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Medical Assisting: Should You Get Certified?

Updated on February 16, 2015
Medical assistants have a multitude of duties.
Medical assistants have a multitude of duties. | Source

About the Author

Daughter of Maat is an ophthalmic technician (a type of medical assistant) and has been examining patients on a daily basis for over 19 years.

She has had rigorous training under the supervision of an ophthalmologist and specialized in the cornea, cataracts, and retina as well as how systemic disease affects the eye. She has been certified by JCAHPO as a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant.

Medical assisting is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation, and it is projected to have 31 percent job growth over the next ten years.

If you are planning on making medical assisting a career, getting certified can help you stand out in this growing crowd. To a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), it’s not just a job; it’s a career, and certification shows ambition and dedication.

Certification is not required (legally or otherwise) to be a medical assistant, especially if most of your training has been on-the-job.

However, for potential employers, it represents a certain level of knowledge and expertise. Everyone who passes the test has the same qualifications because the test is standardized.

Reasons for Certification

Guaranteed Skills

A medical assistant who is certified has highly specialized skills that allow them to perform tasks like giving patients medication by injection, which allows the physician to focus on diagnosing and seeing more patients increasing their productivity. This benefits the entire practice.

Confidence

As a Certified Medical Assistant, you will be more confident when working with patients. Knowing an assistant is certified also eases a patient’s fears. They know they are in good hands and are not being treated by someone who is not well trained. It is easier to treat a patient when they are not nervous or apprehensive.

Advancement

Certification also increases your odds of advancement. Because of the guaranteed skill set, certified medical assistants with experience will be the first choice for management opportunities, which will also affect your salary.

Source

Salary

Although salary varies widely by location and experience, a medical assistant who is certified will make considerably more than one who is not.

The difference between the two can be $4,000 to $6,000 a year. Typically, a Certified Medical Assistant with less than one year experience can make anywhere from $19,330 to $40,123, whereas an uncertified assistant with the same experience would make from $18,548 to $36,654.

Reasons Against Certification

Cost

One of the most common reasons assistants choose not to certify is the cost of the exam. If you have not taken a course accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or if you are not a member of American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the exam will cost $250.00.

Otherwise the test will cost $125.00. This can be a burden if your employer does not pay for the exam for you, or at least reimburse the cost after you pass.

Certification May Not Be Enough

If you are interested in advancement into management positions such as a medical office manager or medical assistant instructor, certification may not be enough. You may need further education, which is costly and is not for everyone. This is dependent on experience and specialty.

For example, someone, like myself, who is certified as an ophthalmic assistant with 20 years’ experience would most likely not need further education due to the highly specialized nature of the field and the amount of experience they have. The same would apply to podiatry or any other specialty. It is important to remember that certification does not replace experience.

Medical assistants are trained to perform highly specialized procedures using a wide variety of medical instruments.
Medical assistants are trained to perform highly specialized procedures using a wide variety of medical instruments. | Source

Certification Must Be Renewed

One of the major drawbacks of certification is that it has to be renewed. Medical assistants usually need to recertify every 5 years (60 months), but this will vary depending on specialty. For example, ophthalmic assistants must recertify every three years (36 months).

To renew your certification, you will need to earn continuing education (CE) credits, which can be earned through seminars, workshops, classes and sometimes self-study. Certified medical assistants typically need 60 CE credits per recertification period, but this, again, can vary by specialty.

To apply for recertification, a fee must be submitted with your CE credits and an application. If you are a member of AAMA or have completed a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited program, your cost for recertification would be $65.00. Otherwise you will pay $130.00, and all fees are nonrefundable.

CPR Certification Requirement

To keep your certification as a medical assistant, you will need to be certified in CPR (except for ophthalmic assistants for whom this is no longer a requirement).

This can be another drawback to certification because CPR courses for medical personnel are quite different from a course for an individual in both price and content. Most employers will provide CPR training for their employees.

However, some do not, and CPR courses can be expensive.

Should YOU Get Certified?

Becoming certified isn’t for everyone. Some people never get certified. Others (like myself) have years of experience and only become certified toward the end of their career.

Many assistants who are not certified know their job better than those who are certified. The most important thing to remember is that employers are looking for someone who can do the work and knows their job well.

© Copyright 2012 - 2015 by Melissa Flagg (aka Daughter of Maat) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I have to tell you this was quite informative and very interesting. I got certified to be a teacher and know exactly with what you mean about these tests being costly. I had to take 3 state exams and each cost almost $200 each. And to stay certified as teacher one also has to complete continuing education courses too. So, even though medical assistant is in a completely different profession still I could relate tot he training and certification part of your article. Have of course voted, shared and tweeted too!!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Indeed!! My test for my COA was $350 and to renew it every three years is $150! And sometimes we have to pay for the CE courses, I bet you do to, and that can get wicked expensive!!

      Thanks you for the share and tweets!! Love tweets lol ;)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      This was very informative and I'm sure very helpful. When I worked for an attorney I did all his work but when I wanted to get training to become a paralegal he told me I didn't need it. He was right, I didn't need it while I was working for him but....when I left his employ all of my experience counted for nothing without the paralegal certification.

      Voted this up, useful, and interesting.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @tillsontitan, there are so many employers like that, and it's a shame. They do it though because if you aren't certified, you're less likely to go elsewhere. That's why many employers won't pay for the test, although they'll give you all the training. I was very lucky. I had a brilliant doctor who cared more about teaching me than whether or not I would stick around. Of course, I think it helped that he knew I was wicked interested in learning everything I could. He knew I wanted to know what he knew, and most doctors find that hard to ignore. It strokes their God complex lol. Did you ever get your certification?

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This sounds really interesting. My oldest daughter is working as a carer. She currently working on getting her certification. She has recently told me she's looking into getting a nursing degree. I'm going to send her this hub and see if it's something she may be interested in. I wonder if she did her nursing training here (UK) would it count towards getting a stateside certification as a Med Assistant?

      I know she wants to spend some time in the States (she is half-American) and this might give her an incentive. And a means to make a living while she's out there.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @phoenix I thoroughly enjoyed my career, and I have to say with the close interaction I had with the doctor I worked for, I had more education than a nurse! The on-the-job training was invaluable. For me learning through experience was more valuable (and much easier) than going to school.

      I'm not sure about training in the UK. If the course she took was certified by CAAHEP, or AHBES (one of those is international, but I forget which one at the moment lol) then yes she would qualify for the test. :D

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      That's good to know. I'll have to have a chat with her about this. I know she's getting a bit restless at her current job. I think she's looking for a new challenge. Takes after her Mom. lol

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      lol I hear that, I always have to have a challenge, or I get bored really quickly. Ironically, I've found writing to be the most challenging so far!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Amen to that. I'm trying to write a 500-word short story for my writing group competition. I know what I want to say but I just can't find the right words. I'm stumped at the moment.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Oh I hate it when that happens, and it happens a lot to me. In fact, it happens almost every time I write! It's SO frustrating, I hate just staring at the screen!!

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