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Do Medical Assistants Need Certification?

Posted Thursday, Dec 16, 2021 by Altierus

Considering pursuing a career as a medical assistant? You may be looking into the qualifications and training needed to get started in the field. As a college that offers a Medical Assistant Diploma program, one of the questions we hear most from prospective students is: do medical assistants need certification to work in the field?

The short answer is “no.” Medical assistants are not required to obtain a license from their state or certification from another organization in order to work. However, there are career advantages to gaining medical assistant certification. This article explains two of the most common types of certification available and describes a few of the advantages certified medical assistants have when it comes to starting their careers.

What’s the Difference Between “Licensure” and “Certification”?

First, we want to clear up the difference between the terms “licensure” and “certification.” You may see them used elsewhere as if they mean the same thing, but they don’t. While both terms refer to a process for verifying a professional’s training, knowledge, and skills, there are a few important differences.

Licensure is a legal process controlled by a government body, usually a state government. Licensed professionals are legally permitted to work in the state which grants them the license. Sometimes, states may require practitioners to obtain specific certifications in order to become eligible for licensure. However, no U.S. states or territories currently require medical assistants to have a license in order to work.   

Certification is a voluntary process controlled by a private professional organization, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Certification programs are usually designed to set industry standards for a profession’s scope of practice, skills, and essential knowledge. Because there are many different professional organizations, there can be more than one type of certification for the same occupation. That’s certainly the case with medical assistant certification.

What Medical Assistant Certification Programs Are Available?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists five different medical assistant certification programs in its Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on medical assistants. They are:

The two most common certification programs are the CMA (AAMA) and the RMA. At Altierus Career College, we prepare our Medical Assistant Diploma program students for one of these certification options, depending on what employers in their area prefer.

How Do I Qualify for Medical Assistant Certification?

All certification programs have similar requirements. Applicants must prove they have gained knowledge and skills in medical assisting either through education or documented work experience, and then pass an exam. Once certified, medical assistants need to maintain their certification, usually by completing professional development courses.

CMA (AAMA) vs. RMA Certification

The table below offers a comparison of the two medical assistant certification options we prepare students for at Altierus Career College. Details are current as of July 2021, but please note that requirements are controlled by the certifying organizations and are subject to change.

 CMA (AAMA)RMA
EligibilityMust graduate from a post-secondary training program certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).[1]Must complete 720 hours of instruction plus 160 hours of externship experience with an accredited institution, via formal military training, or have at least five years of experience working as an MA in the last seven years plus CPR certification. Full-time MA program instructors with at least five years’ experience can also apply.[2]
Exam Format and Content200 multiple-choice questions covering clinical competencies, ethical and legal issues, billing, administration, and more.[3]210 multiple-choice questions covering anatomy, patient interaction, clinical duties, and administrative duties.[4]
Exam Fees$125[5]$120[6]
Recertification RequirementsRenew every 60 months (five years) by re-taking exam or completing approved continuing education; if more than 90 days pass after initial certification expires, applicants must re-take the exam to regain certification.[7]Pay annual fee of $60; complete 30 “points” of continuing education every three years.[8]

Certification exam fees for either the CMA (AAMA) or RMA are covered in the cost of our Medical Assistant Diploma program at Altierus Career College. We help our students decide which certification to pursue based on hiring trends in their local job market.

Do Certified Medical Assistants Have an Advantage in the Job Market?

Yes! Gaining certification as a medical assistant offers employers an additional benchmark for gauging your knowledge, skills, and qualifications. Beyond an endorsement of your clinical and administrative skills, medical assistant certification also shows employers you’re committed to growing in your role through continuing education.

Research by the National Healthcareers Association (NHA) bears this out. According to the NHA’s 2020 Industry Outlook, which surveyed healthcare employers between December 31, 2019–January 9, 2020:

  • 73% of medical assistants working for the surveyed organizations held certification[9]
  • 72% of employers used medical assistant certification as part of their criteria for screening job applicants[10]
  • 63% of employers raise pay for employees who earn certification[11]

Earning medical assistant certification is an additional investment in your career that you can make right at the start—one that signals to employers that you’re worth investing in, too.

See How You Could Get Started as a Medical Assistant

Altierus Career College offers a 10-month Medical Assistant Diploma program at all three of our campuses. The program features built-in certification prep, blends flexible online coursework with one day of hands-on class per week, and offers you the chance to get on the path to a great new career in less than one year.

Learn more about our Medical Assistant Diploma program today!

Accreditation Statement

The Medical Assistant diploma program at Altierus Career College is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), 7777 Leesburg Pike, Suite 314 N, Falls Church, VA 22043; (703) 917-9503.


[1] https://www.aama-ntl.org/cma-aama-exam/eligibility

[2] https://www.americanmedtech.org/Medical-Assistant#exam/

[3] https://www.aama-ntl.org/docs/default-source/cma-exam/Exam-Content-Outline-effective-on-and-after-7-15-21.pdf?sfvrsn=6

[4] https://www.americanmedtech.org/Portals/0/PDF/Get%20Cert/Prepare%20for%20Exam/RMA-Content.pdf

[5] https://www.aama-ntl.org/cma-aama-exam/application-steps

[6] https://www.americanmedtech.org/Medical-Assistant#apply/ 

[7] https://www.aama-ntl.org/continuing-education/recertification-policies

[8] https://www.americanmedtech.org/Certification/Stay-Certified

[9] https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/1430252/campaigns/2020/access%202020/NHA_IndustryOutlook_2020.pdf, p. 3

[10] https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/1430252/campaigns/2020/access%202020/NHA_IndustryOutlook_2020.pdf, p. 4

[11] https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/1430252/campaigns/2020/access%202020/NHA_IndustryOutlook_2020.pdf, p. 3

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