How Can You Get Certified as a Medical Assistant?

Updated By Staff Writer on March 25, 2021

Many Medical Assistant programs, like that offered Independence University, can give you the education to become a reputable worker in the medical field. However, these programs cannot give you certification—that’s an extra step that many people see as optional.

There are plenty of good reasons to get certified–many medical assistant jobs today expect some form of certification. But getting certified will depend on your experience and educational background.

We’ve created this guide so you can find and pick the best medical assistant certification option for your situation.

What’s on This Page

  • Do You Need Certification to Be a Medical Assistant?
  • Medical Assistant Certification Options
    • The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
    • The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
    • The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
    • The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
    • The Difference Between Certificate Programs and Certification Programs
  • How to Get Medical Assistant Certification–the Steps
  • Medical Assisting Certification Exam FAQs
    • How Do You Qualify for Certification Exams?
    • Sample Medical Assisting Certification Test Questions
    • Where Can I Get My Medical Assistant Certification?
    • Can You Get Your Medical Assistant Certification Online?
  • How Much Does Medical Assistant Certification Cost?
  • How Long Does Your Medical Assistant Certification Last?
  • Can I Transfer My Medical Assistant Certification to Another State?
  • Start Toward Your Certification Today

Do You Need Certification to Be a Medical Assistant?

You don’t need to be certified to be a medical assistant. At least, no law limits your ability. But while you can find medical assistant jobs without certification, most doctors and medical offices prefer to hire those who are certified.

To be certified, you must pass assessments to prove you are competent enough to complete the tasks you will be assigned. So if a hiring manager sees you are certified, they can expect a certain skill and knowledge level. If you aren’t certified, there’s no guarantee.

In the end, it’s up to you and your career goals to determine whether you should pursue certification. However, those who are registered medical assistants will have a significant competitive advantage in the application process.

Medical Assistant Certification Options

There are many ways you can become a certified medical assistant. Each has its advantages, so choose the certification that best aligns with your goals.

Different Types of Medical Assistant Certifications

Let’s go over the commonly accepted certification exams, including the unique benefits of each.

  1. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

    This exam is one of the most widely accepted and recognized certification programs and is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

    The CMA addresses both administrative and clinical tasks, encompassing every aspect of a medical assistant’s duties. And since the CMA is one of the most widely recognized and accepted medical assistant certifications, it will help you stand out during the job recruitment process. You can only sit for this exam if you have attended a CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) approved school.

  2. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)

    The RMA is another widely accepted certification exam that covers a lot of the same topics as the CMA and is provided through the American Medical Technologists (AMT).

    The RMA is particularly beneficial for candidates who have several years of experience, are a US military veteran, or are already certified by another organization.

  3. The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)

    Offered through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), this test differs significantly from the CMA and RMA. It focuses more on assisting physicians and patients rather than office administration tasks.

    Like the RMA, the NCMA is a great option for those who have previous medical assisting experience. Though it is not as widely recognized as the CMA or RMA exams, it may be a better choice if you wish to work with patients directly.

Related: What is it like being a medical assistant? See the survey results.

  1. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

    The CCMA is offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). Not to be confused with the CMA, there are significant differences between the CCMA and the CMA. This exam is geared toward medical assistants who want to be more involved in clinical procedures rather than office administration. At some schools, this test can be taken before graduating based on residencies and an externship. The NHA is also offering the testing from home with a strict online testing program.

    The NHA medical assistant certification is good for medical assistants who already have relevant work experience but never completed a full training program. And unlike the NCMA, this certification requires only one year of relevant work experience, so you can quickly transition into clinical roles.

The Difference between Certificate Programs and Certification Programs

To avoid any confusion, it’s worth noting that there is a difference between registered and certified medical assistants. It all comes down to completing a certificate program or a certification program.

Certificate programs are designed to build a foundation of knowledge and skills. They instruct you on everything a medical assistant would encounter and give assessments to evaluate how well you’ve learned specific skills and concepts. The certificate you receive at the end is proof that you’ve achieved mastery in certain learning objectives.

Certification programs take this a step further and are designed to validate a professional’s ability and knowledge to ensure the candidate meets the baseline competencies.

How to Get Medical Assistant Certification–The Steps

While the different certification exams have different qualifications, there are four steps you can take to ensure you qualify for all of them.

  1. Get a High School Diploma/GED™

    While not an explicit requirement for all certification exams, getting a high school diploma or an equivalent credential can help prepare you for a medical assisting course. High school and GED courses can give you a basic understanding of math, biology, chemistry, physics, and statistics, all of which are essential if you want to succeed in your medical assisting classes.

  2. Volunteer at Local Clinics

    Students who volunteer at local clinics and physicians’ offices can immerse themselves in the healthcare environment even before starting their career path toward medical assisting. This experience can also improve their candidacy for postsecondary programs.

  3. Complete an Accredited Medical Assistant Program

    All certification exams require that you either complete a medical assistant program that is accredited or otherwise approved by another organization. These programs can be taken in person or online and will teach you the basics of common medical practices, administrative tasks, insurance processing, and more.

    As part of these programs, students will also complete externships that give them real-world experience as medical assistants before they graduate.

  4. Pass the Certification Exam

    The final step to becoming a certified medical assistant is to take the certification exam. Your school may offer one of the exams as part of their curriculum, or you may need to sign up for it at your convenience. To schedule the exam, you will need to pay a fee and submit proof you are eligible to take it.

You can prepare for the exam by using its provided study guide and taking practice tests. If you study hard in the weeks leading up to the exam, you’ll pass and finally become a certified medical assistant.

Medical Assisting Certification Exam FAQs

The following are some frequently asked questions about the medical assistant certification process, including qualification requirements and sample questions.

How Do You Qualify for Certification Exams?

All certification options require some level of relevant education or experience before taking the exam. The level of experience depends on the certification exam you choose to take.

CMA Qualifications

To qualify to take the CMA, a candidate must graduate from a CCAHEP accredited medical assisting program, receiving either a degree or certificate in medical assisting.

RMA Qualifications

The qualifications for the RMA are a little different from the CMA: You must graduate from a medical assisting program that’s been approved by the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or the AMT board of directors. There are also alternative options to qualify to take the test, including:

  • Graduation from a formal medical training service from the US military
  • Being a candidate with five years’ experience as a medical assistant
  • Being a candidate who holds another medical assisting certificate from a qualified organization
  • Being a medical assistant instructor with five or more years’ experience

NCMA Qualifications

To qualify for the NCMA, you must have graduated within the last ten years from a medical assisting program approved by the NCCT. Some alternative ways to qualify include:

  • Being a foreign RN or physician with documented US equivalency
  • Being a medical assistant instructor with over ten years’ experience
  • Completing a medical assistant program within the US military
  • Having more than two years’ experience as a working medical assistant

CCMA Qualifications

CCMA applicants must hold at least a high school diploma or GED™ and have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program. If they did not graduate from an MA program, they could still qualify if they complete any of the following:

  • An approved apprenticeship program
  • A medical assisting program within the US military
  • More than one year’s experience as a medical assistant

Sample Medical Certification Test Questions

All of the certification exams will cover similar topics since they all relate to medical assisting tasks. However, each test varies slightly on the focus of the exam. Here, we will go over the main sections and topics and give some sample questions from previous exams.

CMA Exam Topics and Questions

The CMA exam is broken down into three categories:

  • General knowledge
  • Administrative
  • Clinical
Sample Questions
  1. Which of the following terms describes the body's ability to maintain its normal state?
    1. Anabolism
    2. Catabolism
    3. Tolerance
    4. Homeostasis
    5. Metabolism
  2. Which of the following allows air to pass into the lungs?
    1. Aorta
    2. Esophagus
    3. Heart
    4. Pancreas
    5. Trachea
  3. Which cells in the blood do not have a nucleus?
    1. Lymphocyte
    2. Monocyte
    3. Erythrocyte
    4. Basophil
    5. Neutrophil

RMA Exam Topics and Questions

The RMA exam is broken into four categories:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Administrative medical assisting
  • Clinical medical assisting
  • Clinical patient interaction

Sample Questions

  1. Which of these can be reported to relevant authorities without a patient’s consent?
    1. HIV status
    2. Illegal narcotics in the bloodstream
    3. Gunshot wound
    4. Blood alcohol level
  2. Tachypnea is generally defined as a patient taking more than how many breaths per minute?
    1. 20
    2. 25
    3. 15
    4. 30
  3. Which of the following would be categorized as a flat bone?
    1. Vertebrae
    2. Metatarsals
    3. Femur
    4. Scapula
    5. Mandible

NCMA Exam Topics and Questions

The NCMA test is divided into many more categories, eight in total:

  • Pharmacology
  • Medical procedures
  • Phlebotomy
  • ECG and other diagnostics tests
  • General office procedures
  • Medical office general management
  • Medical office financial management
  • Medical law and ethics

Sample Questions

  1. If a patient makes his/her condition worse by ignoring medical advice, that may be considered:
    1. Patient negligence
    2. Contributory negligence
    3. Patient malpractice
    4. Secondary malpractice
  2. In a business letter, what should be placed in the top right-hand corner?
    1. The date
    2. The sender’s address
    3. The recipient’s address
    4. A reference number
  3. If a patient cancels an appointment, it is essential that you:
    1. Check if they need to reschedule
    2. Bill them for the canceled appointment
    3. Remove their record from the database
    4. Mark their record as closed

CCMA Exam Topics and Questions

The CCMA exam is divided into seven sections:

  • Basic science and foundational knowledge
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Clinical patient care
  • Patient care coordination and education
  • Administrative assisting
  • Communication and customer service
  • Medical law and ethics

Sample Questions

  1. The destruction of all microbial life, pathogen, and non-pathogens, are destroyed by:
    1. Medical asepsis
    2. Handwashing
    3. Standard precautions
    4. Surgical asepsis
  2. When taking blood pressure, the deflation rate is:
    1. 1–2 mm HG
    2. 2–3 mm HG
    3. 0–1 mm HG
    4. 4–5 mm HG
  3. How many minutes does normal coagulation take in a red-topped tube?
    1. 15–20
    2. 60–90
    3. 30–60
    4. 5–10

Where Can I Get My Medical Assistant Certification?

Once you’ve scheduled and properly prepared for your test, you will take the exam at your school, at a third-party testing center, or at your home. Where you take the test is usually up to your school.

Prometric and Pearson VUE testing centers are registered medical assistant test locations. They offer proctored tests for the CMA and RMA, respectively. With locations all over the country, these centers are designed to make sure you have a fair and proctored test-taking environment.

To sign up for any of the exams, click on the following links:

Can You Get Your Medical Assistant Certification Online?

While there have been some types of certification tests becoming available online, there may be others where you have to attend the exams at a physical location. However, everything leading up to the final exam can be done completely online. This encompasses taking reliable and accredited online classes, getting a degree or certificate, studying for the certification exam, and even taking practice tests.

How Much Does Medical Assistant Certification Cost?

Medical assistant certification costs will depend on the type of certification you choose to pursue.

The CMA exam fee varies depending on your situation. If you are a member of the American Association of Medical Assistants, a member of an approved accreditation program (CAAHEP or ABHES), or a recent graduate, the exam costs $125. For everyone else, the exam costs $250.

If you are taking the test after your certification has expired, there will be an additional $50 recertification charge.

The other three certification exams are less complicated and offer a flat rate:

How Long Does Your Medical Assistant Certification Last?

Each certification exam has a different amount of time before you need to recertify:


You have to renew your CMA certification every five years. You can do this by either taking a recertification exam or by earning continuing education credits.


To maintain your RMA certification, you must obtain a certain amount of Certification Continuation Program points (CCP) every three years. You can earn these points with continuing education courses, employer verification, or participation in a related work committee.


You must recertify annually with the NCMA. The NCCT believes annual recertification promotes consistent and ongoing reinforcement of knowledge and skills. To do so, you have to pay an annual fee or submit proof of completing continuing education hours.


You’ll need to recertify for CCMA every two years. You’ll do this by either paying a biannual fee or submitting 10 or more continuing education hours.

Can I Transfer My Medical Assistant Certification to Another State?

All of these certification exams are nationally recognized, so there is no need to recertify if you move between states. There may be different requirements from state to state, though, so you should check the state’s website to make sure you are qualified to work in that state.

However, there is one exception for the RMA:

The state of New York does not officially recognize exams from the American Medical Technologists, which offers the RMA. While you can’t keep a professional status in New York, an RMA does qualify you for a provisional license.

Start Working Toward Your Certification Today

This guide should clear up any confusion about how to get your certified medical assistant license online or through any other means. If you have any questions or concerns about your path to becoming a medical assistant, contact Independence University. We have administrators and faculty ready to assist you.