The Specific Nature of the “Certified Medical Assistant”

I have written previously about the importance of properly identifying medical assistants, specifically regarding instances in which they are referred to as nurses. But, some issues exist within the medical assisting profession itself.

Using the phrase “Certified Medical Assistant” or the initialism “CMA” to describe a medical assistant who has not earned a CMA (AAMA) credential from the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants is both incorrect and a matter of intellectual property law.

You can read about this matter in further length in the attached memorandum.

[Use of “certified medical assistant” and “CMA”]

About Donald A. Balasa

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, chief executive officer and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants, keeps his eye on what is happening in the profession.
This entry was posted in Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to The Specific Nature of the “Certified Medical Assistant”

  1. Paula says:

    I deal with this problem daily. Since I review resumes on a regular basis a lot of medical assistants misuse the Certified Medical Assistant credential and will continue even after the individual has been told. Through my employer, and to meet the requirements of the new CMS change, we recently developed MA Review Classes to help the working medical assistant prepare for a test. In developing these classes we reached out to clinics around town. I had the opportunity to share on this very topic and the employers are unaware.

    In many cases I think it is simply a mistake. However, I think in some cases it’s done on purpose in order to obtain a position especially since many employers are moving towards only hiring the medical assistant with the CMA (AAMA) credential.

  2. Sherry says:

    I have dealt with this problem many times in interviews. The resume states that they are a “CMA” and when I would ask what there Cert # is, they had no idea what I was talking about. I had to explain to many of applicants that just because they have earned a certificate from some program, does not make them a CMA. I educated these applicants about the CMA (AAMA) certification and asked them to remove it from their resume. I went on to explain that they were misrepresenting their education by using this title. I believe that this issue could end if the program they are in would teach them the difference between a certificate and an actual CMA (AAMA) certified. To let them know that the certificate will allow them to take the exam and earn
    the CMA (AAMA) title, would be very beneficial to all.

    ***Employers should also be aware that they can go online and verify the CMA (AAMA) certification number and see if it even exists or is active.

  3. Jill says:

    I don’t think the organization that I work for even recognizes “CERTIFIED” medical assistants. All the other MA’s in my department either feel it isn’t necessary to their job or have let it slide without renewing it. Even on my name badge it isn’t stated anywhere that I am certified, which I feel MA’s who have their certification should be recognized for it.

    • Cynthia Davis, CMA (AAMA) says:

      I am also in a organization that does not recognize “Certified” medical assistant. I can not have it on my badge, because my job discription does not require me to be certified.

      • julie lorscheter says:

        I work for Aurora in Milwaukee WI and their policy is exactly the same as yours, they only allow us to have ‘medical assistant’ only on our badges

    • Mel says:

      I agree with Jill! Often times we are recognized as only “MA”.

    • Kimberly Dees, CMA (AAMA) says:

      I agree. where I work at my organization don’t recognize it if you are certified or not. We still get the same pay, however, I still put my credentials on my work and when I represent myself with the patient. Now at a different region of my job organization they do recognize it and they only hire certified medical assistants. It all depends what state you live in where our organization is located at determines if thy recognize it or not.

  4. Raylene says:

    Recently, I’ve encountered numerous online job advertisements requiring candidates to possess a “medical assisting certificate”. For this reason, I believe some of the confusion lies in the fact that formal medical assistant training may result in the graduate earning a certificate, a diploma, or a degree, depending on the program. Some employers (and even the medical assistants themselves) might erroneously believe that completion of a certificate program is equal to being certified, which then in turn may lead them to believe that the use of “CMA” or “Certified Medical Assistant” is acceptable.

  5. Paul D. Skinner, CMA (AAMA) says:

    I work in a Urgent as a CMA in Ohio, the employer is now hiring RT’s to work as a MA, training them for two weeks by a RT and a non-certified MA and letting the RT refer to themselves as a MA and signing by their name using the MA intials. They are trying to replace all of us MA’s because they are using a lot of PA’s now and us MA’s with a GXMO license to perform x-rays cannot do them when working with a PA. Is this legal if not where can I find any justification to use against them, There is only 4 MA/ CMA ‘s left.

    • Dari says:

      last I knew you could be a clinic trained MA. I have worked with several who were clinic trained, and eventually did go thru with getting there CMA thru AAMA.

    • Thank you for your question.

      Ohio law permits physicians to employ individuals who do not have medical assisting education or a medical assisting credential (such as the CMA (AAMA)) as medical assistants. However, I am not convinced that Ohio law prevents medical assistants with a limited scope radiography permit from working under a physician assistant. Has your employer disseminated any written documents supporting that understanding of Ohio law? I would be happy to research the Ohio law and provide an opinion.

      I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to receiving any written information you have.

      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

    • ALLISON says:

      PAUL,
      I FEEL YOUR PAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      I have kinda the same problem (in Ohio) we (the MAs ) are being replaced with LPNs because we have NPs & the MAs are not allowed to give injections any more for the NPs but we can for the DOs…VERY upsetting!!!!!!!!!!!! I would not want someone that has not had the schooling & proper training to take care of me.

  6. Tee says:

    Where I work we have people with NO medical training rooming patients and have a name tag that says they are MAs. We CMAs had to jump through hoops to get the C on our name tag. Office manager said patients don’t know the difference so it doesn’t matter. We all said that WE know the difference & worked hard for our C. Head doctor saw my coworker name tag where she put a sticker with certified above her MA & he told office manager to order us all new name tags!!

    • Thank you for sharing this story with a happy ending!

      As all of us are seeing from these posts, there are some positive anecdotes and some negative anecdotes. It is my sense, however, that there are more positives than negatives. Also, it seems as if the positive situations are increasing at a faster rate than they were even five or seven years ago.

      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

    • ALLISON says:

      The John Q public is not as dumb as the “HIGHER-UPS” THINK, Most patients ask if Im a nurse & tell them no I am a Medical Assistant, I thank your Dr for getting you new name tags, I may try that here lol. thank you:)

  7. BarbaraJo O'Connor Caisse RMA and associate member of AAMA says:

    I am an RMA (AMT) and have taken the national certification test just as CMAs have done. I have an Associates of Applied Science Degree with a concentration in Medical Assisting. When I write my name or put my signature on anything having to do with my work I of course add my title, RMA, When I identify myself verbally to patients, or to anyone I am dealing with in my line of work I identify myself with the words, “I am a certified medical assistant.” because I am. When I identify myself verbally to anyone in the general public in talking about what I do for a living, my job title or my training I identify myself as a certified medical assistant because that is what I am. If I am explaining to someone about medical assistants I also tell them there are two certifying organizations for medical assistants and depending on what their college is credentialed with depends on which certifying organization they take the test for either CMA or RMA. The important thing is they take their certification test.
    I have sat for and taken the national certification test, I have kept my credential current and take the required continuing education courses that the RMA requires to remain credentialed, I take both courses from the AAMA and the AMT depending on what I want to study.
    I am the only certified medical assistant in my office (there are 6 medical assistants in my office) and indeed most of the medical assistants within the hospital network I work in (Eastern CT Health Network) are not only not certified but are mostly on the job trained medical assistants. Thus I take great pride and great pains to make sure people know the difference between me and my co-workers. Especially since I was not allowed to have put on my work badge either “RMA” after my name or “Certified” before the word “Medical Assistant”. My badge reads the same as all the other medical assistants within the organization, it reads “Medical Assistant” and there are no initials after my name. There is also no pay difference between me and any of the non-certified medical assistants. So as I said I take great pride in educating anyone who asks me that I have a standardized medical assistant education and my education and clinical training was validated via a national certification test enabling me to say i am a certified medical assistant credentialed with the RMA. I have educated the doctor I work for so he knows what a certified medical assistant is vs a medical assistant. He is a Yale adjunct professor so greatly appreciates my education and insisted when he came into this organization that they hire him a certified medical assistant because his colleagues in Yale had one and he knew there was a difference I have fully briefed him on the ramifications of the new ruling and how it affects meaningful us. He understands that he and I are fine because I am certified.
    I understand that this is an AAMA board but as an associate member of the AAMA as well as a member of the AMT and more importatnly as fellow medical assistant in good standing I just wanted to speak my piece here. We all need to stick together in this because there are so many un-certified and poorly trained medical assistants out there not only competing with us for jobs but also giving us all bad reputations. We who are certified via a national standardized certification test should all be promoting to younger medical assistants the need for certification period. It is the only way we can, as a profession, move forward and eventually garner the respect in the medical work place that we all deserve and have worked hard for.
    Thanks for listening as one certified medical assistant to another.

    • Ben says:

      Thank you Barbara for you input. I am finding a little prejudice between the two camps of the CMA’s and RMA’S…this is usually due to misunderstandings about the differences/similarities of them both.

      • Sherry says:

        The difference between the RMA cert and the CMA (AAMA) cert is that the CMA required continuing education for rectification and the RMA requires a payment to renue. There is no predjudice involved, it is just that one requires continuing education and one does not.
        Anyone who has earned the RMA is allowed to use it after their name. For CMA (AAMA), if you are not currently active by way of testing or earning CEU credits, then you may not use the credential. The point of the post is not to misrepresent yourself by using the initials MA after your name, as it formally means Master of Arts, but to spell out the words “medical assistant” below your name, which makes perfect sense. I will use this example in the classes that I teach so students are clear on how they represent thier titles. Thank you everyone.

    • Donell L Colas says:

      Thank you so much for your article. I am three classes away from getting my associate degree in Medical Assisting. I agree with everything you said. Even though I would love to work as an Medical Assistant right now with my certificate, I am waiting until I am done so I can get my degree and take the test so I too can be “CERTIFIED”. I looking forward to the day when I can see those words “CERTIFIED” beside my name. You have really encouraged and motivated me to not give up. I can feel the pride that you have in being a CMA/RMA and I am SO PROUD of you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I will start encouraging all my fellow students and my MA friends to go on and take the test so they too can be “CERTIFIED”!

  8. BarbaraJo O'Connor Caisse RMA and associate member of AAMA says:

    Actually effective 2007 RMA DOES requre continuing education for re-certification as well as payment. We have to send in proof of our continuing education points each time our renewal comes up, which is yearly. We earn those continuing education points the same way as a CMA does by attending classes at the yearly convention or attending classes at your state’s convention or via online classes or from the AMT magazine. We are also allowed to count any of our participation in the above from AAMA towards our continuing education points. Current full time employment as a medical assistant is allowed to count towards some of the continuing educ points. We also have to pay $50 when we renew. If we do not renew on time or do not have the required continuing educ points needed than our credential lapses and we have to take the cert test again.

    • Sherry says:

      BarbaraJo: Thank you for that information. So, even the people with the RMA status prior to 2007, now have to earn CEU’s? Or are they grandfathered in? Sherry

      • BarbaraJo O'Connor Caisse RMA and associate member of AAMA says:

        Hi Sherry, No they are grandfathered in BUT if they let their certification slide ie: forget to get it done the month it is due than all bets are off. They have to do just what everyone else does at that point. Re-take the certification test and then they are required to meet the new CEU guidelines like 2007+ graduates do. My hope? that someday both groups will come together so that the confusion as well as competition between the two would cease. I think it has served to hurt us as a profession in the eyes of those outside our profession. Especially prospective employers. I think we would be a more formidable force with the states, in a legal sense, if we were one group and not looked on as a divided group. This is spoken from someone (me) who works in the state of CT where the scope of practice for medical assistants is very limited and where lots of employers would rather train their own medical assistants or hire one with a 9 month certificate than hire one with a degree who is certified. So maybe that is why I am passionate about it as I deal with this every work day. When you are constantly having to educate people about the difference between a certified and non certified medical assistant and than also having to tell them there are two main certifying medical assistant organizations it gets old fast, you know. Then you invariably get asked why are their 2 groups? Do nurses have 2 groups also? No? than why do medical assistants? I don’t say this but I what I want to say is, “I don’t know ask the colleges and the powers that be in both groups. We on the ground level are just doing what we are told that’s all. Someday maybe it will be different. Another work week is upon us. Hope you have a good one.

      • Raylene DeVilliers, CMA (AAMA) says:

        A couple thoughts: Nurses don’t have 2 groups. They have 50 (to start) because their licenses are governed by the individual state in which they work. They also have hundreds of groups with which they may be affiliated, depending on their specialty or areas of interest. Also, medical assistants can take certification exams through at least FOUR different national credentialing agencies; the AAMA just happens to be the only one that exists entirely to promote the profession of medical assisting.

      • Sherry says:

        Raylene: Agreed. CMA (AAMA) is the most recognized as well due to the fact that they are the one that promotes only the CMA credential. They do a fantastic job at it also! They make it very clear that you must keep up on your active status in order to use the credential. One part I also like very much is that you can verity that status online. You cannot simply allow your active status to laps and continue to use the credential. I did not see that posted anywhere on the RMA site. I did see two different types of accrediting bodies for the RMA. Once said RMA and one said ARMA. I believe to be a member of the ARMA requires more education and CEU’s. I am really not sure what the point of both credentials are now that they all require CEU’s. It seems almost counter productive. I have seen many ads for CMA’s, but have never seen an ad for a RMA. I don’t get it.

  9. Pingback: Memo to Employers: Use of “Certified Medical Assistant,” “CMA” | Legal Eye

  10. Candace Babcock, CMA( AAMA) says:

    In the area of Florida where I work many of the employers where I work require certification. My nametag does say Certified Medical Assistant. I told my employer I worked too hard for the credential not to have it on my badge. With our certification, we can work anywhere in the country. MA’s who don’t have the credential cannot. RMA vs. CMA, the difference is in the type of credentialing the school we went to has. There are two agencies with oversight over the programs. It just depends on which one governs your particular school.

  11. Pingback: Follow-up: The Specific Nature of the “Certified Medical Assistant” | Legal Eye

  12. Kathleen Engle says:

    My problem is, I am a CMA and have been for 10 years. I am working for a company that as just removed my Certified from my badge, which now only states Medical Assistant. They say, they see no difference so they removed it. I took the test, I re-certify, I pay my dues, I’ve gone to the convention. Now there is no difference between myself and someone that doesn’t care about any of it because it doesn’t matter anymore. Know of anything I can do? Is this even Legal for them to do? Take away my hard earned credential?

    • I am very sorry to hear about this situation. Could you please tell me in what state you are located? That would help me frame a response to your situation.

      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

      • Kathleen Engle says:

        Thank you for responding so quickly, I live in Washington state. It will be 10 years in October that I have worked for the company.

      • Thank you. I will send information on the new Washington law to your e-mail address.

        You can point out that the CMA (AAMA) is specifically mentioned in the regulations of the Washington Department of Health. That may dissuade your superiors from eliminating the CMA (AAMA) from your name badge.

        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

      • Kathleen Engle says:

        Thank You very much! I was wondering what I could do, I work hard and earned my Credential.

      • You are very welcome!

        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

  13. Kathleen Engle says:

    In the state of Washington, I am no longer recognized as a CMA, all MA’s are MA-certified wether not they take the state board AAMA test or not. I took the test, re-certified, pay my dues and continue my education. Now my badge says MA, not CMA. and I have to pay the state of Washington $155.00 a year for not even recognizing my certification. It is a sad day, we are not even allowed now to draw up vaccines from a multi vial bottle without supervision. Over 10 years as a CMA and now this. Test on, but in the state of Washington it will not matter.

    • Thank you for your comments. Please be assured that the American Association of Medical Assistants and the Washington State Society of Medical Assistants will continue to monitor how this rule is being interpreted and implemented. We did testify vigorously and frequently at both the legislative and rule-making phase of the medical assisting law. However, if an appropriate time and circumstances present themselves, we will see whether there can be some change in the Department of Health rule, its interpretation, and its implementation.

      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

    • Raylene DeVilliers, CMA (AAMA) says:

      I just read the new legislation for the state of Washington and it’s outrageously limiting in some areas, and far too liberal about extending a “certification” to anyone who has received formal training. Mr. Balasa – what can be done about this? This is the URL: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2013-14/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/House/1515-S.SL.pdf

      • Thank you for your question.

        Both the American Association of Medical Assistants and the Washington State Society of Medical Assistants submitted written and oral comments/testimony at the pre-legislation (sunrise), legislative, and rule-making phase of the medical assisting statutory and rule language. We expressed disagreement and concern with aspects of the legislation and the proposed rule. Although we were able to obtain some changes, we were unable to obtain others.

        The problem in Washington was the health care assistant (HCA) statute and rule that had been in effect since the mid-1980s. You probably recall that medical assistants–regardless of their medical assisting education or their possession of a national credential such as the CMA (AAMA)–had to meet the requirements and register as health care assistants in order to be delegated certain injections and punctures for the withdrawal of blood. Because of the existence of the HCA law, it was difficult for the Washington legislature and the Washington Department of Health to craft legislation and rules that would replace the HCA categories with medical assisting categories. As a result, the legislation and regulations are by no means perfect.

        The AAMA and the Washington State Society will continue to monitor the interpretation and enforcement of the Washington law. We will determine a propitious time to ask the WA Department of Health to reconsider the language of its medical assisting rules.

        I hope this is helpful, Ms. DeVilliers. Please let me know whether you have further questions.

        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

  14. Teresa says:

    I was wondering if the AAMA made any differential or if they have a different certification process for Medical ADMINISTRATIVE assistants versus the medical CLINICAL assistants…? Or the thoughts/feelings of the group about the differences. My students receive a CMAA certification through a different organization which is specific to Administrative Assisting…
    Conversation, please on what the industry looks for in that side of the office.

    • Thank you for your question. It is the position of the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and of the AAMA that medical assistant should be competent and knowledgeable in a broad range of both administrative and clinical duties and responsibilities. The wisdom of this position has been borne out by the importance that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) placed on medical assistants who are knowledgeable in the administrative duty of entering medication, radiology, and laboratory orders into the electronic health record for purposes of calculating meaningful use under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.

      Please see my public affairs articles in the March-April 2009, September-October 2011, and July-August 2013 issues of CMA Today.

      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

      • Raylene DeVilliers, CMA (AAMA) says:

        We’re the most versatile profession because we are competent in administrative AND clinical skills. Nurses don’t typically want to sit at a front desk and collect co-pays. Medical secretaries don’t usually have any interest in setting up sterile fields. Medical Assistants can do it all and do it well – and the CMA credential proves that to employers.

      • That is extremely, extremely well stated! Of course, I agree!!

        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

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