If you’re pursuing a career in medical assisting, you’ll likely want to do everything you can to prepare for opportunities in this field. One step you can take is to earn a medical assistant license or certification.
“License” and “certification” are sometimes used interchangeably; both refer to a voluntary professional credential for medical assistants. Read on to learn whether or not a license is required and how to go about earning this credential.
Do I need a medical assistant license to pursue a career?
The short answer is no. Medical assistants are not required by law to hold licensure or certification.[i] However, employers generally prefer to hire medical assistants who are certified. [i] Consider that certification measures a candidate’s knowledge and skills against the standards of the medical assisting profession. In order to earn certification, medical assistants must pass an assessment and prove they meet very specific qualifications.[ii] It’s easy to see why this credential could hold weight for future employers. While it’s up to you whether or not you wish to pursue certification, keep in mind that medical assistants who take this extra step may be more competitive for professional opportunities. [i]
How do I earn medical assistant certification or licensure? [i]
The process of earning certification depends on the organization that will be evaluating you. Generally, you will need to be at least 18 years old in order to qualify. In some cases, you will need to have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program prior to pursuing certification. Even if attending a postsecondary medical assisting program is not mandatory to earn your license, certifying organizations may require candidates to pass an exam that tests their professional knowledge. For many medical assistants, it makes sense to pursue certification following formal preparation, such as a diploma program or an associate’s degree in medical assisting. For more specific information about the steps you must take to earn licensure, consult the certifying agency that will be awarding your license.
What organizations offer a medical assistant license?
Currently, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredits five medical assistant certifications, each with slightly different requirements. One you may have heard of is the CMA, or Certified Medical Assistant, from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The National Healthcareer Association offers two licenses depending on your area of professional focus: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) or Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA). American Medical Technologists offers the RMA, or Registered Medical Assistant. Finally, the National Center for Competency Testing offers the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA). [i]
Confused yet? Don’t be overwhelmed by the different types of medical assistant certification and licensure available to you. By the time you have graduated from your medical assisting program, you should have a clear idea of your professional goals, which will help you to decide which license is the best fit. For example, you may find that you wish to focus on clinical medical assisting if you have little interest in the administrative side. Your program instructors are typically a good resource for helping you determine what license to pursue. Also, if you know any practicing medical assistants, be sure to ask them what certification they hold, and why they chose that particular credential.
While a medical assistant license is not mandatory, many candidates like you opt to take this additional step. Certification is not the only route to a medical assisting career, but it is one way to prove that you have the knowledge and competencies necessary to succeed in this rewarding profession.