On the Job, Professional Identity

Misuse of “CMA (AAMA)” and “CMA” Can Have Legal Consequences

Some medical assistants who do not hold the CMA (AAMA) credential awarded by the Certifying Board (CB) of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) incorrectly use the initialisms “CMA (AAMA)®” or “CMA” after their names. The AAMA has also received reports that some employers are permitting their medical assisting employees to misuse the “CMA (AAMA)” or “CMA” designations.

The AAMA owns Registration Number 4,510,101 issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for the certification mark “CMA (AAMA).”

The predecessor credential to the CMA (AAMA) was the CMA. Because of the decades of use of the CMA initialism in interstate commerce, the AAMA has common law rights in the “CMA” designation.

Consequently, using the initialisms “CMA (AAMA)®” or “CMA” or the phrase “Certified Medical Assistant” to describe a medical assistant who has not been awarded or has not maintained currency of the CMA (AAMA) credential from the Certifying Board of the AAMA is both incorrect and a matter of intellectual property law. Anyone who does so may be in jeopardy of legal sanctions.

The AAMA urges all medical assistants who are misusing the CMA (AAMA) or CMA initialisms, and all employers who are permitting their medical assisting employees to do so, to cease and desist immediately. The AAMA also requests that any instances of such misuse be brought to our attention.

I further explain the legality behind the AAMA’s claim to “CMA (AAMA)” variations in “Letters and the Law.”

The CMA (AAMA) Logo and Branding Usage Guide describes who has permission by the Certifying Board of the AAMA to use the CMA (AAMA) designation, initialism, and/or logo and lists common misunderstandings.

30 thoughts on “Misuse of “CMA (AAMA)” and “CMA” Can Have Legal Consequences”

  1. We have a few medical assistants that use the CMA designation to represent the certification they received upon completing a medical assistant course. What would the appropriate credential be for the those medical assistants?

    1. I thought it would be SMA for student Medical Assistant when documenting. I never was taught to use CMA unless I taken exam then I could say that I don’t know if there is something to say you are a graduate Medical Assistant from a program though maybe they should create something to distinguish if one has a associate or bachelor’s degree.

      1. Thank you for your comment. I am aware that student medical assistants (in very few programs throughout the United States) are told to use the initialism “SMA” as an initialism for student medical assistant. Use of the “SMA” is not a best practice and should be avoided.

        It would be permissible for an individual who has an associate degree in medical assistant to us “AD” after her/his name.

        I hope this is helpful.

        Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
        Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
        American Association of Medical Assistants
        Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
        The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

    2. Thank you for your question. It is appropriate for medical assistants to use the credential awarded them by the credentialing body whose medical assisting examination they passed. For example, a medical assistant who passed the Registered Medical Assistant [RMA(AMT)] Examination of American Medical Technologists may use the credential “RMA,” or “RMA(AMT).”

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

      1. But what about MAs that passed a “certification” course but did not take the AAMA or AMT exams? They use the CMA credential. Is that ok as long as they don’t use CMA(AAMA)?

        1. It is my legal opinion that individuals who have a medical assistant credential assistant credential other than the CMA (AAMA) are not permitted to use the initialism “CMA.”

          Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
          Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
          American Association of Medical Assistants
          Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
          The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

          1. I respect your oponion. However, there are no laws that say using CMA is illegal. Now it may be a civil matter but it is not a criminal charge like using an RN, LPN, MD, NP, DO or PA is. Absolutely nothing will happen to those who use CMA. To go after those individuals is a fool’s errend. I usually agree with most of what you say. However, this just seems like a waste of time and energy to me. Thank you.

          2. Thank you and please be assured that I also respect your opinion!

            You are correct in stating that this is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Civil actions may be brought for damages and/or equitable relief, such as an injunction.

            Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
            Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
            American Association of Medical Assistants
            Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
            The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

    3. I am a medical assisting program manager, and they don’t receive a “certification” when they complete a medical assisting program. They graduate with a certificate, diploma, or AAS degree. They should use MA for medical assistant until they pass a credentialing exam.

  2. A tad petty. Really general public could careless. In 30 years I have never been asked once what CMA stands for much less what organization it falls under. It is 3 little letters. They ONLY thing the pts and the employers care about is 1. Are we trained and 2. Can we do the job and do it well. This is a unissue and really makes the author come across as petty and vendictive. You go a head and go from coast to coast making sure every medical assistant is using the correct usage of CMA. Me? I have pts to care for and a job to do. Thank you.

    1. Maybe the above response is a bit petty….I worked really hard to earn those “three little letters”. When MAs who did NOT sit for this exam use the credential, it is a slap in the face. I would never use the RMA credential because I did not earn it, just like I would never use LPN or RN for the same reason…not to mention it is illegal to do so (I’m speaking of the nursing credentials).

      1. Agree 100%. We al can’t go around adding PA, NP, CRNA, MD, DO, RT, PT, OT, RMA, RN; etc. to our names w/o working hard for it ! It’s illegal, not petty at all. If you think it’s petty, then obviously you’re guilty in doing such. If credentials didn’t matter, everyone in this entire planet could call theirselves a Doctor and practice medicine and get Paid 6 figures !

        1. It is only illegal to represent yourself as a RN,LPN, MD, DO, PA, or NP. Not a CMA or RMA. I have held an Associates Degree and CMA since the early 90’s. Not guilty of anything.

      2. It seems that people that did not earn the CMA title are the ones that complain. I worked really hard for mine and I have a degree not a certificate. I don’t tell people I’m a nurse or a doctor.

      3. I also worked extremely hard to earn those letters. I have had those letters since 1994. Back then they were a big deal. Now, not so much. We are lost in an alphabet soup of letters. Every profession has a credential these days. To get upset about it is ridiculous. 1. It is NOT illegal to represent yourself as a “CMA”. The law only covers nurses and doctors. 2. A cease and desist letter? Really. I have no time in my life to worry if the Ma’s I work with are true CMAs or not. As long as the pts are cared for is all I care about.

        1. Kathy, you should care. There are graduates from non-accredited medical assistant courses that are only a few months in length (I know of one that is 16 weeks). These graduates (if you want to call them that) do not know what they need to know and are ruining the credential we all worked so hard for. In my area, they take the CCMA Exam because it doesn’t require graduating from an accredited program and then use the CMA credential. I am a medical assisting program manager (CAAHEP accredited program) and I’ve actually had a network employer tell me they prefer the RMA credential over the CMA. They are both great credentials, and it’s sad to me that CMAs are taking a hit because of misrepresentation of our credential.

  3. When I graduated with an AS and completed my Certification exam to obtain my credentials, it was a big deal. I have maintained my status since 1997. It’s a slap in the face to see others obtain a certification after 6 months or 12 weeks of training and no schooling, take the certification and obtain either a registry or certification. In not sure why those without a degree can get the same pay that I do! I am so frustrated and confused with the standards and how employers and organizations don’t see the importance of this!

    1. It is the “McDonald’s effect”. The young workforce today demends higher pay. $15 an hour for a job that used to be considered a entry level, after school, part time job. The workforce today knows they can demand higher pay, and get it. Back in the early to mid 90’s. We took what was offered and we were grateful.

  4. So I work for a large medical facility in Madison, WI and they made all the MA’s that have been working there as MA’s but have not had any schooling, to take the ABR-OE can these individuals say they are CMA’s? If so,how can they be grouped with those who went through the schooling and have to pay the renewal fee’s? If not how do I make sure my employer gets this fixed?

    1. Thank you for your question. An individual who has the ABR-OE is not permitted to use the initialism “CMA” or the phrase “certified medical assistant.”

      Please send my contact information for an appropriate director at your place of employment and I or our General Counsel will send a cease-and-desist letter.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

        1. They may use the CCMA credential. If they meet the other requirements of Washington, they may register with the WA Department of Health as an MA-C.

          Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
          Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
          American Association of Medical Assistants
          Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
          The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

          1. But this is in Wisconsin , so they can use the cma, credentials? Or must they us CCMA

          2. There is no specific law in Wisconsin that regulates the use of medical assisting credentials. However, federal intellectual property law and common law principles applicable in all states hold that medical assistants are permitted to use the initialism of the credential they were granted. In other words, CMAs (AAMA) must only use the initialism CMA (AAMA). RMAs of AMT must use the initialism RMA, or RMA (AMT). CCMAs must use the initialism CCMA. NCMAs must use the initialism NCMA.

            Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
            Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
            American Association of Medical Assistants
            Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
            The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

  5. Can someone be a CMA and never have to renew that certification or complete any CEU’s in Washington state?

    1. Thank you for your question. The CMA (AAMA) is a national credential. In all states (including Washington) a CMA (AAMA) must recertify every 60 months (five years) in order to use the CMA (AAMA) designation.

      Washington law has established categories of medical assistants, such as MA-C (medical assistant-certified). Washington law does not require MA-Cs to complete continuing education in order to continue to be registered with the WA Department of Health as an MA-C.

      The AAMA and the Washington State Society of Medical Assistants have opposed the lack of requiring demonstration of continuing competence during the legislative and rule-making stages of the Washington law, and continue to urge the WA Department of Health to require proof of continuing competence for MA-Cs.

      I hope this is helpful. Go to http://www.aama-ntl.org and click below “State Scope of Practice Laws” on the left side of the homepage. You will be able to find the medical assisting law of all states, including Washington.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org
      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

  6. I think all of these comments perfectly represent the problems faced by the medical assisting profession. If practicing MAs don’t understand the various credentials how can we expect patients, providers or employees to understand. If someone tells a patient they are an LPN, RN or BSN they know exactly what there role is, nurse. Unfortunately, if you tell someone you are a CMA, RMA or any of the numerous credentials out there they have no idea what your role is. This contributes to the lower pay and acknowledgment of the medical assisting profession. It would be great if medical assisting had one credential/title that could be more easily recognized by patients and employers. It would also be nice if there was an advanced credential, like LPN to RN, something to identified someone qualified for advanced practice.

  7. Hello ! I am certified as Certified Clinical Medical Assistant CCMA, Certified Phlebotomy Technician CPT and Certified EKG Technician CET from NHA since 2017 till present.
    And I am really excited to be certified by AAMA,
    suggestions anticipated.
    At Best
    CHAUDHRY M. USMAN
    571-699-9871

    1. Hello Chaudhry,

      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.

      Please provide the name and location (address, city and state) of the institution where you completed your medical assisting program. This, along with your actual graduation date, can help us determine if you are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) examination. You can send that to me directly at kgottwaldt@aama-ntl.org.

      Thank you,
      Katie Gottwaldt
      Director of Certification

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