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

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.

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

Can CMAs (AAMA) Be Ophthalmic Technicians, and Vice Versa?

Often the questions I receive from CMAs (AAMA) are as versatile as the health professionals asking them. Although some questions focus on an individual’s specific circumstance, they present a situation all CMAs (AAMA) with certification questions can learn something from. The following question is one such case:

I would like to know if a CMA (AAMA) is permitted to work at the office of an ophthalmologist as an ophthalmic technician and be able to continue to hold and recertify the CMA (AAMA) credential.

The answer to your question is yes. One of the many advantages of the CMA (AAMA) is the variety of professional opportunities that are available. CMAs (AAMA) work in the offices of ophthalmologists in various capacities.

The Certifying Board of the AAMA places no restrictions on the types of positions CMAs (AAMA) must hold in order to be eligible to recertify. You are permitted to work as an ophthalmic technician and recertify your CMA (AAMA) by continuing education or retesting.

On the Job, Scope of Practice

Scope of Practice With Nurse Practitioners

I have been receiving an increasing number of questions about the scope of practice for medical assistants when they are working under the supervision of nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs), and not under the direct supervision of a physician. This scenario will become more frequent because of the Affordable Care Act and the anticipated increase in demand for primary care, which is often provided by NPs and PAs.

Because physician assistants always work under physician authority and supervision—although, in some states, very general physician supervision—the scope of practice for medical assistants working under PAs is usually very similar to their scope of practice when working under physician supervision. However, there are some state laws that do not permit medical assistants to administer medication unless a physician (MD) or osteopath (DO) is on the premises.

Medical assistants’ scope of practice when working under nurse practitioners (or other advanced practice nurses) is usually more difficult to ascertain from state law. The controlling law is the state nurse practice act and the regulations and policies of the state board of nursing. Often, the legal analysis is complicated.

If you work under the direct supervision of a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant and have questions about scope of practice, please feel free to direct your questions to me.