Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, On the Job, Professional Identity

“Certified Medical Assistant” vs. “Medical Assistant-Certified” in Washington: A Review of Permissible Usage among Programs

The distinction between “certified medical assistant” and its variations can be difficult for medical assisting programs to make. Trademark registrations and state law need to be taken into consideration.

Take this question for example:

Can a Washington-based medical assisting program that meets the requirements of the Washington State Department of Health (e.g., graduates can become a “medical assistant-certified” [MA-C]) but not the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam use the phrase “certified medical assistant” in connection with their program?

The American Association of Medical Assistants® (AAMA) holds a trademark registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the phrase “certified medical assistant.” Any party’s use of the phrase that is likely to confuse or mislead the public is an infringement of the AAMA’s intellectual property rights in the phrase.

Medical assisting programs that are not accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) should not use the phrase because it could be misconstrued as their graduates being eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam.

Washington State Legislature has established several categories for medical assistants (WAC 246-827-0010), but the medical assistant-certified (MA-C) category is the one most likely to be confused with “certified medical assistant” permissible usage. Note the requirements for becoming an MA-C:

WAC 246-827-0200

Medical assistant-certified—Training and examination.

An applicant for a medical assistant-certified credential must meet the following requirements:

(1) Successful completion of one of the following medical assistant training programs:

(a) Postsecondary school or college program accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission of [sic] Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP);

(b) Postsecondary school or college accredited by a regional or national accrediting organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, which includes a minimum of seven hundred twenty clock hours of training in medical assisting skills, including a clinical externship of no less than one hundred sixty hours;

(c) A registered apprenticeship program administered by a department of the state of Washington unless the secretary determines that the apprenticeship program training or experience is not substantially equivalent to the standards of this state. The apprenticeship program shall ensure a participant who successfully completes the program is eligible to take one or more examinations identified in subsection (2) of this section; or

(d) The secretary may approve an applicant who submits documentation that he or she completed postsecondary education with a minimum of seven hundred twenty clock hours of training in medical assisting skills. The documentation must include proof of training in all of the duties identified in RCW [Revised Code of Washington] 18.360.050(1) and a clinical externship of no less than one hundred sixty hours.

(2) Pass a medical assistant certification examination, approved by the secretary, within five years of submitting an initial application. A medical assistant certification examination approved by the secretary means an examination that:

(a) Is offered by a medical assistant program that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA); and

(b) Covers the clinical and administrative duties under RCW 18.360.050(1).

Consequently, if the medical assisting program meets (1)(a), (b), (c), or (d), it would be permissible for the program to state that graduates meet the educational portion of the MA-C requirements. It would also be permissible to state that graduates would be eligible for one or more of the NCCA-accredited medical assisting certification programs.

For more information on whether a Washington-based MA-C can write “CMA” after their name, see my blog post “Can Washington State Medical Assistants Use the ‘CMA’ Initialism?

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, delegation, On the Job, Professional Identity

Appropriate Use Criteria Program: CMAs (AAMA)® Meet Clinical Staff Criteria under the CMS Rule

In the Public Affairs article of the March/April 2018 CMA Today, I argued that “appropriately educated and credentialed medical assistants” such as CMAs (AAMA)® are clinical staff under the Medicare Chronic Care Management (CCM) and Transitional Care Management (TCM) programs.

I now add that CMAs (AAMA) are also clinical staff according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rule regarding the appropriate use criteria (AUC) program. Therefore, as a result of their clinical staff status, I assert that CMAs (AAMA) are permitted to do the following:

  1. Consult a clinical decision support mechanism (CDSM) about the appropriateness of ordering a particular advanced diagnostic imaging service
  2. Report findings to their overseeing or delegating licensed providers

Review the supporting evidence in the September/October 2019 Public Affairs article, “Appropriate Use Criteria Program,” on the AAMA website.

On the Job, Professional Identity

Permissible Initialisms for Student Medical Assistants

It is legally inadvisable for student medical assistants who are on their externship/practicum to include any unrecognized initialism, such as the initials “SMA” (for “Student Medical Assistant”), after their names. Because “SMA” is not a recognized credential for medical assistants and there is no recognized credential given to medical assisting students just for being a student, externing students who insert any initialism after their names could cause confusion.

Using an unrecognized credential is an important issue for the medical assisting profession because of the large number of credentials and initialisms that currently exist in medical assisting.

If a practicum site strongly prefers that the externing medical assisting students identify themselves in some distinctive way, it would be preferable to have the students use the phrase “Student Med Asst” or some other type of designation.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Professional Identity

No Application Deadline for Qualifying CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam Applicants

Although the following is not a legal question, it is one that I and other AAMA staff are asked frequently by graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES):

I graduated from a CAAHEP-accredited medical assisting program seven years ago and have been working as a medical assistant since that time. However, I have never taken the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam. Am I too late to do so?

Anyone in this position is not too late to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam. An individual who graduated from a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program is permitted to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam regardless of when the individual graduated. Please click on “CMA (AAMA) Exam” from any webpage on the AAMA website as well as the Exam Eligibility Requirements webpage for information about eligibility requirements for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Professional Identity

Can Washington State Medical Assistants Use the “CMA” Initialism?

With a variety of certifications associated with the medical assisting profession, confusion runs rampant regarding who is permitted to write “CMA” after their name, thereby using the CMACM initialism. For instance, I received the following question:

I have been a CMA (AAMA) for many years and recently moved to Washington state. Washington law requires a medical assistant to register with the Washington Department of Health as a medical assistant-certified (MA-C) or a medical assistant-registered (MA-R) to be delegated certain clinical tasks. My question is this: Is an MA-C allowed to use the CMA initialism?

As you have stated, the MA-C and the MA-R are medical assisting credentials established by the Washington legislature and administered by the Washington Department of Health. They do not have a “legal existence” outside of the provisions of Washington law. The CMA (AAMA)® is a national medical assisting credential. The CMA (AAMA) Certification Program and the Certifying Board of the AAMA are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the National Certification Commission, and under International Standard ISO:IEC 17024, Conformity Assessment—General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons. The CMA (AAMA) has a national and international existence as a medical assisting credential.

Only medical assistants who have passed the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam, have been awarded the CMA (AAMA) credential by the Certifying Board of the AAMA, and who have kept their CMA (AAMA) current by continuing education or testing are permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) designation. Not all Washington MA-Cs have a current CMA (AAMA). Only those MA-Cs who have a current CMA (AAMA) are permitted to use the CMA (AAMA) or CMACM initialisms after their names.