Follow-up: The Specific Nature of the “Certified Medical Assistant”

Many of you came forward with anecdotes in the comments section of my last post about the importance of properly identifying “Certified Medical Assistants.”  In light of all the issues you have highlighted, I thought it important to further elaborate on the topic.

MA is Not a Medical Assisting Credential

Some medical assistants, in an attempt to abbreviate the name of the profession, refer to themselves as “MAs.”  While this is a fairly common and innocuous usage, it is best to write or state the full profession name (i.e., medical assistant). Doing so helps promote the profession, while clearing up potential confusion in the marketplace.

Concern arises when the intialism for the profession is presented after an individual’s name, giving the appearance of a credential. Only professional or academic credentials—not positions of employment—belong after the person’s name.  Furthermore, the MA credential indicates the person possesses a Master of Arts degree. No MA credential exists in the medical assisting profession, and thus the letters should not appear after the name of any person who does not possess a Master of Arts degree.

Graduation is Not Certification

Much of the confusion around my previous post comes from the similar natures, and appearances, of certificates, certification, and “Certified Medical Assistant (AAMA).” While there is some overlap between the terms, the distinctions are specific. More importantly, they carry legal implications.

The completion of a medical assisting education program—whether accredited or not—will most likely earn the graduating student a certificate, diploma, or associate degree, which represents only the individual’s completion of the program.

Certification is a process by which a professional demonstrates competency in a field. To demonstrate this competency, that person is often required to pass an examination, as is the case with CMA (AAMA) credential. However, as I have written in the past, different medical assisting credentials exist, along with different pathways to certification. Remember, certification is always a separate process. For instance, successful completion of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program is the first step toward CMA (AAMA) certification, but individuals must pass the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination before they can use the CMA (AAMA) credential after their names.

Remember, employers can immediately verify their employees’ CMA (AAMA) status on the AAMA website.

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.

26 Responses to Follow-up: The Specific Nature of the “Certified Medical Assistant”

  1. We have a group of young ladies at a Care Facility that use “CMA” to designate they are “Certified Medicine Aides”. When people see my “CMA(AAMA) on my badge they want to know if I am a “MED AIDE” , to which I reply “No, I am a Certified Medical Assistant”.

    I worked hard to get my certification; now my employer is not going to put it on our name badges. It is being done for equally of everyone at work. Go figure….

  2. michelle says:

    what the heck is a certified medicine aide???????

    • Stephanie Bragg says:

      In Kansas, the position is called ‘Medication Aide.’ it’s for a certified nurse aide who has taken additional classes for the position of medication aide. They work primarily in nursing homes.I believe they can dose out and administer non- narcotic meds to patients.

    • Thank you for your question. You have already received some responses, but I will just say that a medication aide/assistant is an individual who is permitted to pass medications in an inpatient setting, such as a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living facility, a hospital, a correctional institution, and a hospice. In most states, this individual must take a short course, and sometimes a short test, in order to be able to work as a medication aide/assistant.

      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

      • JuanR says:

        As a future CMA, we can administer medication, promote/inform well being of the therapeutic medication upon request/at our discretion to the patient, and compound/distribute medication. Our degree have an intense course dedicated to a Pharmacy Technician. We are entitle to our CMA and pay differentials. Doctors need to be well informed. Thank you for the time.

      • Thank you very much.

        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

  3. Brenda says:

    In my clinical setting, we have extreme misuse of the the CMA title, We have medical assistants that have let their certification lapse (still using CMA title), and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant’s grouped under the same pay structure. Administration does not acknowledge the difference nor wishes to be educated. I am persistent in my efforts to change their opinion.

  4. michelle says:

    The Dr I worked for didn’t even know what a CMA was, thus an education. I also fought for the money that was relevant for the position as he had me with entry level MA’s. This didn’t last long….

  5. Doreen Kolmodin says:

    I received my CMA & it is not even recognized where I work. Everyone who works as a medical assistant has an MA designation. I am very disappointed since I worked hard to earn that certification.

    • michelle says:

      You are the CMA and it’s up to you to educate the staff, Doctor, and patient on this. It took my doctor about four months to remember the designation after my name when he was writing. All letters or documentation I wrote had the designation after my name.

  6. Betty faye halloran says:

    All CMA’s in my office are considered nurses in the doctors office. Is this wrong?

    • michelle says:

      very wrong and you know this. Many Doctors will not correct a patient’s perception in that they get a “nurse” at MA pay as the patients don’t know. I have corrected patients on this regularly and then educated them on MA scope of practice. Not in a lecturing way but in a conversation that gives them still trust in that they are in a professional office.

    • Yes, there are laws in every state that prohibit non-nurses from using the title “nurse,” even in a generic sense. I will send you my article on this issue.

      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

  7. Deborah Millen, RN-BC, MSN says:

    Is a Medical Assistant working in the capacity of a volunteer allowed to give medications?

  8. Pingback: Graduation is Not Certification « United Health Alliance LLC

  9. Betty says:

    Okay I have done everything I am able to provide my employer with the info on a CMA and meaningful use. They continue to hire noncertified and even those from programs where they are not eligible to take the exam. They continue to label us as MA’s. We have some CMAs who let their recert go and still have CMA on their sign in. It is very inconsistent . I really don’t think they have a clue what a CMA is. Their job description is for a “CMA” graduate of an accredited program, high school graduate or completion of a CNA program. None of this makes sense to me for the CMA and Meaningful use. CMAs are in the PCA category here. How does one go about informing the CMS of these discrepancies. Better yet is there a package of information to present to management to inform them on the wrongs to help straighten this out before the CMS gets involved .

    • Thank you for your comment. I empathize with your situation, and appreciate your commitment to the medical assisting profession and the CMA (AAMA) credential.

      It may be helpful to point out the following from my July-August 2013 issue of CMA Today:
      Are there partial payments if an eligible
      professional meets some, but not all, of
      the Core Objectives?
      No. An eligible professional must meet
      all Core Objectives. Failure to meet any
      one Core Objective would result in no
      incentive payment.

      Also, I would recommend going to the CMS website and reading about the audits that CMS has already started conducting. Failure to abide by all the provisions of the Medicare and Medicare EHR Incentive Programs could result in loss of all incentive payments.

      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

  10. Sherry says:

    So can a credentialed medical assistant use any credential, as long as they gave a standardized test ? And if so, can the NHA Clinical Medical Assistant credential be used for entering orders? These medical assistants only have to work a year and then they can take this exam, and it is only in clinical. Does this count? It seems as if they would need more experience. Do you know? Appreciate it. Thank you. Sherry

    • Thank you for your question. Please see the following FAQ from the CMS website:

      Q: In order to meet the objective for computerized order entry (CPOE) for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs, do medical assistants need a specific kind of credential from a specific organization to be considered credentialed and therefore able to enter orders using CPOE that can count in the numerator of the measure?

      A: A credentialed medical assistant is a medical assistant who has received credentials or otherwise been certified by an organization other than the employing organization to perform duties as a medical assistant. CMS does not specify credentialing organizations that would qualify medical assistants under this definition. Medical assistants who are credentialed, certified, licensed, or otherwise affirmed as medical assistants by an organization other than the one which employees them can enter orders for the purpose of this objective.

      So, medical assisting credentials other than the CMA (AAMA) can be used to meet the CMS requirement for meaningful use order entry as long as there is a standardized evaluation by a third-party body.

      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

  11. Sherry says:

    Unfortunately, I does help. Thank you.

  12. ang says:

    can I take the test if I didn’t graduate from the medical assistant program?

  13. Anna Johnson says:

    Thank you for inquiring. 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.

    Individuals whose previous education does not provide eligibility for the exam may wish to contact the ABHES or CAAHEP accredited medical assisting programs in their area to learn which institutions offer advanced placement opportunities for previous educational or work experience. Completion of the entire medical assisting curriculum may not be necessary in order to graduate If advance placement is available.

    A listing of CAAHEP accredited medical assisting programs can be reviewed at http://www.caahep.org. For ABHES accredited medical assisting programs click on http://www.abhes.org. Some of these programs offer courses on-line. Look for programs that are noted to be “online”, “distance education”, or a combination of “distance” and “residential” opportunities.

  14. MIN says:

    I agree that the CMA needs to be paid better than the MA generic version who could be a high school grad/GED who is trained by a doctor’s office. This is so damaging to our profession. Doctor’s need to stop calling us nurses and paying us like we have no education. How is it that this is allowed..to have it both ways? I believe states have a duty to the CMA to recognize us as “healthcare’s most versatile professional” by credential and salary expectations. If not, than are we being sold a bill of goods in education so doctors can under pay certain professionals? Walmart in Colorado near a high profile ski resort has a better starting pay for the GED educated than a CMA at mountain area doctor offices! It seems that the CDLE and the AAMA need to protect the CMA credential better than they do- it should be reflected in salaries comparable to other jobs with an Associates degree. An RN with 2 years college (ASN degree) gets double the salary compared to that of the CMA with 2 years college (AS degree) in Colorado not to mention years of experience. Are they now smoking too much and letting their laws lapse in Colorado? If not, then the the Colo Dept of Labor (CDLE) needs to be updated!! What a scam for allowing cheep paying doctors in high profile resort towns; what a disservice to the CMA profession and credential. Sounds like low pay and recognition exists for many listed above, too. So what is being done to remedy the problem?? If we consider the news reports where women only getting 75 cents to every man’s $1.00 hour, then the CMA salaries are like getting less than 50:100 compared to others with similar skills/education. Do other medical professionals/technicians have union supports to avoid this type of discrepancy?

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