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.

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Do I Want to Be a Registered Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants 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. Medical assistants may work in hospitals, urgent care centers or physicians' offices, among other health care facilities.

Medical assistants almost always work on a full-time basis, though those that 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 in healthcare, there is a small risk of exposure to infectious diseases as a medical assistant.

Job Requirements

There are no education or certification requirements for becoming an unregistered medical assistant, and many medical assistants gain experience through on-the-job training in a medical setting; however, to become a registered medical assistant, individuals need to possess at least five years of medical assisting experience or complete an accredited training program. The following table contains the core requirements needed to become a medical assistant, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Requirements
Degree Level At least a diploma or certificate
Degree Field Medical assisting
Certification The Registered Medical Assistant credential is available through the American Medical Technologists
Experience Without a degree, medical assistants need at least five years of experience in the profession
Key Skills Excellent attention to detail and analytical skills for taking vital signs and reviewing patient information, pleasant demeanor and professionalism for working with distressed patients and doctors
Computer Skills Medical billing software
Technical Skills Use of clinical devices, like heart rate monitors
Additional Requirements Ability to read medical charts and diagnostic information

Step 1: Complete Experience or Formal Training

Since it isn't mandatory for medical assistants to have formal training, individuals can obtain employment with a high school diploma or a GED. 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 must gain five years of professional experience in order to qualify to become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA).

A shorter route for earning the RMA credential is to earn a diploma, certificate or associate's degree from an accredited medical assistant program. These 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 complete courses in office management, pharmacology, lab procedures and medical coding.

Success Tip:

  • Gain experience during college. Students who take the formal training route to a career in medical assisting can stand above the competition by gaining professional experience in the field. Aspiring medical assistants can benefit from attending a program that incorporates a clinical practicum or externship into its curriculum. Students can also pursue volunteer opportunities in doctor's offices and medical clinics.
  • Choose an accredited program. While programs must be accredited to qualify applicants for RMA certification, one may benefit from choosing a program that's specifically accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Such degrees qualify medical assistants to become RMAs and provide opportunities for hands-on training through clinical internships. As of July 2012, there were 584 diploma, certificate and associate's degree programs accredited by the CAAHEP.

Step 2: 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. Applicants must explain any felonies they have been convicted of and pay a $95 application fee. Those who have not completed formal education or who completed their programs more than four years ago must also include a recommendation from a supervisor or employer.

Step 3: 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 6-8 weeks to receive their scores. The exam lasts three hours and includes 200-210 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 Tips:

  • Study for the exam. Individuals preparing to take the RMA exam can take advantage of a variety of study materials available through AMT, including the candidate handbook and exam outline. The organization also suggests books and other resources that one can purchase to study for the exam as well as offering a practice test.
  • Come prepared for the exam. Candidates for the exam should arrive for testing at least thirty minutes early with a valid form of identification. Test-takers may also want to bring at least two #2 pencils to the paper exam.
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