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Medical Assistant Training Programs

Updated on January 4, 2013

Certified medical assistant training courses prepare students for a career that involves assisting doctors with clinical duties and daily administrative tasks. This career consists of fast-paced work that requires quick thinking and the ability to multi-task effectively.

Medical assistants work under the direct supervision of a licensed physician and operate in a lively environment performing a range of tasks that often includes medical record keeping, scheduling, completing insurance related paperwork, patient billing, direct patient contact, and preparing laboratory tests.

Some states allow certified assistants to take X-rays and do blood work after passing an additional test. This key position plays an important role in the health care environment, providing a vital link between doctors and patients by communicating important information that directly impacts patient care.

How CMA Training Works

While credentialing is voluntary, most hospitals, clinics, and other potential employers are requiring that medical assistant candidates be certified or registered. This is due in part to protecting the employer from any potential legal liability but it also ensures that they are hiring professionals with the right skill set and educational background to care for patients.

To become a CMA, you must take and pass the CMA Certification Exam. The exam is a computer based test administered through official testing centers located throughout the United States. Before being eligible to take the exam, a student must independently complete an accredited training program. This can usually be accomplished in 12 to 24 months.

Finding a School

These programs are available primarily through community colleges, technical colleges, and online training courses. Schools must have accreditation from either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). There are currently hundreds of accredited schools across the United States to choose from so finding one in your local area is not difficult.

Online classes are available for those who have an interest in distance learning or need greater scheduling flexibility. Online students still must complete the clinical practice portion of their education and their school will assign them to a partner health care facility in their community to meet this requirement.

Individuals who have been found guilty of a felony or have one appearing on their record are not eligible to take the exam unless granted a formal exception by the certifying board. After passing the certification exam, medical assistants are required to meet certain continuing education requirements (CEUs) every five years to keep their certifications active.

Registered Medical Assistants

Another credentialing option is to become a registered medical assistant. While the designation is slightly different, the educational requirements are quite similar. Students who wish to earn the RMA designation must complete an approved medical assistant curriculum at an accredited school or show documented proof of having a minimum of 5 years of on the job experience. Applicants for this credential must be at least 18 years of age and are required to show proof of a high school diploma prior to registration.

What to Expect From Your Training Program

The training process consists of two portions, academic and clinical. Major areas of study will include:

  • Learning Medical Terminology

  • Understanding Law and Ethics as They Relate to Medicine

  • First Aid

  • Office Practices and Procedures

  • Developing and Handling Patient Relations

  • Pharmacology

  • Clinical and Diagnostic Procedures

  • Medical Coding, Billing, Record Keeping, and Accounting

  • Computer Skills

  • Medical Administration

  • Anatomy, Pathology, and Physiology

While this may seem like an extensive amount of information to learn and process, keep in mind that instructors present the material at an introductory level. Students can choose between a one year certificate program and a 2 year associate's degree. If you are planning on further education at some point in the future, the associate degree is a good option because in many cases, you can apply part of the credit from the classes you have already completed towards a more advanced degree.

Career Outlook

Demand for skilled and qualified assistants has been on the increase and this has led to abundant job opportunities and upward pressure on salaries. In fact, some estimates predict that medical assisting will experience growth in excess of 30% over the next 8 to 10 years. An average work week runs from Monday through Friday and involves approximately 40 hours of work. One of the common perks of working in this environment is getting two consecutive days off as many clinics are closed on the weekends (this may not apply to those working in a hospital or other facility offering extended hours).


Depending on what part of the country you live in and how much experience you have, the average hourly base earnings for a certified medical assistant are between $11 and $18 before accounting for overtime and benefits. This equates to between $23,000 and $36,000 per year. The states where the greatest earnings potential currently exists are California, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Florida.

Advancement Potential

One of the major advantages to becoming a medical assistant is the ability to gain experience on both the clinical and administrative side of the health care profession. This provides the flexibility of choosing a career advancement path on the clinical side such as nursing or an office driven path in medical administration.

With a few years of experience, many medical assistants are able to advance to office management positions or even take on related teaching positions. Other common career paths include becoming medical administration specialists or phlebotomy technicians. Experts predict that medical assisting will be one of the fastest growing occupations over the next few years making it an attractive choice for launching a career in the health care field.


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    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Shared this with my niece. Thanks for the reearch! Flag up.