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Medical Assisting Certification vs. Accredited Degree: Which Is Better for Your CMA Career

Working as a certified medical assistant or CMA is a highly rewarding career path. Every day, you work with patients to track their vitals, take blood work, and even administer medications. To get you on your dream career path faster, should you go for a medical assisting certification, an accredited degree, or both?

Starting with an accredited medical assisting credential such as an associate degree is the first step on the path to your CMA career. Many certifying bodies also require you to have graduated from a medical assisting program before you’re eligible to test for medical assisting certification.

Ahead, we’ll delve far deeper into which is the right career track for your CMA aspirations. Through the information in this post, you can build a roadmap that will guide you to succeeding in your career goals!

What Is a Medical Assisting Certification?

Having a medical assisting certification proves that you possess proficiency in certain areas of medical assisting.

With your certification, you could be looking at a new job title, more advanced work responsibilities, and a bigger paycheck. In short, you'd climb the career ladder.

Certified medical assistants can choose to become a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant or CCMA, a Registered Medical Assistant or RMA, and/or a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant or CMAA.

Depending on the track you select, your medical assisting career can take different turns.

For example, as a CMAA, your job duties veer more towards the administrative than the clinical. You’d greet patients when they enter the building, answer calls, verify insurance, and schedule appointments.

Your job responsibilities might entail making charts every day as well. However, you’re not working directly with the patients as much.

A CCMA is more clinical than administrative. They’ll check a patient’s medical records, test their vital signs, examine them (or assist a nurse or doctor who is performing the examination), and administer treatments.

An RMA’s job responsibilities may include similar duties to those described above.

Becoming a certified CCMA or CMAA requires you to go through the National Healthcareer Association or NHA. Aspiring RMAs can apply through the American Medical Technologists or AMT, another certifying body.

If eligible for these certifications, you’d register for an exam, pay the testing fee, and study up. Should you pass the exam, you’d be a certified medical assistant.

Retests are allowed, but sometimes only for a limited number of times (usually up to four). It's good to keep in mind that taking an AMT or NHA exam is not free. Read this article to learn more about certification options for medical assisting.

What Is an Accredited Medical Assisting Degree?

Now let’s talk about an accredited degree in medical assisting.

You would enter a medical assisting program through a college or university. In the program, you’d typically earn a certificate or an associate degree. Some students even continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree in a field such as healthcare administration.

The medical assisting accredited program would equip you with the skills required to work as a CMA. For example, at online colleges such as Bryan University, you have the opportunity to earn an accredited Certificate in Medical Assisting that transfers directly into an accredited Associate Degree in Medical Assisting. These programs would teach you many valuable skills so you become job-ready and prepare you for CCMA and CMAA medical assisting certifications.

You could assist with electrocardiograms, diagnostic imaging, radiology, and other specialty exams. You’d learn how to do patient exams as well as the importance of sterilizing equipment.

You’d become well-versed in taking vital signs, become familiar with medical billing and coding, taking blood samples, and performing injections.

Upon graduating from these programs, you’d not only have an accredited certificate, you’d also have your accredited associate degree. Using that accredited degree, your CMA career could go in one of many exciting directions.

You could begin applying for work in surgery centers, urgent care clinics, rehabilitation facilities, public health agencies, mental health facilities, home health agencies, college health departments, physician offices, or hospitals.

Also, prior to graduation, you can begin preparing for medical assisting certifications to help increase your employment outlook upon graduation.

Which Do You Need for Your Medical Assisting Career, a Certification or a Degree?

Having so many options to kickstart your CMA career is certainly beneficial, but it may also be confusing too, at least somewhat. How do you know which direction is the right one to go?

To ensure you get your CMA career off to the right start, you want to begin by applying to a medical assisting accredited program.

But wait, you’re probably thinking. You want to get certified. Shouldn’t that be your first step? Certification is the goal, but it’s not going to be an immediate one.

Why is that? To answer that question, we need to look no further than the certifying bodies that issue medical assisting certifications such as the NHA.

The NHA, according to this page on its website, requires that aspiring CCMAs have either a GED and have completed medical assistance training within the past five years OR a GED and a year of supervised work experience within the past three years.

Thus, even if you wanted to start with obtaining your CCMA certification rather than your degree, you would hit an immediate roadblock. You must have the relevant educational experience and skills to even be eligible to take the certification exam.

While you can find work as a medical assistant without a certification, getting hired without at least a college credential such as a certificate or associate degree is going to also prove more difficult. That's another great reason to enroll in an accredited medical assisting program first.

Can You Do Medical Assisting Online? How to Choose the Right Medical Assisting Program

Now that you know which steps will lead you to the career you want as a CMA, it’s all about choosing the right school. You can pursue your accredited medical assisting credential fully online through Bryan University. Plus, Bryan U’s programs help prepare you for both the CCMA and CMAA certifications and they pay for your certification exam fees!

The Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate and the Associate Degree in Administrative Medical Assisting programs will unlock career opportunities for you. You could enter the medical assisting field as a healthcare support worker, a clinical medical assistant, a medical records specialist, a certified medical administrative assistant, or a medical office assistant.

Your tuition costs include prep and the exam fees for NHA’s CCMA and CMAA certification exams as noted above. That’s not all. The cost of tuition also covers courseware, office software, electronic books, and a medical kit that is shipped to your home.

In that medical kit, you’ll find all the equipment you need to begin practicing your medical assisting skills, including a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. You’ll also work with a practice arm to safely administer blood tubes, syringes, safety needles, tourniquets, and vein clips. With an authentic IV kit and a venipuncture/phlebotomy kit, you’ll work with the real equipment that CMAs use every day. All this is from the comfort of your own home!

Further, Bryan University has a virtual externship component to both the Associate Degree in Administrative Medical Assisting and the Clinical Medical Assistant programs. The virtual externship is in partnership with the NHA and allows you to comprehensively apply the skills you learn in class to various real-world situations. This helps ensure you’ll be job-ready when you start the first day of your new medical assisting career.

If you want to fast-track your education, Bryan U also offers dual enrollment. You can pursue your Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate and your Associate Degree in Administrative Medical Assisting at the same time. All credits earned in the Certificate program count towards your associate degree.

This will help you graduate as fast as possible so you’ll spend less time in the virtual classroom and more time working as a medical assistant in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities that need your expertise.

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