“MA” Initialism

Q. We have at least one student who inserts “MA” behind her name, which leads many to believe and assume she has a master’s degree. What does the AAMA tell the graduates who have not passed [the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination] to use as a designation of their status?

A. The AAMA never uses the initialism “MA” when referring to medical assistants who do not have the CMA (AAMA) credential, or any other medical assisting credential. As you have stated, the confusion is that “MA” can be confused with “Master of Arts.”

Medical assistants who have not obtained a credential are told that they can refer to themselves as “medical assistants,” but are never told that they are permitted to convert this to the initialism of “MA” and use these letters after their name.

About Donald A. Balasa

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, executive director and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants, keeps his eye on what is happening in the profession.
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27 Responses to “MA” Initialism

  1. George Grover says:

    I can understand the confusion about the individuals who tend to use the “MA” behind their name. I currently have a co-worker that does the same thing, he is a medical assistant and uses MA after his name. I don’t understand the logic behind it. I have been an RMA for 26 years and have never seen people use the MA designation untill I started working here. I noticed that he does not display it as M.A., as according to professional etiquette is how it should be displayed for someone who has that degree. When I have called him on it he explains that since he is an medical assistant, he can do that. What is worse is he has his business cards and his e mail signature with that title and I know it confuses not only his students but the people he works with as well. I feel it does a disservice to those of us who have actually done the work to earn that level of education and confuses the people they meet initally by making them think they have a graduate degree when they do not. George Grover, M.ed.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      For many years I have discouraged medical assistants, physician-employers, office managers, etc. from entitling medical assistants as “MAs.” As you have suggested, the main problem is that this could cause people to conclude that the individual has a master’s of arts degree.

      However, to my knowledge there are no laws that forbid a medical assistant from using the initialism “MA.” Nevertheless, I will continue to discourage–in writing and in my presentations–all medical assistants from using the initials MA.

      Thank you again.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1575
      Chicago, IL 60606
      800/228-2262
      dbalasa@aama-ntl.org

      • Sherry says:

        I would think that a medical assistant who uses MA after their name would be told that it means a Masters in Art and that they cannot use it. You cannot simply make up initials that are already officially used to mean something else. I make the name tags for my employees that do not have the CMA credential by using their name and then under it spelling out the words Medical Assistant. I would never allow any medical assistant to use MA after their name if they did not have a Masters in Art.

  2. Patricia Haupt, CMA (AAMA) says:

    The non-credentialed medical assistants in my office also use the MA after their names, but another thing I’ve been running into is the extern students from more than one school using SMA after their names. Since this seems to be a universal thing in both this office and my former office, I would conclude that they must be being told to sign their names that way. All of those types of designations make it appear that they have some sort of special credential that they don’t, which, I think, undermines the credentials of those of us that have earned them.

    • Thank you for that additional information. Although perhaps well-intentioned, I can see how externing students using a “SMA” designation could just compound the confusion.

      Would you be kind enough to provide us the names of these medical assisting schools/programs whose externs are using “SMA”? We would be willing to contact the programs and find out the rationale behind the SMA initialism.

      Thank you in advance.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1575
      Chicago, IL 60606
      800/228-2262
      dbalasa@aama-ntl.org

    • Cheri says:

      We were also taught by an accredited school to use SMA – Student of Medical Assisting. My problem is more with being recognized as certified, more valuable to the doctor when it comes to entering things in the EMR related to Medicare, and being paid for the titie

  3. Kimberly R Dees, CMA (AAMA) says:

    I live in Northern California and majority of the Medical Assistants uses MA after their names and if they are certified by AAMA they will use CMA after their names. I had graduated as a medical assistant back in 1990 and was also instructed to use MA after our name and when I didn’t pursue my career in medical assisting I had decided to take the medical assisting program again at a college and had graduated in spring 2010 and still was instructed to use MA after our name. Where I work, if you were a MA or CMA in the E-records it is signed with MA or CMA after our names for documentation purposes. I don’t see any harm in that because where we live and if your in the medical field majority of people know that MA stands for Medical Assistant and majority of our patients knows that we are medical assistant because we identify ourselves to them that we are and even our work badges also has MA or CMA after our names.

  4. myrna G. medical assistant, houston ,Tx says:

    I graduated back in 1992 never been certified or registered with aama, I’m interested in becoming certifified. But back 15-20 yrs ago I got convicted of a minor felony I have served with all the requirements. and since then not been in trouble and steady keeping a job as a medical assistant. Will I be abel to get certified? I’m very much dedicated to my position as a medical assistant and love what I do specially working with kids since I been doing it for the past 12 yrs. Please give an adviced on wht to do thank you for your help please reply.

    • AAMA Administrator says:

      Thank you very much for your inquiry. Generally, individuals who have been convicted of a felony or pleaded guilty to a felony are not eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) exam. However, the Certifying Board may grant a waiver depending on the mitigating circumstances and written evidence that the felony conviction or plea should not prevent the individual from taking the CMA (AAMA) exam.

      It is important to note, however, that you must also be exam-eligible based on your educational background. Only individuals who have successfully completed a medical assisting program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) are eligible to sit for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. No exceptions to the eligibility requirements for the examination are granted.

      If you will e-mail the following information to me at ajohnson@aama-ntl.org I will be able to provide you additional assistance:

      -Medical assisting program graduation date
      -Name of institution where you completed your medical assisting program
      -City and state where institution is located.

      Except in a very few states, the CMA (AAMA) and other medical assisting credentials are all voluntary national credentials, not mandatory states licenses or required state board examinations. So, it is quite possible that you would be able to work as a medical assistant without certification.

      Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

      Sincerely,

      Anna L. Johnson, CAE
      Director of Certification

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  5. Barbara Johnson says:

    Can a person who as not gone through schooling but functioned as a a “medical assistant” for over 20 years refer to themself as a medical assistant? It is clear that they are not to use the initials MA, CMA or CMA(AAMA).
    The above question “What does the AAMA tell the graduates who have not passed [the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination] to use as a designation of their status?
    What about someone who has not gone to school but been trained on the job?

    • In most (but not all) states, a medical assistant who does not have formal medical assisting education is permitted to refer to herself/himself as a “medical assistant.” As you have stated, it is not legally permissible for a medical assistant to use the “CMA,” or “CMA (AAMA)” initialism if she/he does not hold the CMA (AAMA) credential. An individual who has graduated from a medical assisting program but has not passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination, or an individual who has been trained on the job, can refer to herself/himself as a “medical assistant.”

      I hope this is helpful. Please let me know whether I can be of further assistance.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  6. Yovanna Caraballo says:

    When I was a student our clinical assisting instructor introduced us to this concept of the “SMA” credentials which stand for “Student Medical Assistant”. When we charted we were very proud to use our very first credentials. She also explained that when we passed our CMA exam we would swith the “S” to a “C” for CMA.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Although I commend your instructor for introducing students to the use of a medical assisting credential, I would recommend against using an “SMA” credential to represent “Student Medical Assistant.” Such use could cause some confusion in regard to medical assisting credentials, and thus would not further the distinctiveness and the identify of the CMA (AAMA) credential.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

      • Judy Mackey says:

        I teach medical assisting, and textbooks instruct students to use SMA after their name in all of their documentation examples. I have been teaching my students to do this since I started teaching in 2000, and throughout my whole career as a medical assistant, medical assistants always used SMA, MA, CMA, and RMA after their name, when documenting in a patient’s medical record; employers (including practicum employers) even use them on name badges. This practice has been around for a long time, and I never thought of it as incorrect until now.

  7. Joyce McNamara says:

    I am a Medical Assistant having graduated from a CAAHEP accredited program. Upon graduation entered Nursing School and became licensed by the State of Illinois as a Registered Nurse. I am currently Program Director of a CAAHEP accredited Medical Assiting Program. Is there a way I can academically represent the Medical Assisting designagtion l along with the RN and advanced degree M.Ed?

    • Joyce McNamara says:

      I am a Medical Assistant having graduated from a CAAHEP accredited program. Upon graduation , entered Nursing School and became licensed by the State of Illinois as a Registered Nurse. I am currently Program Director of a CAAHEP accredited Program. Is there a correct way to academically represent the Medical Assisting designation along with the RN and advanced degree M.Ed?

    • Thank you for your questions.

      If you took and passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination, and you have kept your CMA (AAMA) credential current by recertifying by either the continuing education or retesting methods, you are permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) professionally. In your case, this would be in your role as the program director of a CAAHEP-accredited medical assisting program.

      I hope this is helpful. If I have not fully understood your question, please let me know and I will respond again.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  8. Lakesha Nash, CMA (AAMA) says:

    I am someone that has graduated with my Associate of Applied Science in Medical Assisting. My question is would it be acceptable for a graduate to use “AAS-MA” or some variation? This would hopefully eliminate the comfusion between M.A.from the associate degree. What is suggested for our extern students to use when charting from a legal stand point?

    • Thank you for your question. I will have to do further research on this.

      Initially, I would recommend against using an “AAS-MA” initialism or something similar.

      I will e-mail you September 28, when I return from the AAMA Annual Conference.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  9. Marie says:

    I recently completed the Medical Assistant Certification Exam. Prior to this, I graduated from an accredited college as a Medical Assistant and I have always used the initals MA after my name. I will now use CMA after my name. These earlier comments that I have read through are comical at best. To have such “educated” people on here discouraging Medical Assistants from using MA after their name is ludacris. When you graduate from college as an Medical Assistant, you are an MA or Medical Assistant, the “C” is what distinguishes the certification of course. This is a prime example of just how uneducated some are. One comment states that this MA initalism did an “injustice” to those who ” did the work” to complete a Master’s Degree. This is then insinuating that a Medical Assistant does not work to graduate as every one else? How incredibly sad that this is the view of some of you–you should be ashamed of yourselves.
    When you go to your PCP for a cold who exactly do you think the employee is taking your vitals when you enter the office? Are you not smart enough to realize that if there is an MA behind this person’s name, this is a Medical Assistant and does not stand for a Master’s Degree?
    You should educate yourselves further before posting such pompus nonsense.

  10. Chris Degenhardt says:

    I am an instructor at a CAAHEP college,nine years, and have always taught students to use “SMA” after documenting procedures and told them they would use this during their externships. After reading all the above postings, pro and con, what is the consensus? I would think if an office having extern students needs to go back and review who did a procedure; venipuncture, injection, or prep instructions, using “SMA” would easily help identify the person. Students are not in offices long enough for people to remember who it was working in the office.
    What are your legal thoughts on this? I want to be teaching the correct way.
    Thank you.

    • Thank you for your question. I am happy to respond.

      Because there are several medical assisting credentials, and therefore possible confusion, I would counsel against using the “SMA” initialism. It would be preferable to use abbreviations of each of these words. Using “CMA” does not violate any laws, to my knowledge. However, I believe the best approach would be to avoid these three letters when referring to medical assisting students.

      I hope this is helpful to some extent, Chris.

      Don

      • Sherry says:

        Hello:
        I have all medical assistants, even students, initial everything they do in the chart. All procedures, chart notes, medication etc. are initialed. Then, I have an original signature log that holds the medical assistant (or student) full signature and their initials with the date. This way, we can always look back and see exactly who that person was. In the event of an audit or law suit, you may need to provide that persons information. If you simply use SMA, how will you ever know who actually signed the procedure or chart? Just a thought for you all. Sherry

  11. Sherry says:

    Using CMA may not violate any laws, but it does misrepresent the person as certified. Bad choice, If you ask me. : )

  12. medicos99 says:

    I’ve noticed that MA is used as a title on articles in “CMA Today”. Doesn’t that send a mixed message that “MA” is an acceptable initial for medical assistants who are not certified?

  13. Thank you for your question. We never use the initialism “MA” to represent “medical assistant.” We use “MA” only if it is intended to indicate a Master of Arts degree.

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