Monday, August 08, 2011

What Medical Assistants Need to Know About CMA and RMA Certification, Licensure, Limited Licenses and Permits

A member of our Medical Assistant Community Forum who calls herself New RMA asked the following question:
"I'm in Charlotte, NC. I just completed an eight-month, VERY INTENSE, Medical Assisting program, including a two month externship at a private practice. I was then eligible to sit for the RMA exam and passed with a near-perfect score. The question came up several times during my training about what the differences were between RMA/CMA designation. We were told repeatedly that there is no difference in qualifications, just that the CMA title is older and more widely recognized, and for that reason has, until now, usually been paid more."

Certification and Registration

In the United States of America certification and registration for medical assistants remains a largely voluntary process to identify a medical assistant as having achieved certain standards established by a professional organization, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and American Medical Technologists (AMT). These well known professional membership associations have been certifying healthcare professionals and granted them active certification status for many decades.

Upon passing their proprietary standardized certification exam the medical assistant receives their credential, such as Certified Medical Assistant® (CMA) or Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) and is now medical assistant certified or registered.  Both, the CMA and the RMA certification exams are given throughout the United States.

In 2006 the AMT sought legal counsel against the AAMA spurred by misconceptions about the proper use of the words certified medical assistant and employer's preferred advertising and hiring of CMA. To ward off one-sided job placement, confusion about the credentials and possible discrimination against the RMA the AMT established that the designation of RMA was in fact equal to CMA and that any employer that recognizes the CMA should be equally willing to hire medical assistants with the RMA designation.

CMA refers to Certified Medical Assistant, while RMA refers to Registered Medical Assistant. Certification for medical assistants is the same as registration, which means medical assistants who are registered are also certified on a national level by passing a proprietary medical assistant certification exam.

If you are an RMA applying for jobs advertising certified medical assistant, or CMA only, you can obtain a letter from AMT explaining that the RMA is just as qualified to fill medical assistant positions as the CMA. See: AMT v. AAMA, a lawsuit filed in federal district court in October 2006

Professional Licensure

Licensure refers to the granting of a license, which gives permission to practice, operate, or provide specific skills, equipment and services. Licensing differs from certification in as much as it is enforced by the government, usually at state level, through a system of processes that authorizes, identifies and tracks a health professional's conduct. The purpose is to regulate and control healthcare professionals and practicing clinicians by means of licensure. All practicing physcians must be licensed. If they violate any rules or laws their license to practice medicine can be revoked or suspended. At present, no state in the USA has instituted state licensure for medical assistants.


For language's sake, the use of the term licensing is often used a tad-bit different than licensure although essentially it is synonymous and means the same. Certain types of professionals, businesses and even activities in the United States need to be licensed and certain licenses must be obtained before being allowed to drive a motor vehicle, operate a crane, carry a firearm, or go fishing and hunting, to name just a few. In the end it's still the same: licensing is required, because it regulates certain activities and professions and grants permission to practice certain skills safely. Here are some examples of professionals that require licensure and businesses that must be licensed in order to provide their services to the public:

  • Accountants
  • Attorneys
  • Blood Banks
  • Body Piercing Artists
  • Cosmetologists
  • Counselors
  • Dentists
  • Dietitians
  • Doctors
  • Dialysis Centers
  • Electricians
  • Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Family Therapists
  • Funeral Directors
  • Home Care Agencies
  • Laboratories
  • Medical Test Sites
  • Nurses
  • Opticians
  • Osteopathic Physicians
  • Physical Therapists
  • Physicians
  • Radiological Technologists
  • Social Workers
  • Veterinarians
  • X-Ray Facilities
  • X-Ray Technicians

Limited Licenses and Special Permits

When a medical assistant is expected to draw blood, or take x-rays they must be aware that certain states have mandatory educational requirements before they can perform certain duties and may be required to carry a permit, or obtain a license in order to perform certain procedures, such as phlebotomy, radiography, start IV lines, or give certain or any injections. Anyone wishing to work as a medical assistant should carefully research whether there are specific laws that regulate the medical assistant profession and any special licenses or permits are required in their state.

Medical assistants and their supervisors can check with their state's Department of Health, Department of Nursing, State Medical Board, Board of Medical Examiners, Department of Licensing, State Bar Association (legal and attorneys), etc. for details about any special licensing requirements in their state, or how to obtain certain permits if so required.

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