Accreditation, Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

Medical Assisting Programs Should Maintain Programmatic Accreditation

Since the announcement of the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program, many people have had questions concerning its rationale and ramifications. Take the following set of questions for example:

This new pilot program has North Carolina educators in deep discussion. I wanted to clarify a few items before presenting this new pilot program to my advisory board:

  1. What is the benefit of programs to maintain accreditation if students can sit for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam in a nonaccredited program?
  2. When students find out about this pilot program, retention rates could be affected. Is the AAMA prepared to address this issue? I can imagine that curriculum revisions will be increasing. Our college administration has insisted that we offer a one-year diploma that is not accredited to offer students the opportunity to complete faster. 
  3. Is the pilot program expected to be available for three years?

Those are great questions. Medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) should maintain their programmatic accreditation because state boards of medical examiners and state boards of nursing have established education and/or credentialing requirements for medical assistants who are delegated the administration of medication by physicians, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), especially nurse practitioners.

Note the following requirements for medical assistants to be registered, and therefore permitted to work as medical assistants, from the joint rules of the South Dakota Board of Nursing and the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners:

20:84:04:01. Approved education programs. An applicant for registration shall have graduated from a medical assistant program that is approved by the boards or accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), or a similar accrediting institution approved by the United States Department of Education. Approved programs must provide classroom, laboratory, and clinical learning experiences that provide for student attainment of entry-level competence as a registered medical assistant.

The number of CAAHEP- and ABHES-accredited medical assisting programs—and the number of their graduates—has decreased in the last five years. Some programs have closed, and some continue to offer a medical assisting program but have discontinued their programmatic accreditation.

However, anecdotal evidence is emerging that accredited medical assisting programs that have articulation agreements with other allied health programs are experiencing stable if not increasing enrollment in their medical assisting programs.

And yes, the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program will be available for three years, which began in August 2019. For more information, visit the Eligibility Pilot Program webpage on the AAMA website.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, delegation, On the Job, Professional Identity

Appropriate Use Criteria Program: CMAs (AAMA)® Meet Clinical Staff Criteria under the CMS Rule

In the Public Affairs article of the March/April 2018 CMA Today, I argued that “appropriately educated and credentialed medical assistants” such as CMAs (AAMA)® are clinical staff under the Medicare Chronic Care Management (CCM) and Transitional Care Management (TCM) programs.

I now add that CMAs (AAMA) are also clinical staff according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rule regarding the appropriate use criteria (AUC) program. Therefore, as a result of their clinical staff status, I assert that CMAs (AAMA) are permitted to do the following:

  1. Consult a clinical decision support mechanism (CDSM) about the appropriateness of ordering a particular advanced diagnostic imaging service
  2. Report findings to their overseeing or delegating licensed providers

Review the supporting evidence in the September/October 2019 Public Affairs article, “Appropriate Use Criteria Program,” on the AAMA website.

On the Job, Professional Identity

Permissible Initialisms for Student Medical Assistants

It is legally inadvisable for student medical assistants who are on their externship/practicum to include any unrecognized initialism, such as the initials “SMA” (for “Student Medical Assistant”), after their names. Because “SMA” is not a recognized credential for medical assistants and there is no recognized credential given to medical assisting students just for being a student, externing students who insert any initialism after their names could cause confusion.

Using an unrecognized credential is an important issue for the medical assisting profession because of the large number of credentials and initialisms that currently exist in medical assisting.

If a practicum site strongly prefers that the externing medical assisting students identify themselves in some distinctive way, it would be preferable to have the students use the phrase “Student Med Asst” or some other type of designation.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Professional Identity

No Application Deadline for Qualifying CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam Applicants

Although the following is not a legal question, it is one that I and other AAMA staff are asked frequently by graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES):

I graduated from a CAAHEP-accredited medical assisting program seven years ago and have been working as a medical assistant since that time. However, I have never taken the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam. Am I too late to do so?

Anyone in this position is not too late to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam. An individual who graduated from a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program is permitted to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam regardless of when the individual graduated. Please click on “CMA (AAMA) Exam” from any webpage on the AAMA website as well as the Exam Eligibility Requirements webpage for information about eligibility requirements for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Professional Identity

Can Washington State Medical Assistants Use the “CMA” Initialism?

With a variety of certifications associated with the medical assisting profession, confusion runs rampant regarding who is permitted to write “CMA” after their name, thereby using the CMACM initialism. For instance, I received the following question:

I have been a CMA (AAMA) for many years and recently moved to Washington state. Washington law requires a medical assistant to register with the Washington Department of Health as a medical assistant-certified (MA-C) or a medical assistant-registered (MA-R) to be delegated certain clinical tasks. My question is this: Is an MA-C allowed to use the CMA initialism?

As you have stated, the MA-C and the MA-R are medical assisting credentials established by the Washington legislature and administered by the Washington Department of Health. They do not have a “legal existence” outside of the provisions of Washington law. The CMA (AAMA)® is a national medical assisting credential. The CMA (AAMA) Certification Program and the Certifying Board of the AAMA are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the National Certification Commission, and under International Standard ISO:IEC 17024, Conformity Assessment—General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons. The CMA (AAMA) has a national and international existence as a medical assisting credential.

Only medical assistants who have passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam have been awarded the CMA (AAMA) credential by the Certifying Board of the AAMA and who have kept their CMA (AAMA) current by continuing education or testing are permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) designation. Not all Washington MA-Cs have a current CMA (AAMA). Only those MA-Cs who have a current CMA (AAMA) are permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) or CMACM initialisms after their names.