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Medical Assistants can be certified or registered health care workers who perform the administrative and clinical tasks that keep the offices of licensed health practitioners running smoothly. They should not be confused with physician assistants. The term "Medical Assistant" may have legal status in some nations, whereas elsewhere they may be a loosely defined group.



Historically, medical assistants in the United States were trained-on-the-job medical support staff without a specific group identity. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) was founded in 1956.[1]

Medical assistants have traditionally held jobs almost exclusively in ambulatory care centers, urgent care facilities, and clinics, but this is now changing. Medical assistants now find employment in both private and public hospitals, as well as inpatient and outpatient facilities.


Most employers prefer to hire formally educated medical assistants who are professionally certified. Formal education of medical assistants usually occurs in postsecondary institutions such as vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, proprietary colleges, online educational programs or junior colleges. The institution's medical assisting program should be accredited if its graduates plan to become either certified or registered. There are approximately 500 medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)[2] and about 170 accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education School (ABHES).[2] Accreditation by CAAHEP, ABHES, NACB or other accreditation associations requires that the institution's medical assisting program meets specific educational standards and provides sufficient classroom, lecture, and laboratory time.


Certification and registration

Greater numbers of employers prefer or even require that the medical assistants they hire be certified. Professional certification is a voluntary process which is strongly backed by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and a number of other well-respected certification bodies in the United States as a way to guarantee competency of a medical assistant at a job-entry level. Certification is usually achieved by taking the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination offered by the AAMA Certifying Board in consultation with the National Board of Medical Examiners, which also administers many national exams for physicians. The CMA (AAMA) exam is offered throughout the year at computer-based testing centers across the United States.[3] Only individuals who has successfully completed a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination.

Successful completion of the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination earns the taker the Certified Medical Assistant (AAMA) credential; i.e. the CMA (AAMA). A CMA (AAMA) must recertify every five years by continuing education or exam in order to maintain certification. More information about the AAMA and CMA (AAMA) certification can be found at http:/

A medical assistant may choose another possible credential over the CMA (AAMA), and become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) instead. Again, credentialing is completely voluntary. The American Technologists (AMT) agency is responsible for certifying MAs who choose this course.[4]

AMT first began offering this certification in 1972.[5] AMT has its own conventions and committees, bylaws, state chapters, officers, registrations, and revalidation examinations. To become eligible to hold the title of RMA a student must be at -years-old and either pass a medical assisting curriculum at a school accredited by either ABHES or CAAHEP, or possess a minimum of 5 years experience. The initials RMA then follow the individual’s name.

RMAs have historically been very active in legislation, seeking protection for medical assistants, as well as continuously encouraging improved educational curricula.[6]

National Healthcareer Association (NHA) is another Organization that has been growing fast across the united States the National Healthcareer Association(NHA)with over 200,000 certified in a number of health care professions. NHA offers certification for medical assistants as Clinical and Administrative and seems to be the only organization that splits up the Certification in two different categories: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant(CCMA) and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant(CMAA). The NHA CCMA also offerss certification in Phlebotomy.

Scope of practice

As medical assistants are not licensed professionals they are always required by law to work under the direct supervision of a licensed physician, registered nurse, nurse practitioner or physician assistant whenever they provide direct (hands-on) patient care procedures.

In several states unlicensed health care providers, including medical assistants, are required to have an authorization by the state in which they reside to perform needle injections, such as allergy testing, purified protein derivative (PPD) or Mantoux skin tests, and venipuncture.[6]

Some states require that medical assistants who draw blood for lab tests are certified, and have passed a practical examination as part of their phlebotomy training.[7] In other states MAs need permission from the state to expose patients to X-rays.[8]

Medical assistants perform many administrative duties, including answering telephones, greeting patients, updating and filing patients’ medical records, filling out insurance forms, handling correspondence, scheduling appointments, arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services, and handling billing and book keeping. Duties vary according to state law and include taking medical histories and recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures to patients, preparing patients for examination, and assisting during diagnostic examinations. Medical assistants collect and prepare laboratory specimens or perform basic laboratory tests on the premises, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. They instruct patients about medications and special diets, prepare and administer medications as directed, authorize drug refills as directed, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, draw blood, prepare patients for X-rays, take electrocardiograms, remove sutures, and change dressings. Last but not least they serve as direct link and communicator between patient and other health care professionals whenever there is a need. According to the United States Department of Labor job prospects for medical assistants are excellent since medical assisting is predicted to be one of the nation's fastest growing occupations through 2018.


  1. ^ AAMA (March 19, 2007). The History of the AAMA. American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  2. ^ a b BLS (March 6, 2007). Medical Assistants. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  3. ^ AAMA (March 19, 2007). How to Become a CMA. American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  4. ^ AMT (March 23, 2007). Certification Requirements and Qualifications. American Medical Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  5. ^ AMT (March 23, 2007). AMT's Historical Timeline. American Medical Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  6. ^ a b Lindh, Wilburta Q., et al. Delmar’s Comprehensive Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies. Albany, NY: Delmar, 2002. ISBN 0-7668-2418-7
  7. ^ MBC (March 23, 2007). Medical Assistants - Frequently Asked Questions. Medical Board of California. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  8. ^ AMT (March 23, 2007). Career as a Medical Assistant. American Medical Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-03-23

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