Medical assistant

Medical assistant

Medical assistants are health care providers who perform administrative and clinical tasks to support the work of medical doctors and other health professionals.[1][2] They perform routine tasks and procedures such as measuring patients' vital signs, administering medications and injections, recording information in medical records-keeping systems, preparing and handling medical instruments and supplies, and collecting and preparing specimens of bodily fluids and tissues for laboratory testing.

The term "medical assistant" may have legal status in all nations where they can be certified or registered, whereas elsewhere they may be a loosely defined group (covering related occupational titles such as ‘medical office assistant’, ‘clinical assistant’, or ‘ophthalmic assistant’). The term should not be confused with physician assistants, who may perform advanced clinical, therapeutic and surgical procedures.



Historically, medical assistants were trained-on-the-job medical support staff without a specific group identity. In the United States, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) was founded in 1956.[3]

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.[1]


According to the International Standard Classification of Occupations, medical assistants normally require formal training in health services provision for competent performance in their jobs. Formal education usually occurs in postsecondary institutions such as vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, proprietary colleges, online educational programs or junior colleges. In the United States, the institution's medical assisting program should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) if its graduates plan to become either certified or registered. Currently there are in excess of 600 CAAHEP accredited programs in more than 500 institutions,[4] and more than 200 accredited by ABHES.[5] Accreditation by CAAHEP, ABHES, 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

United States

In the United States, there are four major organizations that certify medical assistants. Greater numbers of employers prefer or even require that the medical assistants they hire be certified.[6] Professional certification is a voluntary process which is strongly backed by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and a number of other certification bodies 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.[7] The CMA (AAMA) exam is offered throughout the year at computer-based testing centers across the United States.[8] Only individuals who have successfully completed a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination.[9]

Those who successfully complete the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination earn the CMA (AAMA) credential. The title CMA (AAMA) then follows postnominally. A CMA (AAMA) must recertify every 60 months by continuing education[10] or re-examination[7] in order to maintain certification. More information about the AAMA and CMA (AAMA) certification can be found at

There are four U.S. organizations listed in this article that validly certify Medical Assistants. The AAMA has the CMA designation (with capital letters) copyrighted. Any other organization that wishes to certify medical assistants cannot use CMA with capital letters.[11] This does not, however, mean that other certifications are not as equally valid or sought after. In fact, many thousands of Medical Assistants with certification through any of the Organizations mentioned in this article are highly skilled, respected and sought after by employers. It must also be noted, that although they look and sound similar, the AAMA is NOT a part of the AMA (American Med Association).

A medical assistant may choose another possible credential rather than the CMA (AAMA), and become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) instead. Again, credentialing is completely voluntary. The American Medical Technologists (AMT) agency is responsible for certifying MAs who choose this course.[12]

AMT first began offering this certification in 1972.[13] 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 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.[14]

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 offers certification in Phlebotomy.

The National Center for Competency Testing is another Organization that has stringent testing in place to certify highly qualified medical assistants. The designation received after successful testing (and background check of proper education and/or years of documented experience) is a National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA). NCCT is an independent, third-party organization that has certified more than 200,000 individuals by examination throughout the U.S. since 1989. NCCT was established as an independent certifying agency in order to avoid any allegiance to a specific organization or association. In this way, NCCT is able to work with many organizations, but can remain independent of any outside allegiances, bias, or agenda. While some certifying agencies might offer automatic, lifetime certification to applicants who pass a single exam, NCCT does not. NCCT certificants are required to complete a minimum of 14 clock hours of continuing education on an annual basis to maintain active status, which we believe provides employers and the public with assurance of their commitment to remain up to date in their professions.[15] NCMA Handbook [16] The NCCT also certifies ECG Technicians, Phlebotomy Technicians and Pharmacy Technicians.

Scope of practice

Medical assistants must work under a physician's direct supervision when performing clinical duties delegated by the physician. In the US, some states allow medical assistants to perform more advanced procedures, such as giving injections or taking X-rays, after passing a test or taking a course. In some states, (e.g., Utah), there is little if any distinction between a surgeon's assistant and a medical assistant. Both may assist the physician or surgeon in any capacity that the supervising physician deems appropriate, including directly supervised incisions, administering local anesthesia, infusing tumescent anesthesia, aspiration of hypodermic fat, ablative laser dermal resurfacing and many other cosmetic procedures.[1]

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 laws of the jurisdiction and may 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. They also facilitate communication between the patient and other health care professionals. 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. ^ a b c BLS (December 17, 2009). Medical assistants. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved on 2010-05-06.
  2. ^ ISCO-08 Unit Group 3256-Medical assistants International Labour Organization, International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08, 2008 revision). Retrieved on 2010-02-23.
  3. ^ AAMA (March 19, 2007). The History of the AAMA. American Association of Medical Assistantshi. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  4. ^ CAAHEP (May 5, 2010). CAAHEP Accredited Program Search. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Retrieved on 2010-05-05.
  5. ^ ABHES (May 5, 2010). Directory of Institutions and Programs. Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Retrieved on 2010-05-05
  6. ^ Balasa, Donald A. Why more employers are hiring CMAs (AAMA) American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2010-05-06.
  7. ^ a b Candidate Application and Handbook for the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2010-05-06.
  8. ^ AAMA (March 19, 2007). How to Become a CMA. American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  9. ^ CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Exam Eligibility. American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2010-05-06.
  10. ^ CMA (AAMA) Recertification by Continuing Education Application. American Association of Medical Assistants. Retrieved on 2010-05-06.
  11. ^ [AAMA has the CMA designation (with capital letters) copyrighted. Any other organization that wishes to "certify" medical assistants cannot use CMA with capital letters.]
  12. ^ AMT (March 23, 2007). Certification Requirements and Qualifications. American Medical Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  13. ^ AMT (March 23, 2007). AMT's Historical Timeline. American Medical Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-03-23
  14. ^ Lindh, Wilburta Q., et al. Delmar’s Comprehensive Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies. Albany, NY: Delmar, 2002. ISBN 0-7668-2418-7
  15. ^ NCMA
  16. ^ National Certified Medical Assistant

External links

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