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.

Accreditation, Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

Educational Requirements for Different Medical Assisting Credentials

I have received questions to the following effect: “Which medical assisting academic programs are ‘CMA (AAMA) programs,’ and which are ‘RMA(AMT) programs’?”

This is an imprecise way to frame the question.  It is better to ask what the eligibility pathways are for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination, and for the RMA(AMT) Examination.

Applicants for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination for initial certification must be graduates of CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) or ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) accredited medical assisting programs, and must meet the other requirements established by the Certifying Board of the AAMA. (Information regarding such programs can be found on the AAMA website.)

There are five eligibility routes for the RMA(AMT) Examination.  One of the five is the education route.  Note the following from the website of AMT:

Graduated from an accredited MA program (ROUTE 1–Education)

  • Training programs must be accredited by an agency approved by the DOE
  • Training programs must have 720 clock hours of instruction, including at least 160 clock hours of externship
  • If graduated more than 4 years ago, must also have 3 out of the last 5 years of work experience as an MA in both clinical and administrative areas

Consequently, in addition to graduates of CAAHEP and ABHES accredited medical assisting programs, graduates of medical assisting programs in schools that are accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education (DOE), and that have the required clock hours of instruction and externship specified above, are eligible for the RMA(AMT) Examination.

Accreditation, Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

From the AAMA Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri

Questions have arisen about the 60-month-after-graduation requirement for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination, and eligibility to recertify by retesting.

  1. Individuals who have graduated from a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) on or after January 1, 2010, must take and pass the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination within 60 months after the date of graduation. Individuals who graduated before January 1, 2010, are not subject to the 60-month requirement. In other words, according to current policy of the Certifying Board of the AAMA, an individual who graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program prior to January 1, 2010, is not subject to any time limit for taking and passing the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination and being awarded the CMA (AAMA) credential.
  2. Prior to the June, 1998 administration of the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination, there were eligibility pathways other than graduation from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program. Generally, those who became CMAs (AAMA) prior to June of 1998 and were not graduates of an accredited program are eligible to recertify by continuing education or retesting. Such individuals are not forbidden from recertifying by retesting because they did not graduate from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited program.
Accreditation, Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, On the Job, Professional Identity

The Assessment-Based Recognition and CMA (AAMA) Certification

Effective at the beginning of 2014, the AAMA has established an Assessment-Based Recognition (ABR) in order entry program for electronic health records (EHRs). Individuals who are granted this ABR in order entry meet the “credentialed medical assistant” requirement under the September 5, 2012, rule of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

I wrote a question-and-answer piece on this matter in the January/February 2014 issue of CMA Today, and would like to highlight a few points from that article.

First and foremost, the creation of the ABR in order entry in no way undermines the AAMA’s commitment to the CMA (AAMA) credential. The association maintains the position that the CMA (AAMA) is an unmatched way of demonstrating the knowledge and competency required by the medical assisting profession.

When the CMS ruling took effect on January 1, 2013, many working medical assistants had not graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program, and were thus not eligible to sit for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. In effect, they had no way of meeting the CMS requirement through the AAMA. The Board of Trustees, as leaders of not only the association but also the profession, realized the necessity of providing these medical assistants with a way to demonstrate the knowledge sufficient to meet the CMS requirement. The ABR in order entry program provides that pathway.

The full text of my article can be found on the AAMA website.

Accreditation, Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Scope of Practice

Q and A: Medical Assistants and CPOE, Part 1 (Post 4 of 5)

Because most CMAs (AAMA) work under the direct supervision of “eligible professionals” (as defined in the rules of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS]), this post focuses on some common questions surrounding the provisions of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program that are applicable to eligible professionals, not those provisions that are applicable to “eligible hospitals” and “critical access hospitals.”

Q: Who can enter orders into the EHR to contribute to the meeting of the Stage 1 and 2 measures for CPOE?

A: Stage 1 of the Incentive Program specified that only “licensed health care professionals” could enter orders into the CPOE system for meaningful use calculation purposes. At the urging of the American Association of Medical Assistants and other parties, on August 23, 2012, CMS issued a final rule allowing “credentialed medical assistants” to enter orders into the CPOE system for the purpose of calculating compliance with this Core Objective. The CMS Stage 2 Eligible Professional Meaningful Use Core Measures document, issued in October of 2012, includes the following statement: “Any licensed healthcare professionals and credentialed medical assistants can enter orders into the medical record for purposes of including the order in the numerator for the objective of CPOE…”

Q: How does CMS define “credentialed medical assistants”?

A: According to the 2012 CMS document cited immediately above, “Credentialing for a medical assistant must come from an organization other than the organization employing the medical assistant.”

Q: Does an associate degree, certificate, or diploma from an academic medical assisting program fall within the CMS definition of a credentialed medical assistant?

A: In my opinion, the context of the August 23, 2012 CMS final rule does not allow an associate degree, certificate, or diploma from a medical assisting program to be considered as a medical assisting credential. The medical assisting credential must be granted by a body that requires medical assistants to pass a standardized test.

Q: Would a “credential” based on experience and recommendations meet the CMS definition of a credentialed medical assistant?

A: No. The intent of CMS was that a medical assistant pass some sort of examination in order to fulfill the definition of a “credentialed medical assistant.”