess two years or more experience as a working Medical Assistant .

NCMA Renewal

  • NCMA recertification is required annually. In order to renew the NCMA certification, certificate holders must pay an annual fee of $77 and submit proof of 14 or more continuing education hours.

NCMA Exam Cost

  • The exam fee for the NCMA is currently $90.

NCMA Exam Topics

Students taking the NCMA will be graded on the following subjects:

  • Medical Office Management
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Procedures

Practice exams and official reviews for the NCMA exam topics can be downloaded here.

NCMA Exam Length

Examinees have three hours to pass the NCMA exam, which consists of 150 questions.

Who Should Take the NCMA Exam?

The NCMA is similar to the RMA in that graduation from an accredited program isn’t necessarily a requirement, so if you have the necessary work experience or training, you may already qualify for the exam. The cost of the NCMA is also slightly less than both the CMA and RMA.

While not as universally recognized as the CMA or RMA exams, the NCMA certification may be a better choice if you plan to work with patients directly. But as always, check with your preferred employer for any specific certification requirements before applying.

NCMA Exam Preparation

Click here to learn our 10 essential test prep tips for passing the NCMA certification exam, on your first try.

4. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

Masked healthcare professional on the phone

The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant certification (CCMA) is offered through the National Healthcareer Association, and is similar to the NCMA in its requirements. And like the NCMA, the CCMA is also geared towards Medical Assistants who wish to be more involved with clinical procedures than with overall office administration.

CCMA Exam Requirements

In order to take the CCMA exam, examinees must hold a high school diploma. Other requirements for the CCMA include:

  • Graduate of an accredited Medical Assisting program.
  • OR applicant must complete an approved apprenticeship program.
  • OR applicant must have completed a Medical Assisting program within the US Military.
  • OR applicant must possess one year or more experience as a working Medical Assistant.

CCMA Renewal

  • CCMA recertification is required every two years. In order to renew the CCMA certification, certificate holders must pay a bi-annual fee of $169 and submit proof of 10 or more continuing education hours.

CCMA Exam Cost

  • The exam fee for the CCMA is currently $155.

CCMA Exam Topics

Students taking the CCMA will be graded on the following subjects:

  • Foundational Knowledge and Basic Science
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Clinical Patient Care
  • Patient Care Coordination and Education
  • Administrative Assisting
  • Communication and Customer Service
  • Medical Law and Ethics

Practice exams for the CCMA exam topics can be downloaded here.

CCMA Exam Length

Examinees have three hours to pass the CCMA exam, which consists of 150 questions and 30 pre-test questions.

Who Should Take the CCMA Exam?

Like the NCMA, the CCMA is a good choice for Medical Assistants with relevant work experience but who may not have completed a full training program. One benefit of the CCMA over the NCMA is that the CCMA requires only one year of relevant work experience, so if you are a current Medical Assistant looking to grow your opportunities with certification, the CCMA may be a strong option.

As always, be sure to check with your employer or future employer to make certain the CCMA is recognized by their organization.

CCMA Exam Preparation

Click here to learn our 9 essential test prep tips for passing the CCMA certification exam, on your first try.

Specializations for Medical Assistant Certification

The primary certifications for Medical Assistants (CMA, RMA, NCMA, and CCMA) are all well-rounded and can be applied to many different medical offices and environments, but for some Medical Assistants, further specialization is preferred. Examples of these include the PMAC and COA certifications.

  • The Podiatric Medical Assistant (PMAC) Certification is offered through the ASPMA (American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants) and is specifically created for Medical Assistants who plan to work within podiatry (treatment of feet).
  • The Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) Certification, offered through the JCAHPO (Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology), was created specifically for Medical Assistants who plan to assist Ophthalmologists (treatment of eye and vision).

Choose the Certification that Works Best For You

Deciding which certification to pursue as a Medical Assistant can feel overwhelming, but don’t let it be!

Whether you choose the common route of a CMA or RMA or the more specialized route of the NCMA, CCMA, PMAC, or COA, one thing is for certain: you’ve volunteered to work towards bettering your career and opening new opportunities, and that’s something to be proud of.

So, take your time, assess your qualifications, check the requirements of employers in your area, then choose the certification that works best for you.

Good luck!