Medical Assisting Program Accreditation: The Who and the How

I often receive questions like the following about which organization accredits medical assisting programs:

I have always been under the impression that the American Association of Medical Assistants® [AAMA] accredits medical assisting programs. I was recently told that this is not the case. Could you please help me understand?

Let me begin by emphasizing that the AAMA does not accredit medical assisting programs.

There are two bodies that are legally authorized to accredit medical assisting programs: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The Medical Assisting Education Review Board (MAERB) is a Committee on Accreditation (CoA) of CAAHEP. A CoA is a board or committee that—in conjunction with CAAHEP—takes responsibility for certain actions:

CAAHEP is the legal entity that accredits allied health education programs.

The AAMA is a sponsoring organization of MAERB. A sponsoring organization is defined by the CAAHEP Policies and Procedures as follows:

502 Sponsoring Organizations. Sponsoring organization members are organizations or agencies that establish or support one or more Committees on Accreditation and support the CAAHEP accreditation system.

In conclusion, here are the three key takeaways:

  1. The AAMA is a sponsoring organization of MAERB.
  2. MAERB is a CoA of CAAHEP. MAERB and CAAHEP develop accreditation standards (which are noted in Standards) for medical assisting programs. MAERB evaluates the compliance of programs with the Standards and makes accreditation recommendations to CAAHEP.
  3. CAAHEP reviews the accreditation recommendations from MAERB and accredits medical assisting programs.

How National Accreditation of Health Education Programs Enhances Interstate Mobility of Health Professionals

The following post is adapted from a piece I wrote for Communiqué, a publication of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

The negative effects of states having differing and incompatible licensing requirements for health professionals were brought to light as never before during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency legislation, suspension of licensing board rules, and executive orders from state governors (and, in a few instances, from federal agency heads) were necessary to deploy health professionals to areas of the United States that were being impacted most severely by the coronavirus. Legislators and regulators from both political parties were united in advocating that permanent change be made to state licensing laws for health professionals.

Many policy solutions (e.g., interstate compacts, model statutes and rules, licensing reciprocity, and universal license recognition) had been devised and implemented (to some extent) before the pandemic. Efforts to reduce barriers to interstate mobility and practice for health professionals have only intensified during the last 12 months. However, one essential aspect of this problem has not been fully recognized: the importance of education programs in each health profession being held to national standards and being accredited by a national accrediting body.

Professional regulation usually consists of three requirements: education, examination, and (for some professions) experience. I argue that education is the most foundational of these three components. If there are inconsistent education prerequisites for entry into a health profession, it becomes very difficult to even begin the discussion of state licensing reciprocity.

Another major, seemingly unprecedented, current challenge in the labor market for health professionals is the pervasive and persistent shortage of qualified individuals. Decision-makers in some states have sought to address this shortage by creating less rigorous and shorter education pathways. This may offer a minor and temporary solution to the workforce shortage. However, I assert that the short-term benefit of increasing the pool of professionals by attenuating the education requirement would (1) be outweighed by the long-term lessening in the quality of care and (2) perpetuate barriers to interstate mobility because the truncated education would differ from the national standard and from legally mandated education in other states.

In the final analysis, then, adhering to national accreditation standards of health professional education is indispensable for both safeguarding public health and removing barriers to interstate portability of professional credentials. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs is proud to be a part of the programmatic accreditation community that is committed to accomplishing both policy objectives.

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.