Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential

Who Can Take the CMA (AAMA)® Exam?

Q. Who is eligible to take the CMA (AAMA)® Certification Exam?

A. The only individuals eligible to take the CMA (AAMA) Certification Exam and become CMAs (AAMA) are graduates or graduating students of medical assisting programs that fall within one of the following categories:

  • Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Meets the criteria for the time-limited Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program

The Certification Exam Eligibility Pilot Program is a three-year pilot program, begun August 2019, that allows graduates of postsecondary (college-level) medical assisting programs to take the CMA (AAMA) Exam if the program meets certain requirements, including the program being part of an institution accredited by an accrediting body recognized by either the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Hopeful exam candidates can gather all required documentation and submit their documentation for review—to see if they are eligible under the pilot program—for free online via the AAMA website.

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.

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, 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.

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

The CMA (AAMA) Credential in Conjunction with Other Roles

In recent days I received the following two questions:

I would like to know if it is legal in the state of Michigan to work as a medical assistant and a nursing assistant. I started as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and later went to school and became a CMA (AAMA). Can I work for two companies—for one company as a medical assistant and for another company as a nursing assistant? I have tried to search for an answer elsewhere but have had no luck.

I am currently in nursing school (practical nursing). I will graduate in May. Am I able to maintain my CMA (AAMA) even after I obtain my licensed practical nurse (LPN) license? I hope I am able to do so.

I responded to these questions as follows:

  1. Thank you for your question. It is my legal opinion that Michigan law permits an individual to work as a nursing assistant for one employer, and as a medical assistant for another employer. It is important that you keep your CMA (AAMA) current, and that you fulfill any requirements for maintaining your CNA.
  1. Thank you for your question. There is no law or policy that would forbid you from keeping your CMA (AAMA) credential after you become an LPN. As you know, you will have to recertify every sixty (60) months in order to maintain currency of your CMA (AAMA).