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Certified Medical Assistant Career Guide



CMAs are an invaluable part in any clinical setting. They provide much-needed support to various HCPS, including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and more. With all the employment opportunities available to them, this is a career path well worth pursuing.


 

Overview


Medical assistants work alongside physicians, nurses and other HCPS. They are most often found in outpatient or ambulatory care settings such as medical offices, clinics, hospitals and more. Thanks to their cross-training, CMAs can assist with administrative work and routine clinical tasks/procedures. Thanks to the rising number of physicians and outpatient care settings, CMAs are among the fastest growing professions in the industry. Aging populations have also contributed to this, since the elderly require far more medical attention.


 

Tasks and Responsibilities:


CMAs can take on a number of clinical and administrative duties in the workplace, This includes (but is not limited to):


Clinical


  • Reviewing patient medical histories

  • Reporting lab findings to other nurses

  • Applying wound care, phlebotomies, electrocardiograms and other procedures.

  • Guiding and assisting patients for physical exams.

  • Explaining treatment procedures to patients and patient families.


Administrative


  • Recording and updating sensitive patient medical records and code insurance forms

  • Organizing laboratory tests and hospital admissions

  • Assisting with financial processes (billing, bookkeeping, etc)

  • Scheduling patient appointments


Your priorities will vary, depending on your work location. CMAs in outpatient centers will focus on booking appointments, recording medical information, assisting with physical exams and checking vital signs. In physician offices, you can expect to administer injections should state law permit it, take throat swabs and blood samples, and record medical data. Finally, medical assistants in hospitals will most often update treatments, assist with minor procedures and arrange appointments.


 

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant


To become a CMA, you have to complete the following steps.


Step 1: Fulfill your educational requirements


At the bare minimum, you will require your high school diploma or a rough equivalent. If possible, taking additional math and science courses can prepare you for additional certification.


Step 2: Attend an accredited program


Once you have your diploma, you can apply for a CMA program. Be sure that it is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), otherwise it is a waste of time and resources. You can commonly find these programs in career centers and colleges. Alternatively, there are online hybrid programs that combine remote learning with on-campus training.


Alternatively, some community colleges even offer 2-year programs that let you acquire your associate’s degree in medical assisting. Though this takes a longer time, your associate’s degree will make it easier to acquire your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Down the line, acquiring this will increase your career advancement opportunities and earning power.


Step 3: Pass the CMA (AAMA) test


Certification is technically not required by law, but most employers will only employ certified CMAs. No more than 30 days before graduation and practicum completion, you have to complete your certification test to acquire your CMA (AAMA). Provided by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), this exam will test you on everything you learned up to that point. Be sure to meet all the requirements and the exam fee of $125.


If you passed the 30 day mark or you need recertification, you will need either your transcripts or the most recent certification number. This will cost you either $125 (for AMA members) or $250 (for non-members). The test itself is a 200-item multiple choice exam broken up between 40-minute testing periods. From July 2019–July 2020, the passing rate was 67%. Passing will require thorough studying and review. Attending a review center or completing practice exams is the best way to accomplish this.


Step 4: Go out there! If you passed the exam and acquired your certification, then congratulations! You are now a CMA. The next step is to find employment and luckily you have options. Medical assistants most commonly find work in hospitals, physician offices and outpatient care centers. Alternatively, you can find work in educational institutions, nursing homes, medical research centers, laboratories and more.


The BLS reports that CMAs earn $36,930 annually, on average. The bottom 10% earn around $26,930, while the top 10% can make up to $50,580. Like with any medical profession, location, prior experience and additional qualifications will influence your actual income by a great amount. With the exception of LPNs and vocational nurses, CMAs earn considerably more than other healthcare assistants.

At the time of writing, these are the highest paying states for CMAs.

  • Washington: $ 47,320

  • District of Columbia: $ 46,690

  • Alaska: $46,390

  • California: $44,780

  • Massachusetts:$ 44,200


 

Outlook

According to the Atlantic, around 700,000 nurses are projected to leave the workforce by 2024. As a result, the demand for new nurses will be very high, for the foreseeable future. The BLS currently projects a 9% annual employment growth rate for Registered Nurses, from 2020 to 2030. While this is average across all occupations, this translates to 194,500 annual job openings within this time. Demand for Neonatal Nurses will be even higher than average. Because of how specialized their qualifications are, finding NICU replacements will be especially difficult. Expect employers to do their best to retain key talent in these positions.


 

Continuing Education

CMAs are required to renew their certification every 60 months. There are two ways you can accomplish this. One is by retaking and passing the CMA (AAMA) exam.


If your license has not expired for more than 3 months, you can take up continuing education. The AAMA requires 60 recertification points, 30 of which should come from AAMA-approved CEUs. These points are divided into several subjects:


  • Clinical: 10

  • General: 10

  • Administrative: 10

  • Any combination of the above: 30





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