Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

The Misuse of Medical Assisting Credentials May Have Legal Consequences

The roles of medical assistants have expanded and diversified during the last 10 years. So too have the number and types of medical assisting credentials. In this blog post, I will explain basic facts about medical assisting credentials and the potential legal consequences of misusing them.

Licensing and Certification

A license is a mandatory credential, usually issued by a state, without which an individual is not permitted by law to practice a profession. A certification is most frequently a voluntary credential, usually issued by a private-sector body, that provides evidence of an individual’s knowledge and competence in a profession. A license is required by law; a certification is (with limited exceptions) not required by law.

Examples of medical assisting licenses are the “medical assistant-certified (MA-C)” and the “medical assistant-registered (MA-R)” issued by the Washington State Department of Health.

Accreditation of Certification Programs

There are two accreditations available to U.S. certification programs:

  • Accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) under its Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs
  • Accreditation under International Standard ISO/IEC 17024:2012, Conformity Assessment—General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons (ISO 17024)

Accreditation of the CMA (AAMA) Certification Program

The CMA (AAMA)® is a medical assisting certification issued by the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants® (AAMA). The CMA (AAMA) certification program is the only medical assisting certification program that is accredited both by the NCCA and under ISO 17024.

Permissible Use of the CMA (AAMA) Credential

The only medical assistants permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) designation in connection with employment or seeking employment are those medical assistants who have achieved certification through the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and whose CMA (AAMA) credential is current. A medical assistant who never held the CMA (AAMA) or who formerly held the CMA (AAMA) but whose CMA (AAMA) is not current is forbidden from using the CMA (AAMA) credential. A medical assistant who violates this policy is in jeopardy of sanctions by the Certifying Board of the AAMA and sanctions under federal trademark law.

Registration of the CMA (AAMA)

The AAMA registered the “CMA (AAMA)” designation/initialism with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as a certification mark. This registration gives the AAMA intellectual property rights in this designation. A certification mark “is a type of trademark that is used to show consumers that particular goods and/or services, or their providers, have met certain standards,” according to the USPTO.

Registration of the “Certified Medical Assistant” Phrase

The three-word phrase “certified medical assistant” has also been registered by the AAMA with the USPTO. Consequently, this three-word phrase should not be used as a generic reference to all medical assistants. This phrase should also not be used as a generic reference to all medical assistants who hold a credential. “Certified medical assistant” should only be used when referring to medical assistants who hold a current CMA (AAMA).

The Legal Status of the “CMA” Initialism

The “CMA” initialism is not registered with the USPTO. This is because the official designation of the credential awarded by the Certifying Board of the AAMA was changed from “CMA” to “CMA (AAMA),” effective January 1, 2008. However, the AAMA retains common law rights in the initialism “CMA.” For example, if the initialism “CMA” were used in a way that would likely confuse employers or other parties into thinking that the reference to “CMA” was a reference to “CMA (AAMA),” the AAMA would likely have a cause of action against the misusing party.

State Law Authorizing the Use of “CMA” as an Abbreviation of “Certified Medication Aide/Assistant”

Statutes or regulations of some states permit or require the initialism “CMA” to be used as the designation for “certified medication aides” or “certified medication assistants.” Such state laws do not infringe the AAMA’s common law rights in the “CMA” initialism because the authority of a government to define an initialism and restrict its use supersedes the authority of a private-sector body—such as a certifying board—to do so. In fact, in some states it is a violation of state law to use “CMAs” to refer to medical assistants rather than medication aides. This is another example of negative legal consequences resulting from the misuse of a credential.

State Law Requiring Words or Initials to Be Used on Medical Assistants’ Name Tags

Some states’ laws require words or initialisms to be on the name tags of medical assistants. These laws must be obeyed. If they are not, legal sanctions may result.

The Display of Medical Assisting Credentials in EHR Platforms

Employers will sometimes tell medical assistants that the electronic health record (EHR) platform of the clinic, practice, or health system will not permit the inclusion of medical assistants’ credentials. This is usually not the case. Most EHR platforms have this capability.

Questions should be directed to me in the comments or via email at DBalasa@aama-ntl.org.

20 thoughts on “The Misuse of Medical Assisting Credentials May Have Legal Consequences”

  1. Can a staff member that has worked and trained as a Medical Assistant use the MA credential after her name? May or may not have had MA schooling, just on the job training.

  2. I have been a medical assistant for over 25 yrs. I have an associates degree but because my school was not certified I had to be “CREDENTIALED”. So, my question is what should my title be legally. Should my name tag read MA, credentialed? I am currently credentialed until I think 1/23, I will renew through testing before then. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this important information. I am in Indiana. What do I look under for Indiana Statutes or Regulations? I am a CMA (AAMA). Thank you.

    1. You are welcome and thank you for your question. There is nothing in Indiana law that addresses misuse of the CMA (AAMA) credential. However, the AAMA’s legal rights are applicable in all American jurisdictions, including Indiana.

      Please forward me any evidence of illegal use of the CMA (AAMA) credential.

      Thank you!

      Donald A Balasa JD MBA
      CEO and House Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants

  4. I have been a Medical Assistant for 26 years, graduated in 1996. I hold an Associates of Science Degree. The college I went to was accredited but not w/whatever the CMA was accredited with back then. At the time I applied to that college I was told I would be able to be “grandfathered into the CMA because they were just getting their certification up and running and all medical assistants could be certified through them”. I was never told there were two different certifying bodies of Medical Assistants, Very confusing to all of us out here and even more so to employers, btw. I never sat for that particular, CMA, test after I graduated because my employer did not require it and my college post grad counselor said I could sit for it at anytime. A few years later, in 2000, I took the RMA national certification test and am a Certified RMA with AMT and passed it (with a 99%). At that time I still did not know there was another certifying Medical Assistant body out there I thought there was only one and that I was being certified with that one. I have maintained my certification since getting certified and do all the required CMEs to maintain this. I sign my name RMA and sometimes C-RMA to show that I am a Certified RMA since some are not. My employer only hires Certified Medical Assistants and accepts both CMA (AAMA) and RMA certification cards as proof we are certified.
    So my question is a simple one, as a certified RMA I can continue to use that phrase when talking w/friends and co-workers about what I do or about my credentials. Right? I never mis-lead anyone I ALWAYS say I am a certified RMA that sat for the national RMA certification test through AMT. Explaining that there are two ways MAs can get certified and depending what college they went to determines what test they can take the AAMA test or the AMT test.
    I live in the state of CT and am an Associate Member of AAMA.

    1. Thank you for your question. It is permissible for you to state that you are certified as an RMA, or certified as an RMA(AMT).

      Donald A. Balasa JD MBA
      AAMA CEO and Legal Counsel

  5. Hello
    I have been a long time CMA/AAMA and love my career choice for more than 30 yrs 🙂
    My new journey has put me in a trainer’s/educator role, which I love! I do have an issue, to advance I need a nursing degree. Will there ever be an opportunity to be grandfathered to an LPN. To become a Director of a teaching department, I would need a nurses designation in Florida :/
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Congratulations on your outstanding career! Thank you for this important question.

      I know that there are (or were) a few CMA (AAMA) to LPN bridge programs in the United States. I suggest that you see whether there are any such options with LPN/LVN programs in Florida.

      I hope this is helpful as an initial response.

      Donald A Balasa JD MBA
      CEO and House Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants

  6. Hi I am a CMA (AAMA) in Washington state. I currently sign all my documentation as CMA. Should I instead be signing CMA (AAMA) ?

    1. Thank you for your question. If you hold a current CMA (AAMA), you should sign all documentation as “CMA (AAMA).”

      As you know, Washington law has a category of medical assistants registered by the WA Department of Health as “MA-C,” which stands for medical assistants-certified. If you have this state credential, you should also use the initialism “MA-C” after your name.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Donald A Balasa JD MBA
      CEO and House Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants

  7. I am a certified medical assistant in NYS. My signature on office notes is CMA. Should it state CMA (AAMA)?

  8. What about an employer forcing an LPN to use the title of a Medical Assistant, and not allowing them to use their LPN title. Employer is stating that LPN applied for the Medical Assistant position, and accepted a Medical Assistant position, therefore her job title is Medical Assistant.

    1. Thank you for this interesting question. I suggest you direct this question to your state board of nursing. I believe the legalities of this vary from state to state. Your state board of nursing should be able to provide a definitive and authoritative answer quickly.

      Donald A Balasa JD MBA
      CEO and House Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants

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