Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

The CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program

The Certifying Board (CB) of the American Association of Medical Assistants® (AAMA) has approved the launch of a three-year eligibility pilot program, which temporarily opens a new education pathway for medical assistants to become eligible to sit for the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam.

Applicants first submit their documentation for review, free of charge, to determine their eligibility to apply for the exam. The criteria and submission requirements for the review are outlined on the Eligibility Pilot Program webpage of the AAMA website.

Before implementing the program, the CB took into account several policy priorities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Maintaining global and national accreditation standards
  • Heeding a recommendation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies
  • Needing to collect and evaluate empirical evidence on examination performance by candidates who are not graduates of accredited medical assisting programs

Examine all the CB’s considerations and rationale in detail by reading the November/December 2019 Public Affairs article, “The CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program: Criteria and Rationale for the Three-Year Pilot Study,” on the AAMA website.

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.

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, Uncategorized

“Registered” vs. “Certified”: A Question of Terminology

A common source of confusion within medical assisting is the question of whether medical assisting credentials with “registered” in the name are superior to medical assisting credentials with “certified” in the name.

The answer to this question is no. National medical assisting credentials with the word “registered” as part of the credential name are not of a higher level status than medical assisting credentials with “certified” in their name.

This confusion may be engendered by the fact that “registered” indicates licensed status for credentials in fields other than medical assisting.  For example, in professional nursing, a “registered nurse” is a nurse who has met state educational and testing requirements, and is licensed to practice professional nursing.

However, this is not the case in medical assisting.  A medical assistant with a credential that has “registered” in its title is not in a different or higher legal category than a medical assistant with a credential that has “certified” in its title.

In fact, CMA (AAMA) certification has rigorous college-level education requirements, physician-quality exam standards, and is nationally and globally accredited, unlike other certifications and registrations.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE), EHR Incentive Programs, Meaningful Use, Medicaid, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

CMS Final Rule Reaffirms Credentialing Requirement for Medical Assistants

On October 6, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its final rule for the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs. In responding to comments urging that the “credentialed medical assistant” requirement be made less stringent, CMS reaffirmed that medical assistants must have a third-party credential (such as the CMA (AAMA)), and must have sufficient knowledge to handle properly clinical decision support (CDS) alerts.

One party commenting on the CMS notice of proposed rulemaking for the EHR Incentive Programs made the suggestion “that if a standard for medical assistant CPOE [computerized provider order entry] is required, then the standard should be that the medical assistant must be appropriately trained for CEHRT [certified electronic health record technology] use (including CPOE) by the employer or CEHRT vendor in order to be counted [toward meeting the meaningful use requirements of the Incentive Programs].” (page 322 of the attached document)

CMS responded as follows:

We [CMS] disagree that the training on the use of CEHRT is adequate for the purposes of entering an order under CPOE and executing any relevant action related to a CDS. We believe CPOE and CDS duties should be considered clinical in nature, not clerical.  Therefore, CPOE and CDS duties, as noted, should be viewed in the same category as any other clinical task, which may only be performed by a qualified medical or clinical staff. (page 323 of the attached document)

This position of CMS is a resounding affirmation of the fact that only professionally-credentialed medical assistants (such as CMAs (AAMA)) are qualified to enter orders safely into the CPOE system.

More information about the CMS final rule will be forthcoming in Legal Eye: On Medical Assisting and CMA Today.

CMS Final Rule (10/6/15), pages 322-323