In recent years, medical assisting has become one of the most attractive healthcare careers to specialize in. Despite this shiny new popularity, medical assisting has been around for decades. Medical assistants have historically been trained on-the-job, without formal training and practiced under a physician’s direct supervision. The American Association of Medical Assistants formed in 1956 to bring some structure and guidance to the profession. Now, it is fairly uncommon to find a practicing medical assistant who has not had formal MA training. Certification in the medical assisting field is also an aspect of the career that is quickly becoming a requirement.
What is MA Certification?
Medical assisting certification is a universal way of proving competency in the profession. MA certification has helped medical assistants gain credibility among other healthcare professions. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers medical assisting certification. When passed, you may use the credentials CMA, or certified medical assistant.
Before certification was offered, there wasn’t a good way for a medical assistant to prove that she had the knowledge and skills needed to work as a qualified MA. Now, the certification exam is one way to show that you know your stuff. To earn the CMA credential, you must take and pass a written exam that covers topics like:
- Clinical procedures
- Anatomy, Physiology and Disease
- Administrative Procedures
- Laboratory Procedures
- Medication administration
Because medical assistants in the past could be hired without formal training, and had no accountability requirements, the profession wasn’t always taken seriously by other health care professionals. Certification has helped change that.
Do Employers Require Certification?
AAMA certification is not a state or federal requirement for working as a medical assistant. However, many employers do require that their medical assistants be certified. Medical liability is an ongoing issue in healthcare. Physicians want reassurance that the medical assistants they hire are competent and have the skills to safely treat patients. Some insurance agencies that insure physicians and healthcare centers may also require that medical assistants be certified to keep medical liability risks down.
It is possible to work as a medical assistant without certification. If you are a new graduate, you may be hired to work as an uncertified medical assistant; however, your employer may ask that you earn certification in a certain amount of time after hire. If you are a medical assistant who never received formal training, you may also find employment without certification based on your years of work experience.
It is possible to work as a medical assistant without certification. If you are a new graduate, you may be hired to work as an uncertified medical assistant.
Benefits to Being Certified
There are many benefits to earning your certified medical assistant credential:
- Better overall job opportunities
- Better pay
- Opportunity for advancement
Medical assistant jobs are competitive. Certified medical assistant may find better overall employment opportunities than non-certified medical assistant. With more employers requiring certification, it may be difficult to find a position without certification. Certification also gives you a leg-up when competing against other MAs for the same job opportunities.
Certified medical assistants are often paid more than their non-certified counterparts. You may be offered a more attractive starting pay, or better yearly pay increases if you hold MA certification. In addition, medical assistant certification may be required for some job advancement opportunities. Positions as office manager, team leader or clinical supervisor may all require certification before you can apply.
Working without Certification
If you’re currently not certified or choose not to become certified, there are things you can do to boost your credibility as a medical assistant. First, speak to your employer about in-house trainings or educational opportunities that they may offer. These can help you stay up-to-date with medical changes and advancements. Additionally,
- Consider taking classes. You may want to learn new skills that enhance your medical assistant knowledge, such as earning a certificate in phlebotomy, taking advanced anatomy and physiology or biology classes or classes in caring for the elderly. Remember to keep a record of classes that you take for your employer, or to add to your resume.
- Read professional journals and complete the included continuing education units. Most professional medical journals offer a learning unit and competency test each time the magazine comes out. These learning opportunities are called CEUs, or continuing education units. Certified medical assistants are required to complete a certain number of CEUs each year. However, even if you’re not certified, these CEUs are wonderful opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills.
- Attend conferences. Medical assisting conferences are another way to gain insightful knowledge and new skills. Attending conference sessions looks good on a resume and proves to your employer that you care about your profession and professional abilities.
No matter if you’ve been a medical assistant for years or are just starting out, consider certification. Earning your CMA credential is the next wave of change for the profession and may soon be a requirement. Showing the healthcare community, and your patients, that you care about your profession will only make you more marketable, and worth more to your employer, in the long run.