What is a Medical Assistant Certificate?

by Melissa Sartore

Updated September 16, 2022 • 6 min read


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Medical assistants manage patient information and perform basic medical procedures, like drawing blood, removing stitches, and capturing X-ray images.

Medical assistants are intermediaries between practitioners and patients, working alongside physicians in both administrative and clinical capacities.

A medical assistant certificate introduces learners to the fundamentals of medicine, including medical terminology, ethics, and human anatomy,in preparation for these roles. Enrollees also complete office management, medical coding, and professionalism in healthcare courses, as well as a practical learning requirement.

Individuals interested in medicine who enjoy working with others will benefit from the comprehensive nature of a medical assistant certificate. Medical assistants can find employment in hospitals, private medical offices, outpatient care facilities, and comparable settings. There are also many medical specialties available, offering extensive career options for medical assistants.

Alternate Job Titles

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What's the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant?

A medical assistant performs administrative and clinical duties in a healthcare setting. This includes organizing records, coding medical procedures, interacting with insurance companies, and carrying out other daily operations in medical offices. They can also take medical information from patients, prepare them for procedures, and assist with examinations and tests.

Nursing assistants function exclusively in a clinical capacity. They are essential caregivers for patience, which can involve tasks like moving, monitoring, and bathing patients. The requirements to become a medical assistant resemble those for nursing assistants, blending coursework with practical training. Some employers require certification for medical assistants, but all nursing assistants must pass a state-specific exam.

What's the Difference Between a Medical Assistant Certificate and an Associate Degree in Medical Assistance?

A medical assistant certificate or diploma typically includes a year or less of coursework, making them ideal for individuals seeking entry-level careers in medicine. Medical assistants can also earn associate degrees, which span two years and cover much of the same coursework, plus more general education requirements.

Medical assistant certificates and associate degrees both incorporate classes in medical administration and clinical training, preparing students for medical assistant certification. However, a medical assistant associate degree can also serve as a springboard into a bachelor's program, while a certificate only qualifies graduates for entry-level positions.

Where Can You Work With a Medical Assistant Certificate?

Medical assistants can work in hospitals, outpatient care facilities, and private practice offices. Career paths for individuals with medical assistant certificates vary, with some medical assistants opting to focus on the administrative side of the position while others do more clinical work.

Some medical assistant certificate-holders find employment in the insurance industry. Clinical medical assistants and those with specialties in specific subsets of medicine can also work in clinics, nursing homes, and medical laboratories.

Physicians' Offices

A medical assistant certificate prepares students to take on multifaceted duties within physicians' offices. Using their skills in healthcare professionalism, medical coding, and medical terminology, medical assistants record information, greet patients, and schedule appointments. Clinical tasks for medical assistants include preparing patients for procedures, assisting with exams, and administering medication.

Coursework in computer science, medical sciences, and communication all benefit medical assistants working in physicians' offices. Practical requirements in a medical assistant certificate program similarly deliver the skills learners need to work with fellow medical professionals.

Outpatient Care Centers

Outpatient care centers often focus on one type of medicine, such as primary care, community health, or specialized treatment. Medical assistants work in offices and exam rooms at outpatient care centers, providing patient assistance and care.

While a medical assistant certificate establishes foundational knowledge and skills for many job responsibilities, a specialized certification may benefit individuals as well. Medical assistants can earn professional certifications in orthopedics, gerontology, and immunology.

Specialized Care Providers

Specialized care providers offer medical care in one subset of healthcare. Working with these care providers requires knowledge of specific medical terminology, office management, and clinical practice, as well as expertise in the relevant area of medicine.

Medical assistants who work with specialized care providers can earn professional certifications to advance their knowledge and skills in areas like cardiology, chiropractic medicine, or neurology.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Medical Assistant Certificate?

Salaries for medical assistants vary by location, role, and experience level. In 2019, the median annual salary for medical assistants was just under $35,000. Medical assistants working in outpatient care facilities and hospitals earned above-average wages.

As the population in the United States over the age of 65 continues to rise, the need for medical assistants will also increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% employment growth rate for medical assistants from 2019-2029.

Medical Assistant Career Information

2019 Median Annual Salary


2019-2029 Projected Job Growth

Much Faster than Average

Professional Organizations

AAMA was founded in 1956 and today provides education, certification, and protection for medical assistance professionals. AAMA offers information about training programs, employment opportunities, and networking resources for its members. Student members benefit from its extensive student center, a repository of information about certification, student groups, and practical experiences. Established in 1950, ARMA unites medical assistants to advocate for the advancement of the profession. For membership, individuals must submit documentation related to their educational and professional background in medical assistance. Members have access to ARMA's job listings, events, and continuing education programs. American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management With members who work across healthcare administration, AAHAM educates its community through professional development opportunities, certification programs, and information exchange resources. AAHAM has nearly 60 chapters around the world. Members have access to its directory, publication, webinars, and scholarship and awards program. Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals AHCAP serves leaders across the healthcare field, helping to enhance healthcare as a whole. It offers resources like software and technology guidance, writing and language materials, and grant writing tips and tools. Students who join AHCAP benefit from its communication and networking opportunities, education programs, and career assistance resources. AMT certifies medical assistants, including laboratory, diagnostic, administrative, and dental professionals. With 87,000 members, AMT supports its members with continuing education programs, career development resources, volunteer opportunities, and a nationwide community.

Accreditation for Medical Assistant Programs

Students should always ensure the accreditation status of prospective schools and programs. Colleges and universities receive national or regional accreditation, while degrees and programs may hold specialized, programmatic accreditation. For healthcare degrees, students should always look for regional accreditation.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) accredit medical assistant programs. Accreditation by the CAAHEP or ABHES indicates that a medical assistant certificate meets rigorous educational standards. Some states require accredited certificates or degrees for medical assistant licensure.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Certification of a Medical Assistant Indicate?

Medical assistant certification indicates that individuals meet the standards established by the certifying body. Certified medical assistants need strong capabilities in both administrative and clinical duties, and certification tests for those abilities.

Can You Get Your Medical Assistant Degree Online?

It is possible to earn online medical assistant certification, but enrollees still need to complete practical requirements in person.

How Much Does the CMA Exam Cost?

The cost of certification as a medical assistant varies by certifying body. A medical assistant certification through AAMA costs $125 or $250, depending on the applicant's educational background. The National Center for Competency Testing's certification exam costs $90, while certifications offered by the National Healthcareer Association are often included in tuition for medical assistance programs.

Portrait of Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Header Image Credit: Nomad | Getty Images

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