A flexible and well-trained team member can transform an outpatient clinic's efficiency. The right employee can seamlessly shift roles from day-to-day, helping fill gaps where they exist and backing up other staff members when there's a surge. In many clinics, a medical assistant (MA) fills this role. These healthcare professionals receive training in a wide range of clinical and administrative subjects, which allows them to contribute in many different ways.
However, unlike doctors, physician assistants, and nurses, there is no licensing standard for MAs. That means an MA's skills and qualifications can vary widely depending on the training they receive or the state they live in. That's why many clinics choose to hire MAs who have earned a certification from a national organization in lieu of licensing. A certification offers some assurance that an MA has received training and demonstrated mastery of the job's many functions.
For the three leading MA certifying organizations, the certification process culminates in an examination. While the three examinations cover a broad range of topics, each test emphasizes different job elements. If you're hiring MAs, it may be helpful to understand the differences between the three most common exams.
Many people consider the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification exam, administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), to be the most challenging MA test in the industry. The CMA (AAMA) is the only credential that is trademarked, along with the title of Certified Medical Assistant®. This certification is also the most renowned and sought-after credential among employers. Candidates who sit for this exam take a 200 multiple-choice question test, 180 of which are scored.
The AAMA exam covers three broad categories: general, administrative, and clinical. Each category has between seven and nine subcategories covering topics like medical terminology, risk management, reception, medical records, finance, and scheduling. Nearly half of the AAMA test material covers clinical topics like diagnostic testing, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and patient preparation.
MAs who earn the registered medical assistant (RMA) certification through the American Medical Technologists (AMT) organization must pass a 210 question examination covering four different sections: anatomy and physiology, administrative medical assisting, clinical medical assisting, and clinical patient interaction.
The AMT places the most emphasis on the administrative medical assisting portion of the test, covering topics like insurance, bookkeeping, medical receptionist, medical law and ethics, and human relations. Conversely, the AMT test places the least emphasis on clinical medical assisting covering topics an MA would need to know to aid in minor surgical procedures.
By contrast, the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification examination offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) contains more questions about clinical medical procedures than any other testing category. This topic includes infection, exposure control, and safety, along with general patient care. The next most emphasized topic is medical office management, covering finance, billing, and insurance topics.
The NCCT exam also includes categories like pharmacology, phlebotomy, diagnostic testing, office procedures, and medical law and ethics. Candidates who sit for the test must complete 15 unscored pretest items and 150 scored items in three hours. In 2020, the NCCT reported a 60% pass rate for its certification exam.
Because MAs are so flexible, clinics use them in many different ways. That means, in some instances, an RMA (AMT) certification might be a better fit for a clinic than an NCMA (NCCT) or vice versa. However, it's critical to remember that it's the candidate that makes an outstanding MA, not the certification. So hire with the person in mind first.
If your clinic needs help navigating the world of MA certifications, Med-X staffing services is here to help. Both members of our leadership team hold CMA (AAMA) certifications and have worked for decades in staffing and clinical roles. That gives our organization tremendous insight into the many ways MAs can help clinics and how clinics choose the right MAs to fit their needs. Call us today at 503.922.1393 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can't wait to help!