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Pass Your Medical Assisting Certification With These Tactics

Medical assistant preparing to take a certification exam

Medical assisting remains one of the fastest growing fields for good reason. Medical assistants perform a variety of critical clinical and administrative tasks in hospitals, clinics, and private practices all over the country. Wherever there’s a physician, a medical assistant is not far away. Although certification is not necessary to become a medical assistant, let alone excel in the field, receiving your certification can give you a leg up over others who don’t have it, especially in the eyes of future employers.

Like other certifications in healthcare, a medical assisting certification signals a higher level of knowledge and expertise. In fact, in 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ruled that only credentialed medical assistants, along with other licensed healthcare professionals, “would be allowed to enter medication, laboratory, and radiology/diagnostic imaging orders into the computerized provider order entry system for meaningful use purposes for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs.” In layman’s terms: being certified allows you to do more work as a healthcare professional.

Certification demonstrates that you have the analytical thinking skills, compassion, and drive to become an asset to any practice or specialty of your choosing. If this sounds like you, ensure you’re on track to being certified by following the tactics outlined below!

1. Choose the best medical assisting certification for you

There are four certifications available to medical assistants: Registered Medical Assistant
(RMA), National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA), Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA). All routes (education, military, and experience, for instance) within each certification are similar, so make sure you read all of the eligibility requirements on each agency’s site. A quick eligibility reference guide for each certification is provided below!

For RMA certification, applicants must satisfy one of following routes:

  • Route 1: Graduate from a medical assisting program from an accredited institution within four years of the test date;
  • Route 2: Graduate from a formal medical services training program from the military within four years of the test date;
  • Route 3: Be employed as a full-time medical assistant for a minimum five years within seven years of the test date. The applicant must have both clinical and administrative experience and have a high school diploma or equivalent;
  • Route 4: Be a current instructor in an accredited medical assisting program, have a minimum of five years of full-time teaching experience (both clinical and administrative teaching experience) within the medical assisting discipline, and complete a medical assisting instructional course; OR
  • Route 5: Hold an active certification from an AMT Board of Directors approved organization. The applicant must meet all criteria for routes 1, 2, 3, or 4. No additional exam is required.

To be eligible to sit for NCMA certification, applicants must satisfy one of the following routes:

  • Route 1: Be either a current student or graduate of a National Center for Competency Testing accredited medical assisting program. If you’re a graduate, you must have completed your program within five years of taking the exam;
  • Route 2: Have two years of full-time medical assisting experience within five years of taking the exam; OR
  • Route 3: Complete a military medical assisting program within five years of taking the exam.

For CCMA certification, you must meet one of the following routes:

  • Route 1: Successfully complete a military service medical assisting training program OR a medical assisting program at an accredited institution within five years of taking the exam; OR
  • Route 2: Have a high school diploma and at least one year of working experience in the field of medical assisting within three years of taking the exam.

And last but certainly not least, you can be credentialed with the CMA certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants. To apply for this certification, you must meet one of the following routes:

  • Route 1: Be a current student about to graduate from or a recent graduate from a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Current students can take the exam within 30 days of graduating. Recent graduates are those who graduated within 12 months of taking the exam.
  • Route 2: Be a non-current graduate from a medical assisting program accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES. Non-current graduates are those who graduated more than 12 months before taking the exam.

Once you meet one of the criteria outlined for each certification, you’ll be eligible to take whichever credentialing exam you wish!

A few things to keep in mind: While most organizations, hospitals, and employers recognize all these certifications, many hold the CMA credential in high regard, since it requires completion of a medical assisting program.

Related Resource: How to Choose Where to Work as a Medical Assistant

Medical assistant studying for certification examination in the library2. Know what will be on your medical assisting certification exam

Even though each test is different, there are certain subjects you can be sure will be on the test. Every medical assisting certification is unique, but many overlap, because so many medical assistants have to master the same basic tasks with patients and office management.

These are some of the major content areas for each medical assisting certification exam. Each list is just a small sampling, so make sure you click through to the specific testing agency to obtain an accurate list and percentage of the subject matter that will be on the test you choose.

  • RMA Exam Content: The RMA certification exam is broken down into three major categories: general, administrative, and clinical medical assisting knowledge. Within each of these are terminology, laws, best practices, and other information you need to memorize before you take the exam.
  • NCMA Exam Content: The NCMA is structured differently, with more major content categories and fewer subcategories. The primary content areas are Pharmacology, Medical Procedures, Phlebotomy, ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests, General Office Procedures, Medical Office General Management, and Office Financial Management, Billing, Insurance.
  • CCMA Exam Content: The major test areas on the CCMA are Patient Care, Communication, Office Administration, Medical Law and Ethics, Phlebotomy, and EKG Monitoring. The test plan also details what specific knowledge and skills you’ll need to master in each category to ace the test.
  • CMA Exam Content: Like the RMA, the CMA is divided into General, Administrative, Clinical categories. From there, though, the specifics are seemingly endless — though really it’s only 22 subject areas. This handy chart reveals how many questions and what percentage of the exam each major area will be. Fittingly, almost half of the exam is clinical, so be sure you focus your studying there.

Knowing this material ahead of time will help you narrow down your subject study list, so you can better focus on your weakest subjects first.

Related Resource: This Is What Your Career Could Look Like As a Medical Assistant

3. Study, take these medical assisting practice exams, and study more

Once you decide which certification is right for you, and have determined what subject areas you need to focus on, it’s time to study. Make sure you plan enough time in between scheduling the test and the exam date to study your material properly. Remember: It’s always better to be over-prepared!

Depending which certification exam you take, there are practice tests and supplemental materials available to aid in preparation. It’s a good idea to see if the certification agency has study materials and sample tests available for the specific exam. Most of them do, which we’ve assembled here for your certification studying needs!

  • RMA Certification Practice Exams: For $30, you’ll have access to two full-length tries to complete the exam. Because the exam costs $75 currently (and $90 as of 4/1/2016) this small investment can pay off if it saves you from paying to retest a second or third time. The practice exams have stop-and-start features, and each attempt the test will be randomized, so you’ll see different questions — like on the actual RMA certification exam!
  • NCMA Certification Practice Exams: To access the official practice exams for the NCMA, you need to become a registered user on the National Center for Competency Testing. Current students or recent graduates (within six months) pay $90 for the exam, but for all others the NCMA exam costs $135. So practice!
  • CCMA Certification Practice Exams: These online practice tests have the same 150 questions as the real exam and cost $25. Each answer, correct or incorrect, has rationales, allowing you to study and learn from your mistakes (or guesses!) as you take the test. It can be accessed five times with each purchase. You should also consider some of the test prep materials available on the NHA website.
  • CMA Certification Practice Exams: The American Association of Medical Assistants, which oversees the CMA, offers two free practice exams on their website. Unfortunately, none of the questions they ask will actually appear on the exam, but the free resource will test your knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, giving you an idea of how well you know these areas, and how much more you need to study them. Review courses are also available in many areas.

There are also review courses you can take if you’ve been out of the game for a bit and need a little extra prep. Take advantage of any free materials you can get your hands on. There are plenty available!

If you’re in Utah and want to take the educational route toward credentialing, look into our medical assisting program. It’s accredited by the ABHES, and we set you up for success by preparing you for the RMA, NCMA, CMA, and CCMA. If you have any questions about our medical assisting program, please feel free to reach out us. We’d love to hear from you!

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