How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant

Learn how to become a registered medical assistant. Research the job duties and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in medical assistance.

Should I Become a Registered Medical Assistant?

Registered medical assistants (RMAs) work alongside licensed health care professionals, performing a variety of clinical, clerical, and administrative tasks. Common duties of a medical assistant include scheduling appointments, preparing laboratory samples, collecting patients history and taking vital signs. RMAs may work in hospitals, urgent care centers or physicians' offices, among other healthcare facilities.

Medical assistants almost always work on a full-time basis, though those who work in healthcare facilities that stay open through the night may be asked to work irregular hours. The workload of a medical assistant includes office work as well as clinical duties. As are all individuals who work with patients, there is a risk of exposure to infectious diseases..

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma minimum education required; postsecondary diploma and certificates preferred by employers
Degree Field Medical assisting
Training and Experience On-the-job training available; at least 5 years of experience needed for RMA credential if no formal training
Certification Must pass a certification exam to earn the RMA credential; other optional certifications available
Key Skills Analytical, technical and interpersonal skills, attention to detail, ability to read medical charts and diagnostic information
Salary $13.28 per hour (2015 median wage for all registered medical assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Medical Technologists, (July 2015)

Step 1: Complete an Accredited Program

Programs must be accredited to qualify applicants for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification. Students may find it beneficial to choose a program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Programs are available through many technical, community and junior colleges. Certificate and diploma programs usually take one year to complete, while an associate's degree program takes two years. Students must typically complete 720 hours of training and spend 160 hours in a clinical externship to meet certification eligibility requirements. Topics covered during training may include office management, pharmacology, lab procedures and medical coding.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Entry-level medical assistants go through a period of on-the-job training lasting up to several months, during which they work under the supervision and instruction of more experienced assistants or doctors. Trainees may learn medical terminology and equipment usage, routine office tasks and patient record-filing procedures. Medical assistants who have not completed an accredited training program must gain five years of professional experience to qualify for the RMA credential.

Step 3: Register for the RMA Exam

After earning a degree or five years of education, medical assistants can fill out an application to sit for the RMA examination. Those who have not completed formal education or who completed their programs more than four years ago must include a recommendation from a supervisor or employer.

Step 4: Earn the RMA Credential

Candidates accepted for certification can schedule to take the exam at schools, testing centers or online. Those who test online will receive their results immediately, while those who take the paper exam must wait 8 to 10 weeks to receive their scores. The exam includes multiple-choice questions on topics like medical law, ethics and terminology, clerical procedure, emergency response and sterilization. An individual needs to earn a score of at least 70 to pass. After earning certification, RMAs must renew certification every three years by earning continuing education credits and paying a fee.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Individuals preparing to take the RMA exam can take advantage of a variety of study materials available through the American Medical Technologists (AMT), including practice tests and review courses.

Step 5: Consider Specialty Certification

Medical assistants who would like to demonstrate advanced proficiency in both clinical and administrative aptitude may consider earning the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant designation. With this credential, RMAs are validated in their ability to perform more-skilled medical assisting functions, such as administering injections and doing venipuncture testing.

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