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.

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

“Medical Office Assistant” vs. “Medical Assistant”

Inconsistency in the usage of similar-sounding terms related to medical assisting is bound to cause confusion. The following question demonstrates one such instance:

Is there a difference between a medical assistant and a medical office assistant? Health systems in our region seem to use these terms to describe the same category of allied health professional.

Medical office assistant and medical assistant were used interchangeably to describe allied health professionals who are knowledgeable and competent in both clinical and administrative tasks and responsibilities in outpatient delivery settings. This meaning of medical office assistant has become less frequent in recent years, and the vast majority of federal and state statutes and regulations employ the phrase medical assistant.

In certain contexts, medical office assistant describes an individual who performs only administrative tasks in an ambulatory-care setting. Even this usage has become less frequent. Individuals who perform only administrative tasks in an outpatient environment are now more commonly referred to as administrative medical assistants or administrative assistants.

Schools continue to offer educational programs that address only the administrative aspects of medical assisting. Keep in mind that graduates of these programs are not eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. Only graduates of medical assisting programs accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) that teach both clinical and administrative knowledge, skills, and professional attributes and behaviors—and thus meet the CAAHEP- and ABHES-accreditation standards for medical assisting programs—are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination.

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

Levels of Medical Assisting

Here is an interesting question about “levels” of medical assisting:

I work for a very large cardiology practice in North Carolina. Is it permissible to establish tiers of medical assistants based on their skill sets? For example, are we permitted under North Carolina law to have categories such as Medical Assistant I, Medical Assistant II, Medical Assistant III based on the medical assistant’s education, credentialing, and skill sets?

North Carolina law does not forbid employers from establishing tiers or levels of medical assistants. An employer is allowed to determine what elements of knowledge and skill are required for each category of medical assistants and what tasks should be assigned to medical assistants in the respective categories.

However, these levels should not have “CMA” in their titles. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) has intellectual property rights to the phrase “certified medical assistant” and the initialisms “CMA (AAMA)” and “CMA.”

Titling these classifications as Medical Assistant I, II, III is permitted under North Carolina law and does not infringe on the trademark and intellectual property rights of the AAMA. See the State Scope of Practice Laws webpage on the AAMA website to access key state legislative materials pertaining to medical assisting.

medication aide, medication assistant, Scope of Practice

CMAs (AAMA), CNAs, and Medication Aides

I recently received the following question:

Does the law permit a CMA (AAMA) to work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a nursing home without meeting the state requirements for registering as a CNA?

The answer is no. A medical assistant—even a CMA (AAMA) who has graduated from a programmatically accredited medical assisting program—must meet the state requirements for CNAs and register with the state as a CNA in order to perform clinical tasks in a skilled nursing facility or other inpatient settings.

Some states have a category of “medication aides (or assistants).” Medication aides are permitted to distribute medications to patients in an inpatient setting, usually under registered nurse authority and supervision. CMAs (AAMA) must also meet state requirements in order to work as a medication aide.

For more discussion on this topic, read my previous blog post “Medical Assistants and Medication Aides/Assistants/Technicians: Differences and Clarifications.”

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

Can LPNs Take the CMA (AAMA) Exam?

I field many questions from health professionals with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds about the eligibility requirements for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. Many wonder, If I have this knowledge and experience, am I eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) Exam? If you are one such person, consider this question and response:

I am a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Would it be possible for me to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination? Some employers in my area prefer to hire CMAs (AAMA) rather than LPNs.

This is my response:

Only graduates of CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting programs are eligible for the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. I suggest that you contact CAAHEP- and ABHES-accredited medical assisting programs in your areas and see whether they would accept some of the courses you took in your LPN program in lieu of similar courses in the medical assisting program.