Medical assistants are versatile Allied Health professionals who handle a wide range of clinical and administrative support tasks for healthcare providers. The majority are employed at facilities such as hospitals, physicians’ offices and outpatient clinics where they report directly to an office manager, doctor or other advanced healthcare practitioner.

Most choose to become certified through a formal training program, It is possible to become a medical assistant with only a high school diploma, but this requires finding an employer who will agree to provide on-the-job training. This may be difficult, as the majority of employers prefer to hire individuals who have completed a formal training program.

Relatively easy-to-meet prerequisites and extremely high demand for the position (the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 138,900 new jobs will be added in this profession by 2024) combine to make medical assisting one of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. labor market. The position is considered highly-desirable among those who are interested in gaining general experience in healthcare prior to advancing into a more specialized area of medicine.

What does a medical assistant do?

The specific duties of a medical assistant can vary considerably depending on their employer and personal skill set.

As a general rule of thumb, those who are employed at smaller facilities (e.g. a physician’s private practice) tend to hold a wider range of responsibilities, while those who work at hospitals, clinics, etc. usually specialize in either administrative or clinical tasks. In such situations, they are sometimes referred to as clinical medical assistants or administrative medical assistants.

Typical responsibilities held for both administrative and clinical medical assistants are listed below.

Administrative medical assistant duties

  • Answer office telephones
  • Greet patients and facilitate the check-in process
  • Maintain medical records (updating, filing, etc.)
  • Completing and filling out insurance forms
  • Handling office correspondence (e.g. mail and email)
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Coordinating hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Assisting with billing and bookkeeping

Clinical medical assistant duties

  • Recording patients’ medical histories
  • Measuring and recording vital signs
  • Explaining procedures and treatments to patients
  • Preparing patients for the physician’s examination
  • Assisting the physician during examinations
  • Collecting and preparing specimens for laboratory tests
  • Dispose of contaminated medical supplies
  • Sterilization of medical instruments
  • Prepare and administer medications (as directed by physician)
  • Approve refills for prescribed medications
  • Provide prescriptions to pharmacies
  • Prepare patients for x-rays
  • Remove sutures and change dressings on wounds
  • Take electrocardiograms

How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

Depending on whether or not you wish to earn a certification, the total amount of time required to become a medical assistant can vary considerably. A brief summary of both options follows.

Without formal training – ASAP

If you decide to pursue a medical assisting position without completing formal training or getting certified, you can start working just as quickly as you can find a job. As was mentioned, because most employers prefer to hire someone who has completed formal training, finding such an opening may take longer than you’d like.

Furthermore, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) recently reported that the industry is rapidly moving toward only hiring certified medical assistants. This trend is due to a range of legal factors at the national and state levels, and the desire of employers to protect their interests by only employing professionally-certified healthcare personnel.

For these reasons, it is highly recommended that anyone who is considering a career in medical assisting should pursue formal training and certification.

With formal training and certification – 1-2 years

There are two primary types of medical assistant programs that most people attend – the associate degree program, or the diploma program. The amount of time required to complete these different programs ranges from two years (the associate degree program) to one year or slightly less (the diploma option).

Becoming certified usually then requires an additional month or two after completing the program. The graduate must pass one of the nationally-recognized medical assistant certification exams. These are administered monthly at test sites throughout the country.

The amount of time required to complete this step depends on how soon the test taker feels ready to challenge for certification, and how many attempts are required to pass the exam.

What is the process for becoming a medical assistant?

The process for becoming a medical assistant can be broken down into four steps.

  1. Decide if you want to get certified
  2. Choose between a diploma or an associate’s degree program
  3. Enroll in an accredited program
  4. Complete your clinical training
  5. Pass a national certification exam

Step 1: Decide if you want to get certified

The very first step you should take is to decide whether or not you are going to pursue certification. This decision is extremely important as it will have a major impact on not only how long takes you to start working, but also the types of jobs you can apply for.

Working as a non-certified medical assistant

A list of the major pros and cons for working as a non-certified medical assistant follows in the two boxes below.

Pros
  • Able to start working right away with a high school diploma
  • Save money by not going to school
  • No need to take courses for periodic re-certification
Cons
  • Fewer job opportunities
  • Less opportunity for promotion
  • Lower pay compared to certified peers
  • Less job security than certified peers

Becoming a certified medical assistant

A list of the major pros and cons for becoming a certified medical assistant follows in the two boxes below.

Pros
  • Greater job security
  • More opportunities for advancement
  • Higher pay than non-certified peers in many cases
  • Eligibility for hire with more employers
Cons
  • Requires two-to-three years of training and study
  • Must pay for formal training and certification exam
  • Need to periodically test for re-certification
  • Some certifications are not recognized in every state

Needless to say, there are far more advantages than disadvantages to becoming certified. Furthermore, with the increased amount of litigation that healthcare providers cost and the corresponding rise in insurance costs, most employers now require their medical assistants to have a certification.

 

This is also true of employers who have previously hired non-certified assistants. In these instances, it is now quite common for the employer to require their medical assisting staff to enroll in training and earn their certification in order to remain employed.

 

If you still decide not to get certified, then your next step is to start applying for job openings for non-certified medical assistants. On the other hand, if you do decide to earn your certification, you will move on to Step 2 below.

Step 2: Choose between a diploma or associate degree program

Medical assistant programs award two different types of credentials to their graduates: an associate degree, or a diploma (alternately referred to as a “certificate”). Although both credentials can qualify you for entry-level medical assisting positions, there are several important differences between them.

Diploma or Certificate

 

Diploma or certificate programs can often be completed in a year or less, and focus their curriculum only on skills and knowledge needed to start working. These programs are offered through a variety of institutions, and may also be available online.

 

The pros and cons of choosing to earn a diploma or certificate are listed below.

 

 

Pros
  • Most diploma or certificate courses can be completed in 9 to 12 months
  • Programs focus only on the knowledge required to pass one of the national certification exams
  • Tuition costs are generally significantly less than they are for associate degree programs
  • Holding a diploma or certificate qualifies you for the majority of entry-level medical assistant positions
Cons
  • Credits earned may not be transferable if you decide to pursue a degree at some point
  • Training is not as comprehensive, so you probably won’t be able to work in specialized medicine
  • Fewer opportunities for career advancement without additional schooling
  • Lower starting salaries on average compared to those with associate degrees

Associate Degree

Associate degree programs are generally two years in length, and the material covered is more comprehensive in scope. Programs offering this degree are usually hosted by junior colleges and trade schools, so there are usually also higher admission requirements that must be met.

Holding an associate degree does provide many advantages that one would not have with only a certificate or diploma, however.

The following is a quick look at the pros and cons of pursuing an associate degree in medical assisting.

 

Pros
  • Many employers prefer to hire medical assistants with degrees over diplomas
  • Those with associate degrees are sometimes offered higher starting salaries
  • Credits earned studying for an associate degree can later be applied toward an advanced degree
  • More likely to be hired for positions in specialized medicine
Cons
  • Associate degree programs are at least twice as long as diploma programs
  • Tuition costs for degree programs are usually significantly higher
  • You’ll be required to complete general education classes outside your medical assisting curriculum
  • Admission requirements for institutions that offer degree programs are tougher

Regardless of which option you choose, be sure to base your decision on your long-term career goals and financial situation. If you need to start working sooner rather than later, and are concerned about tuition costs, then the diploma program is probably the right choice. Keep in mind, that you can always go back later and pursue a degree after you’ve started working.

 

If you’re interested in advancing quickly in your health care career, and have a longer-term goal in mind, then the additional time and money required to earn an associate degree may make sense for you.

Step 3: Enroll in an accredited program

If you’ve decided to pursue certification, the second step is to enroll for training with an accredited medical assistant program. This is crucial as the various, nationally-recognized certification exams require test takers to provide proof of having completed such a program before being allowed to sit for their tests.

 

At this point in the process, most prospective students wonder how to go about choosing a school. There are different ways to approach this problem, including: reading online reviews from ex-students, asking healthcare professionals in your area for advice, etc.

 

Because most people today look for schools and job training programs online, however, we’ve provided the following list of things to consider when researching schools yourself.

Accreditation status

It goes without saying that the first thing you’ll need to look for in a program is its accreditation status. There are two national organizations that accredit medical assisting programs in the United States: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Accreditation from one of these bodies means that an institution or program meets the organization’s minimum standards in curriculum, faculty and facilities. These standards are established in conjunction with the healthcare community to ensure that program graduates are prepared for the requirements of the medical assisting profession.

Make sure the program offers the credential you want (associate degree or diploma)

As was discussed under Step 2, there are two types of credentials one can earn when completing a medical assistant program – an associate degree or a diploma (called a “certificate” by some institutions). When comparing your options, make sure that you confirm that the programs you’re reviewing offer the type of credential you want.

Course availability

Over the course of the one or two years spent studying to become a medical assistant, most students continue to juggle a number of other responsibilities. This may be caring for a child, working full-time, or any number of other things.

For this reason, it’s important to plan out the days and hours that you can devote to school in advance. You’ll then want to make sure that the programs you’re interested in offer courses that fit your schedule.

About online medical assistant programs

One of the biggest trends in education over the last decade has been the explosion in distance learning. Many medical assistant programs have responded to student demand by offering the classroom-based portion of their training online.

This format allows students the convenience of completing a significant part of the program from the place and time of their choosing. The hands-on externship experience that accredited programs require will still need to be completed in-person, however.

To learn more about online programs, see our comprehensive guide to online medical assistant programs.

Cost

Because the cost of school is a major consideration for most students, you’ll want to gather as much specific information as possible on this subject before committing to a program. It is recommended that you request this information directly from school representatives.

Tuition costs for medical assistant training range from around $1,000 for many diploma courses, up to $4,000-or-more for two-year associate’s degree programs. Factors that can affect the different tuition costs you’ll find include: the reputation of the institution, whether or not you’re taking online classes, and local guidelines.

On a related topic, you should also look into the availability of financial aid from the institution. If you have concerns about the cost of the education, qualifying for financial assistance can help put your mind at ease.

Top 30 Affordable Medical Assistant Programs

Top 30 Affordable Medical Assistant Programs

The following list reflects the top 30 affordable medical assistant programs in the country for the 2018-19 school year according to Medicalfieldcareers.com’s ranking system. Please refer to our Methodology section to learn about the data and process used to generate these rankings.

Join us in saluting these outstanding institutions for their excellence in medical assistant training and the tremendous value they provide to their students. If you represent one of the institutions on the list, feel free to grab a copy of the Top 30 Affordable Medical Assistant Programs badge and post it on your school website so your students can share in the excitement of this accolade!

 

#1 – Score 83.8

Coastal Pines Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
143

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
41%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
51%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

1701 Carswell Ave.
Waycross, Georgia 31503
(912) 287-6584

In-State Tuition
$2,656
Grad rate
57%
Student/Faculty Ratio
13:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#2 – Score 81.0

Augusta Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
53

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
50%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
39%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

3200 Augusta Tech Drive
Augusta, Georgia 30906
(701) 771-4000

In-State Tuition
$2,704
Grad rate
39%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#3 – Score 76.7

Ogeechee Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
131

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
31%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
37%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

One Joseph E. Kennedy Blvd
Statesboro, Georgia 30458
(912) 681-5500

In-State Tuition
$2,872
Grad rate
50%
Student/Faculty Ratio
13:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#4 – Score 71.0

Eastern Arizona College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
36

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
41%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
38%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

615 N. Stadium Ave.
Thatcher, Arizona 85552-0769
(800) 678-3808

In-State Tuition
$2,400
Grad rate
38%
Student/Faculty Ratio
19:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#5 – Score 66.7

Southeastern Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
39

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
25%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
39%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

3001 E First St.
Vidalia, Georgia 30474
(912) 538-3100

In-State Tuition
$2,784
Grad rate
41%
Student/Faculty Ratio
11:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#6 – Score 64.8

Lanier Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
110

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
31%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
32%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

2990 Landrum Education Dr.
Oakwood, Georgia 30566
(770) 533-7000

In-State Tuition
$3,169
Grad rate
32%
Student/Faculty Ratio
14:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#7 – Score 62.9

Savannah Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
196

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
23%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
27%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

5717 White Bluff Rd.
Savannah, Georgia 31405-5594
(912) 443-5700

In-State Tuition
$2,704
Grad rate
32%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#8 – Score 62.4

Central Georgia Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
72

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
27%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
36%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

80 Cohen Walker Dr.
Warner Robins, Georgia 31088
(478) 988-6800

In-State Tuition
$2,714
Grad rate
30%
Student/Faculty Ratio
14:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#9 – Score 61.9

Oconee Fall Line Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17 29 Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate 25% Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate 45% School Website Financial Aid Info 1189 Deepstep Rd. Sandersville, Georgia 31082 (800) 200-4484

In-State Tuition
$3,921
Grad rate
34%
Student/Faculty Ratio
9:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#10 – Score 61.4

Columbus Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
95

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
24%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
18%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

928 Manchester Expy.
Columbus, Georgia 31904-6572
(706) 649-1800

In-State Tuition
$2,704
Grad rate
21%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#11 – Score 60.5

Mount Wachusett Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
48

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
21%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
54%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

444 Green St.
Gardner, Massachusetts 01440-1000
(978) 632-6600

In-State Tuition
$5,308
Grad rate
21%
Student/Faculty Ratio
11:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#12 – Score 60.0

Albany Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
9

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
31%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
47%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

1704 South Slappey Blvd.
Albany, Georgia 31701
(229) 430-3500

In-State Tuition
$2,654
Grad rate
37%
Student/Faculty Ratio
15:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#13 – Score 58.6

Atlanta Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
216

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
19%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
26%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

1560 Metropolitan Pkwy SW.
Atlanta, Georgia 30310-4446
(404) 225-4400

In-State Tuition
$2,756
Grad rate
44%
Student/Faculty Ratio
18:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#14 – Score 55.7

Gwinnett Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
54

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
12%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
13%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

5150 Sugarloaf Pkwy.
Lawrenceville, Georgia 30043-5702
(770) 962-7580

In-State Tuition
$2,796
Grad rate
36%
Student/Faculty Ratio
20:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#15 – Score 55.2

Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
59

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
21%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
29%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

One Maurice Culberson Dr.
Rome, Georgia 30161
(866) 983-4682

In-State Tuition
$2,764
Grad rate
36%
Student/Faculty Ratio
18:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#16 – Score 53.3

South Georgia Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
18

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
25%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
38%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

900 South GA Tech Pkwy.
Americus, Georgia 31709
(229) 931-2394

In-State Tuition
$4,593
Grad rate
57%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#17 – Score 52.9

Athens Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
23

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
17%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
23%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

800 U.S. Hwy 29 North
Athens, Georgia 30601
(706) 355-5000

In-State Tuition
$2,794
Grad rate
29%
Student/Faculty Ratio
14:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#18 – Score 46.2

Asnuntuck Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
13

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
5%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
31%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

170 Elm St.
Enfield, Connecticut 06082
(860) 253-3010

In-State Tuition
$4,208
Grad rate
34%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#19 – Score 45.7

Mountwest Community and Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
51

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
3%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
6%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

One Mountwest Way
Huntington, West Virginia 25701
(866) 676-5533

In-State Tuition
$3,888
Grad rate
20%
Student/Faculty Ratio
15:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#20 – Score 42.9

Blue Ridge Community and Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
78

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
5%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

13650 Apple Harvest Dr.
Martinsburg, West Virginia 25403
(304) 260-4380

In-State Tuition
$3,864
Grad rate
29%
Student/Faculty Ratio
21:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#21 – Score 41.4

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
15

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
7%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

3520 Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223-2690
(513) 569-1500

In-State Tuition
$3,825
Grad rate
15%
Student/Faculty Ratio
13:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#22 – Score 38.1

Chattahoochee Technical College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
42

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
11%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
15%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

980 S Cobb Drive Dr SE
Marietta, Georgia 30060
(470) 361-2822

In-State Tuition
$2,746
Grad rate
26%
Student/Faculty Ratio
22:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#23 – Score 37.6

College of DuPage

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
84

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
5%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
3%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

425 Fawell Blvd.
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137-6599
(630) 942-2800

In-State Tuition
$4,050
Grad rate
23%
Student/Faculty Ratio
22:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#24 – Score 35.7

Bunker Hill Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
50

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

250 New Rutherford Ave.
Boston, Massachusetts 02129-2925
(617) 228-2000

In-State Tuition
$4,050
Grad rate
23%
Student/Faculty Ratio
22:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#25 – Score 33.8

Portland Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
48

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
2%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
3%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

12000 SW 49th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97219-7132
(971) 722-6111

In-State Tuition
$3,802
Grad rate
15%
Student/Faculty Ratio
21:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#26 – Score 33.3

Quinebaug Valley Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
14

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
3%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

742 Upper Maple St.
Danielson, Connecticut 06239-1436
(860) 932-4000

In-State Tuition
$4,198
Grad rate
22%
Student/Faculty Ratio
15:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#27 – Score 33.3

Mohawk Valley Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
18

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
1%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
4%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

1101 Sherman Dr,.
Utica, New York 13501-5394
(315) 792-5400

In-State Tuition
$4,860
Grad rate
30%
Student/Faculty Ratio
18:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#28 – Score 29.0

Capital Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
14

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
3%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
1%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

950 Main St.
Hartford, Connecticut 06103
(860) 906-5000

In-State Tuition
$4,236
Grad rate
6%
Student/Faculty Ratio
14:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#29 – Score 24.3

Raritan Valley Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
19

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
1%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
1%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

118 Lamington Rd.
Branchburg, New Jersey 08876
(908) 526-1200

In-State Tuition
$4,224
Grad rate
26%
Student/Faculty Ratio
20:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

#30 – Score 20.0

Housatonic Community College

Certifications Awarded ’16-’17
5

Part-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
1%

Full-Time , First-Time Certification Rate
0%

School Website
Financial Aid Info

900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604-4704
(203) 332-5000

In-State Tuition
$4,188
Grad rate
12%
Student/Faculty Ratio
16:1
Job Placement
Yes
Career Counseling
Yes

Step 4: Complete your clinical training

The fourth step is to complete any clinical training required by your program.

While a set number of hours in a hands-on, clinical environment is a standard requirement for accredited programs, the actual amount required depends on the school itself. Some schools require as little as 40 hours of hands-on training, and others require 160 hours or more.

Regardless of the amount of time required, you will have to finish all of the mandated clinical training hours in order to graduate from your program. Be sure to take this requirement into consideration when choosing a school.

Step 5: Pass a national certification exam

With your formal training completed, you’ll become eligible to test for certification. In the medical assisting field, there are five different national certification exams accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). You can pass any one of these and become certified to work throughout the United States.

While you may take any exam you wish, keep in mind that some of them certify you for different competencies. With that being the case, you should test for the certification that best fits your career goals.

Medical assistant certifications

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from AAMA

One of the best-known, and most-respected of the national medical assistant credentials, the CMA certification is sponsored by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The credential represents a comprehensive range of competencies, and is accepted by most employers around the country.

Because this certification qualifies the individual for most medical assistant job openings, the CMA (AAMA) Exam covers these broad areas of knowledge:

  • General medical knowledge
  • Administrative knowledge
  • Clinical knowledge

In order to be eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) Exam, you must graduate from a training program accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES. Read more about program accreditation under Step 3.

National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from NCCT

The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification is a nationally-recognized credential that qualifies its holder for a wide range of positions in medical assisting. It is sponsored by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

An individual can become eligible to challenge the NCMA Exam through any one of the following three means:

 

  • Have graduated from a medical assistant program approved by NCCT (see their site for details) within the past five years
  • Provide proof of full-time employment as a medical assistant in at least two of the past five years
  • Have completed medical assistant training, or its equivalent, during military service within the past five years
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from NHA

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) offers a certification specifically for medical assistants specifically interested in working in a clinical setting. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential represents a high level of competency in clinical patient care. It is ideal for those interested in working in hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices.

Eligibility for the CCMA Exam has the following prerequisites:

  • Hold a high school diploma or G.E.D.
  • Have successfully completed an accredited medical assistant program in the last five years
  • Have completed a formal health care training program during military service

NHA makes an exception for test eligibility in cases where the applicant has at least one year’s worth of unsupervised work experience as medical assistant over the past three years. In these cases, the other training prerequisites can be waived (not including the high school diploma or G.E.D.).

Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from NHA

If you’re interested in focusing on the administrative side of the medical assisting field, the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) offers a second certification for this purpose. The Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification represents advanced competencies in the tasks that are required in order to keep a healthcare facility’s office running smoothly.

To be eligible to sit for the CMAA Exam, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a high school diploma or G.E.D.
  • Have successfully completed an accredited medical assistant program in the last five years
  • Have completed a formal health care training program during military service

As is the case with NHA’s other medical assistant certification exam (the CCMA), you may be able to waive all of the above eligibility requirements (except for being a high school graduate) if you have work experience. Individuals with at least one year’s worth of unsupervised experience as a medical assistant can challenge for certification without having completed a formal training program.

Preparing for your certification exam

After completing your accredited training program, you should be familiar with the information that will appear on any of the five major certification exams. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to review what you’ve learned and to quiz yourself, or have someone else quiz you before actually sitting for the exam.

Despite the fact that there are some differences between the different exams, the following content areas will appear on all of them. In the case of the RMA and CMA Exams, they each consist of three main sections titled General, Administrative, and Clinical.

For the NCMA, CCMA and CMAA Exams, this material makes up the exam as well, but is arranged into different categories.

General knowledge

Between 25% and 40% of each exam contains a section that deals with general topics covered during your training program.

This section does not deal specifically with administrative or clinical issues, but instead focuses on subjects like those listed to the right.

Anatomy

Physiology

Psychology

Communication skills

Medical ethics

Medical laws

Healthcare regulations

Risk management

Safety procedures

Medical terminology

Administrative knowledge

On average, another 25% of your exam will test your administrative knowledge. In the case of the CMAA exam, this section is the primary focus of the exam.

Topics to review when preparing for the administrative portion of your certification exam include:

Anatomy

Physiology

Psychology

Communication skills

Medical ethics

Scheduling

Managing appointments

Financial bookkeeping

Medical insurance

Correspondence

Clinical knowledge

With the exception of the aforementioned CMAA exam, each of the other national tests place between 35% and 50% of their focus on testing your clinical knowledge. Being highly familiar with this area is crucial to passing any medical assisting certification exam you take.

You should expect to see questions on the following topics in this section of your exam:

Infection control

Patient intake and documentation of care

Patient preparation and assisting the provider

Nutrition

Collecting and processing specimens

Diagnostic testing

Clinical pharmacology

First aid and emergency response

Medical assistant practice tests

An important part of your preparation for the certification exam should be taking advantage of the various practice tests available. We have provided the following links to the official practice tests for each of the five main certification exams.

CMA practice tests and study guide (AAMA)

RMA online practice tests (AMT)

NCMA practice tests (NCCT)

CCMA and CMAA study guides and practice tests (NHA)

 

Where to take the exam

Each of the five different national certification exams discussed in this guide are administered on a monthly basis at locations throughout the 50 states. Test sites are determined by the provider for each exam. An application and exam fee must be paid to the test provider before you can be scheduled for an upcoming exam.

Test providers and their associated fees for each certification exam are listed below. Contact the provider directly to find out about upcoming test dates and locations.

Test providers and fees

CMA Exam – Administered by The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), $125 non-refundable exam fee is due to AAMA at the time of application

 

RMA Exam – Administered by PearsonVUE, $120 non-refundable exam fee is due to AMT at time of application

 

NCMA Exam – Administered by National Certification Medical Association (NCMA), $140 exam fee is due at time of application

 

CCMA Exam – Administered by PSI Exams Online, $155 exam fee is due at time of application

 

CMAA Exam – Administered by PSI Exams Online, $115 exam fee is due at time of application

Being ready on your exam day

As your exam date approaches, it’s normal to become anxious and maybe a little nervous as well. However, making sure that you’re prepared can alleviate this nervousness and help ensure that you have a successful outcome. To help facilitate this, it may be helpful to put together a checklist (like the one below) that you can use to structure your preparation and study time.

  • Make sure that you bring your approved application and receipt for fees paid to the test site
  • Take advantage of the official practice tests offered for your specific exam
  • Always use a timer to stay within the recommended time guidelines while taking a practice test
  • Know where the test center is located and plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early on test day

How long does it take to get your exam results?

The exact amount of time required to score, process and send the results from your certification exam will vary according to which exam you take, and who provides it. The stated wait times for results from each provider are listed below.

CMA Exam – AAMA states that you should expect to receive your official score via mail within three weeks of your test date. Your score will also be posted online on the 20th day of the month after you take the exam.

RMA Exam – Test provider PearsonVUE states that it submits final test scores 2-5 business days after the exam date. Your score can be viewed online once it is posted.

NCMA Exam – Test provider NCCT states that final exam scores are posted 1-2 business days after the exam, and are mailed within 7-10 business days.

CCMA and CMAA Exams – Test provider PSI states that your official test score will be provided to you before you leave the test site on the day of your exam.

When will you receive your certification?

Once you’ve received confirmation that you’ve passed your exam, you’ll still need to receive your certification card before you can start looking for jobs. The amount of time required to receive your card can vary according to a number of factors, but AAMA advises that you should expect to receive your certification within 9 weeks of being notified of your passing score.

Finding a job as a medical assistant

After passing your certification exam and receiving your card, you’ll be ready to find your first job as a medical assistant. You may already have a good idea of how to go about doing this, but the following may be useful to you nonetheless.

Where to look

There are several different approaches you can take to looking for a position as a medical assistant. Because your accredited training program included an externship, you may have already used that opportunity to network with prospective employers. Even if this is the case, it may still be worth your time to check out other options as well.

What type of healthcare setting is right for you?

Medical assistants are employed in a wide variety of different healthcare settings. Choosing one that fits your skills and interests is crucial to job satisfaction and advancing towards your career goals. For this reason, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the differences between these different work environments before deciding on one for your first job.

Some things to consider are:

  1. Do you like working in a fast-paced environment (e.g. a hospital) or in a more laid-back one (e.g. a clinic)?
  2. Do you want to work in a traditional healthcare setting, or be part of the medical staff in a non-traditional one (e.g. at a university)?
  3. Are you interested in transitioning into a different role later on? If so, you should find a job that gives you exposure to that role.

As is the case with most things we search for today, a good place to start looking for a medical assisting job is online. You can start by searching major job sites like Monster.com, Indeed.com  and CareerBuilder.com. You may also look at the job listings on the sites for your local healthcare facilities.

Several of the most-common places to find medical assistant jobs appear below.

Places to look for medical assistant jobs

Physicians offices

The vast majority of medical assistants are employed in physicians offices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59% of all medical assistants worked in a doctor’s private office in 2014.

Pros: Lots of exposure to doctors and opportunities to learn, chances to perform multiple roles and gain broad experience.

Cons: Smaller team means less exposure to other professionals and fewer opportunities to network.

Hospitals

According to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15% of all medical assistants in the U.S. were employed at hospitals in 2014. This is a popular choice for most medical assistants due to the wide range of available opportunities and relative flexibility it provides. 

Pros: Wide range of available shifts, opportunities to network with many other healthcare professionals, good pay.

Cons: The fast-paced environment can be stressful.

Offices of other healthcare practitioners

Approximately 10% of all medical assistants worked in the office of a healthcare provider other than a physician in 2014. This includes the offices of various medical specialists, researchers, and a range of other professionals.

Pros: Opportunities for those who want to specialize in a specific area of medicine, often higher pay than most other medical assistant employers.

Cons: Slower pace may not be for everyone, less exposure to general medical community.

What should be on your resume?

Having a well put together, clearly-targeted resume is important no matter which type of job you’re looking for. This is certainly the case when it comes to medical assisting.

Remember that the very this thing an employer will know about you is what is on your resume. For that simple reason, it is extremely important to ensure that you have a resume that makes a strong, positive first impression. It should also reflect your professionalism as a person – even if you are applying for your first job in healthcare.

A good medical assistant resume should include:

  1. Contact information – full name, address, phone number and emai
  2. Your career objective – one or two sentences describing who you are, and why you want the job
  3. Skills and qualifications – list out your personal skills that would make you a good medical assistant, any qualifications you earned during training, and information on your certification
  4. Education – list each school you’ve attended in reverse chronological order – starting with the training program you just completed
  5. Work experience – list your clinical externship experience and dates, as well as any other relevant work experience
  6. Personal references – list at least two professional references

Prepare for interviews

After sending out your applications and resumes, you should start preparing yourself for job interviews. Below are a few basic guidelines you should follow to help you with your preparation.

Be ready to answer common questions

As you are probably aware, there are some basic questions that most employers ask job applicants during an interview. Practicing how you’ll answer these questions can give you greater confidence as you walk into the interview, and can also impress the employer with your thoughtfulness and preparation.

Examples of common interview questions

“Tell us about yourself”

“Why did you decide to become a medical assistant?”

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Tell us about a time you had to do something difficult”

Prepare your own questions

Most people spend the majority of their time preparing for an interview by thinking about the questions the employer will ask them. This misses an important opportunity, as most employers are more impressed by the questions a candidate asks them than by the answers they give.

Therefore, it’s imperative that you put together a short list of questions you have about the position, facility, etc. and be prepared to ask them at the interview. You should not, however, ask the interviewer about salary, benefits, etc. Some interviewers view this negatively, so it’s usually a better idea to allow them to bring these subjects up.

Examples of questions to ask the employer

“How long is the training period here?”

“What is the greatest challenge for those who work here?”

“Are there opportunities for additional education and professional development?”

“Can I see the facility?”

How to dress and what to bring

Presenting the right image to a potential employer is extremely important. This means not just saying the right things during the interview, but presenting a professional image as well.

While wearing professional business attire is certainly not necessary (after all, medical assistants do usually wear scrubs at work), clean, well-cared for “business casual” style clothing is a must. You will also want to bring a few things that will further display your professional approach to the interview.

Things to bring to the interview

  • A notebook and pen or pencil
  • Additional copies of your resume
  • Your medical assistant certification card
  • Proof of any additional qualifications you carry, or achievements from training
  • Letters of recommendation

Following up after the interview

It’s always a good practice to follow-up with the employer after a job interview. This helps separate you from the majority of candidates who do not take the time for this basic step.

The first part of this process actually begins during the interview itself. Make sure to write down the name of everyone who interviewed you. This allows you to follow-up with them later.

If you really want the position, it’s a good practice to send a formal “thank you” letter one or two days after the interview. In this letter, you should repeat what was discussed during the interview, and restate your enthusiasm for the position.

About medical assistant salary

To get a fairly accurate idea of how much you can expect to be paid as a medical assistant, you will need to do some research. This is particularly true if you’re just starting out in the field.

What is the average salary for a medical assistant?

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ last official report in May 2016, the national median salary for medical assistants was $31,540. The following tables reflect how this number varies according to the state you work in, your experience, and your employer.

Medical assistant salary by state

StateHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage
Alabama$12.81 $26,650
Alaska$19.38 $40,320
Arizona$14.90 $31,000
Arkansas$13.63 $28,360
California$16.65 $34,640
Colorado$16.35 $34,010
Connecticut$16.70 $34,730
Delaware$14.96 $31,110
Florida$14.59 $30,340
Georgia$14.44 $30,040
Hawaii$17.06 $35,480
Idaho$14.66 $30,480
Illinois$15.34 $31,900
Indiana$14.37 $29,880
Iowa$15.41 $32,050
Kansas$13.85 $28,800
Kentucky$14.03 $29,180
Louisiana$12.88 $26,800
Maine$15.62 $32,500
Maryland$16.26 $33,810
Massachusetts$17.99 $37,420
Michigan$14.35 $29,850
Minnesota$17.89 $37,210
Mississippi$13.54 $28,170
Missouri$14.43 $30,010
Montana$15.02 $31,240
Nebraska$14.71 $30,590
Nevada$15.27 $31,760
New Hampshire$16.60 $34,530
New Jersey$16.71 $34,750
New Mexico$13.77 $28,630
New York$16.81 $34,970
North Carolina$14.86 $30,910
North Dakota$16.42 $34,140
Ohio$14.06 $29,250
Oklahoma$13.90 $28,910
Oregon$17.28 $35,930
Pennsylvania$14.52 $30,200
Rhode Island$16.44 $34,200
South Carolina$14.14 $29,410
South Dakota$13.73 $28,560
Tennessee$14.18 $29,500
Texas$14.23 $29,600
Utah$14.48 $30,110
Vermont$16.80 $34,940
Virginia$14.92 $31,030
Washington$18.00 $37,430
West Virginia$12.29 $25,560
Wisconsin$16.35 $34,000
Wyoming$15.29 $31,790

Source: www.bls.gov

Salary by employer type

 

Employer TypeMedian Hourly WageMedian Annual Salary
Offices of Physicians$15.76 $32,780
Hospitals$16.46 $34,250
Offices of Other Health Practitioners$14.26 $29,660
Outpatient Care Centers$16.83 $35,020
Assisted Living Facilities$13.09 $27,240

Source: www.bls.gov

Salary by experience

ExperienceMedian Hourly WageMedian Annual Salary
Entry-Level$13.34 $29,627
Mid-Career$15.06 $31,897
Experienced$15.89 $33,782
Late-Career$16.65 $37,965

Source: Payscale.com

What is the job outlook for medical assistants?

The nation’s healthcare system is expanding at an unprecedented rate, thanks to record numbers of insured Americans and the large number of seniors currently in the population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 591,000 medical assistants are projected to be employed in the United States by 2024.

Similar to salary, the job outlook for medical assistants varies by state. The following table illustrates the growth rate in new medical assistants positions in every state through 2024.

Medical assistant job outlook by state through 2024

 

StateMedical assistant jobs 2014Projected medical assistant jobs 2024Percent Change
Alabama6,6008,06022.1
Alaska1,2901,54019.5
Arizona18,8402,284021.2
Arkansas2,7003,42026.6
California80,900103,30027.7
Colorado9,25012,51035.2
Connecticut7,2508,49017
Delaware1,9102,18013.7
Florida45,37060,42033.2
Georgia21,13029,04037.4
Hawaii2,9103,23011.3
Idahon/an/an/a
Illinois19,10021,39012
Indiana13,63016,44020.6
Iowa3,7004,38018.3
Kansas4,2704,85013.7
Kentucky7,97010,26028.7
Louisiana6,9508,08016.3
Maine3,2103,54010.2
Maryland12,05015,14025.7
Massachusetts16,28018,69014.8
Michigan22,96025,43010.8
Minnesota8,60010,14017.9
Mississippi2,1602,49015.1
Missouri9,53010,57010.9
Montana9801,15017.5
Nebraska3,4404,05017.7
Nevada5,6007,61035.7
New Hampshire2,1302,54019.4
New Jersey15,77018,51017.4
New Mexico4,8005,62017
New York25,49031,54023.7
North Carolina14,32017,94025.3
North Dakota67083024.4
Ohio21,24025,93022.1
Oklahoma7,7909,04016.1
Oregon9,69012,08024.6
Pennsylvania23,91027,41014.7
Rhode Island2,6102,7203.9
South Carolina8,44010,15020.3
South Dakota1,0601,1508.8
Tennessee14,11018,75033
Texas55,60074,69034.3
Utah7,3109,61031.4
Vermont7307705.9
Virginia10,73014,16032
Washington12,92015,58020.5
West Virginia3,4303,7308.7
Wisconsin11,33012,2708.3
Wyoming66079020.1

Source: CareerOneStop.org

Not sure if you want to become a medical assistant?

Do you want to work in healthcare, but aren’t sure if the medical assisting field is for you? If so, there are several similar career options you may want to consider.

Below we’ve provided comparisons between medical assistants and other similar healthcare positions that may interest you.

Medical assistant vs Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a basic care provider who works alongside registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in many of the same facilities that employ medical assistants. Like medical assistants, they generally earn a certification prior to becoming employed. Their responsibilities, training and salary are all quite different, however.

Differences in responsibilities

Medical assistants may work directly under a physician in clinical settings, or work somewhat independently in an administrative support role. Nursing assistants, on the other hand, work exclusively in clinical settings where they provide basic patient care under the supervision of higher-level nurses such as RNs and LPNs.

Unlike medical assistants, CNAs are not permitted to administer medications, give patients injections, or handle blood samples for testing. The majority of their duties involve monitoring and providing comfort for patients who are hospitalized, or limited in their abilities to leave their homes.

Differences in training and pay

Certified nursing assistants do not require as much education and training as medical assistants. Whereas most medical assistant certification programs last at least one year, the typical nursing assistant program can often be completed in just a matter of months.

As a result of the lower barriers to entry, certified nursing assistant salaries are proportionately lower than medical assistants. The national median pay for CNAs was $26,590 in May 2016 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Medical Assistant vs Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are members of the nursing profession who often work directly under the supervision of Registered Nurses (RNs).

They are employed in many of the same facilities as medical assistants, but focus exclusively on patient care and supporting the RNs in their duties.

Differences in responsibilities

There is very little crossover in the responsibilities of the LPN and the medical assistant. In cases where the medical assistant is responsible for clinical duties there may be similar patient monitoring tasks involved. However, the reporting structure and protocols followed tend to differ as the LPN reports to higher-level nurses while the medical assistant may report to non-nursing medical professionals.

Differences in training and pay

Both LPNs and LVNs must be licensed by their state in order to be eligible for employment. Like medical assistant training, the education required to become eligible to test for licensure as an LPN or LVN usually lasts for about one year.

With the additional education requirements and responsibilities come significantly higher pay for LPNs. According to the May 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurses was $44,090.

Medical Assistant vs Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

If you are interested in the administrative duties performed by medical assistants but aren’t sure if you want to work on the clinical side, the medical records and health information technician position may be an alternative.

This class of medical field professionals includes medical billers and coders and medical transcriptionists. Both of these professionals are responsible for maintaining healthcare data, as well as other data management tasks.

Differences in responsibilities

While some administrative medical assistants may handle medical data, their responsibilities are usually limited to its storage and sharing with necessary medical partners.

Medical billers and coders are responsible for converting physicians’ notes (provided by the medical transcriptionist) into codes and documents that can be used for insurance purposes.

Differences in training and pay

The amount of education required to become a medical records and health information technician is similar in that both positions require the completion of an approximately one-year formal training course and a passing score on a certification exam. That is usually where the similarities end, however.

While medical assistant training does include a significant amount of memorization and theory, it also involves a clinical component that uses and externship to develop hands-on skills. Billers and coders and transcriptionists, on the other hand, focus almost entirely on memorizing codes, procedures and documentation processes.

The pay for these technicians is usually significantly higher than what is paid to medical assisting personnel. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 report, that the national median annual wage for medical records and health information technicians was $38,040.

Similar Careers in Allied Health

Nursing Assistant Information by State