The Journey to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

by Jeanine Whitney RN, MSN, NHE-C

Did you ever wonder about the qualifications of the person who holds the power of the needle? Vaccines are being given more and more by healthcare workers other than a Registered Nurse. In fact, chances are good that the person holding the syringe is not an RN but could well be an immunizing pharmacist or a Medical Assistant (MA). There are many categories of MAs, each with its own education and certification requirements. In this article, we explore the unique education and certification requirements for Certified Medical Assistants (CMA).

All MAs undergo a rigorous course of study, but the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)-required course of study for CMAs must be certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP: http://www.caahep.org/) and/or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES: http://www.abhes.org/). This is different from many MA programs, whose accreditation falls under the school, and it means that CMA students everywhere receive standardized training that conforms to CAAHEP requirements.

The CMA training curriculum ensures that CMA students gain competency in a wide variety of areas. I contacted Virginia Chambers1, CMA (AAMA), BS, MHA, who is the Medical Assisting Department Co-Chair at Portland Community College (PCC). She shared the list of required competencies for a CMA. By the time students sit for their exams, they are well-versed in basic practice finances, communication, managed care and insurance, medical coding, legal issues, and of course, patient care. CMAs are able to step in and fill any number of roles for their employers because of this comprehensive training.

CMA certification exams also differ from those for other MAs. I took the opportunity to speak with Paula Purdy2, CMA (AAMA), who is Director of Operations for Medical Society Services, Inc., about these differences.

“The one big difference,” according to Ms. Purdy, “is that the AAMA certifying board is the only medical assisting certifying agency that uses the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) as the consultant for its certification examination.  CMA (AAMA) exam scoring metrics are processed by the same professional psychometricians who provide this service for United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) candidates. The CMA (AAMA) exam is a highly valid and reliable indicator of the knowledge necessary to be a competent medical assistant.” The AAMA exam is not easy. The overall student pass rate is 67 percent.  At the time of this writing, PCC is the only school in the Portland metropolitan area that has a 95 percent or above student pass rate.

The AAMA requires recertification every 5 years. In those five years, the CMA (AAMA) must earn 60 continuing education units (CEU).These CEUs must reflect the breadth of training areas.  Ten CEUs must be administrative; ten CEUs must be general; and ten CEUs must be clinical. The CMA can choose how to fulfill the remaining thirty CEUs. If the CMA (AAMA) doesn’t complete the CEUs on time, they have six months from the expiration date to do so or they must sit for the exam again.

Keep in mind that all MAs are under the direct delegation of the hiring physician. An RN can observe and teach an MA. RNs can also supervise an MA and delegate tasks to them according to Oregon State Board of Nursing (OSBN) Nurse Practice Act Division 45 and 47. RNs can delegate several types of tasks to MAs, but immunization injections are not one of the tasks. The hiring practitioner delegates immunization injections to the MA.

Are any Oregon employers putting credentialed healthcare workers to work? Yes. Cathy Cassata in CMA Today magazine3 (Nov-Dec 2013) talks about CMAs and the Oregon Health and Science University ambulatory care services. “As of April 1, 2013, all newly hired medical assistants are required to become CMAs (AAMA) within six months of being hired.”  We can add Providence, Legacy, Kaiser, and Adventist to the list of employers that actively recruit AAMA-certified individuals for their practice sites. Oregon has approximately 1,200 CMAs (AAMA) in practice.

The next time you get a vaccine, take a good look at the initials after the name of the person holding the needle. If there are none, then ask. It may well be a CMA (AAMA). If so, you are in well-educated and credentialed hands.

1PCC-Willow Creek:  http://www.pcc.edu/about/locations/willow-creek/.

 2 Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) ®, the current Public Affairs Liaison Team Manager and past State President (2013) of the River Cities Chapter of Medical Assistants (CMA,AAMA): http://www.aama-ntl.org/) Ms. Purdy currently serves on the AAMA Board of Trustees.

3Cassata, Cathy. Trailblazers: Oregon employer hitches its wagon to CMAs (AAMA) (OM). Nov-Dec 2013. CMA Today. Listed at http://www.aama-ntl.org/docs/default-source/index/2013index.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Note: The following original sentence was corrected on 12/8/14 in the text below: An RN can observe, teach and report on an MA but cannot delegate tasks or duties to an MA. More information on the Nurse Practice Act, which is mentioned in the corrected sentence, can be found at: http://www.oregon.gov/OSBN/pages/adminrules.aspx

Jeanine Whitney is an active member of the PCC Willow Creek Education Advisory Team and has worked with the Program Advisory Committee at Anthem College.

For additional certification information, please contact individual institutions or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools at http://www.abhes.org/news/show/291.

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