Is it Possible to Work as an MA without Certification?

In recent years, medical assisting has become one of the most attractive healthcare careers to specialize in. Despite this shiny new popularity, medical assisting has been around for decades. Medical assistants have historically been trained on-the-job, without formal training and practiced under a physician’s direct supervision.

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What is MA Certification?

Medical assisting certification is a universal way of proving competency in the profession. MA certification has helped medical assistants gain credibility among other healthcare professions. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers medical assisting certification. When passed, you may use the credentials CMA, or certified medical assistant.

Before certification was offered, there wasn’t a good way for a medical assistant to prove that she had the knowledge and skills needed to work as a qualified MA. Now, the certification exam is one way to show that you know your stuff. To earn the CMA credential, you must take and pass a written exam that covers topics like:

  • Clinical procedures
  • Anatomy, Physiology and Disease
  • Administrative Procedures
  • Laboratory Procedures
  • Medication administration

Because medical assistants in the past could be hired without formal training, and had no accountability requirements, the profession wasn’t always taken seriously by other health care professionals. Certification has helped change that.

Do Employers Require Certification?

AAMA certification is not a state or federal requirement for working as a medical assistant. However, many employers do require that their medical assistants be certified. Medical liability is an ongoing issue in healthcare. Physicians want reassurance that the medical assistants they hire are competent and have the skills to safely treat patients. Some insurance agencies that insure physicians and healthcare centers may also require that medical assistants be certified to keep medical liability risks down.

It is possible to work as a medical assistant without certification. If you are a new graduate, you may be hired to work as an uncertified medical assistant; however, your employer may ask that you earn certification in a certain amount of time after hire. If you are a medical assistant who never received formal training, you may also find employment without certification based on your years of work experience.

Benefits to Being Certified

There are many benefits to earning your certified medical assistant credential:

  • Better overall job opportunities
  • Better pay
  • Opportunity for advancement

Certified medical assistants are often paid more than their non-certified counterparts. You may be offered a more attractive starting pay, or better yearly pay increases if you hold MA certification.

Working without Certification

If you’re currently not certified or choose not to become certified, there are things you can do to boost your credibility as a medical assistant. First, speak to your employer about in-house trainings or educational opportunities that they may offer. These can help you stay up-to-date with medical changes and advancements. Additionally,

  • Consider taking classes. You may want to learn new skills that enhance your medical assistant knowledge, such as earning a certificate in phlebotomy, taking advanced anatomy and physiology or biology classes or classes in caring for the elderly. Remember to keep a record of classes that you take for your employer, or to add to your resume.
  • Read professional journals and complete the included continuing education units. Most professional medical journals offer a learning unit and competency test each time the magazine comes out. These learning opportunities are called CEUs, or continuing education units. Certified medical assistants are required to complete a certain number of CEUs each year. However, even if you’re not certified, these CEUs are wonderful opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills.
  • Attend conferences. Medical assisting conferences are another way to gain insightful knowledge and new skills. Attending conference sessions looks good on a resume and proves to your employer that you care about your profession and professional abilities.
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Article Written by Elizabeth Otto

Elizabeth Otto is a freelance writer specializing in medical and health articles. Otto has worked as a certified medical assistant in specialty practice since 1994 and is also a nationally registered emergency medical technician.

30 Responses to “Is it Possible to Work as an MA without Certification?”
  1. SMACK says:

    I am an LPN in Florida and Georgia. I am also practiced in venipuncture and clinic settings thanks to experience as a correctional nurse. Lately I find myself in need of a position close to home that is strictly days. The only positions available are that of the MA. Though the pay is less, I am more than willing to take the pay cut in order to be closer to home and only work days. The question is, I continue to be turned down because I am not “certified” as a medical assistant. I have been working as a nurse for several years. How can I word my resume to obtain a position as a medical assistant?

  2. Daniel Sontchi says:

    I have been working as a CMA since 1994. I graduated from Concorde Career institute in Tampa,Fla. At that time the was not accredited thru the AAMA. I called and they will not let me take the test. So my question is who, where, and what do I have to get my certification. I am not able to get a job without it. Everybody I have interviewed with is requiring it. I dont want to have to go back thru school again for the same thing I paid for already. I live in Knoxville,Tn.

    • Martha says:

      When you figure it out let me know, I am also in Knoxville . I have worked as a MA for 22 years and I find now I can’t get a job unless I go back through school .. That’s crazy

    • Ty Flanagan says:

      I am also in the same boat in Jackson, MS. Been working as a MA for the past 23 years and now EVERYONE wants you to be certified. I contacted a couple of community colleges that offer night classes (fast trak-10 months) at $19,000. Yeah, can’t afford that!!! AAMA also can not find the school I attended in Mesa, AZ either. This has gotten so frustrating, just let us prove our worth!

      • Jacque says:

        I attend Rasmussen College, and their program is one year. They are credited by the AAMA, they pay for you to take the exam when you graduate, and it costs about $9,000. If you need to go back to school you may want to look into it.

      • Donna says:

        If you have experience in the clinical office simply find a program that is on line check for the NCMA or the CCMA. Either of these programs will open the door for you to sit for the CMA Exam. Check out the AMT website as well.

    • GENA says:

      I found myself (and still do) in that same exact situation. I graduated in 2001 from a vocational school, had been working as a ma since. Recently i found myself needing to find new employment, no one would hire me. I’d get plenty of interviews, and both of us would get excited until it came to the part to discuss my certification. I would explain my situation and i would get the same reply, ‘well we would really love to hire you but we require you to be certified, so sorry’. So i was told to call the aama , i got shot down and soon as i explained my situation. I was told that they could not help me because the school i went to was a non accredited school, so it was not recognized. I asked her what i needed to do, she would not tell me anything but to re-peat the entire ma program through them. I said no thank you! So a friend of mine told me about the nha. They were willing to work with me. Since i was not graduating from a school or had recently graduated i would have to take the test through them, online. I asked more questions and found i qualified to take the test through them. I bought a study guide and hope to take the test in the next 2 months! I hope they can help you too! Their website is, good luck.

      • Sue says:

        If you cannot sit for the CMA (AAMA) exam, you may be able to sit for the exam through AMT (American Medical Technologists) and earn the RMA credential under either educational or WORK experience. See their website for details. The RMA is equal to the CMA (AAMA) in credibility across the nation. And don’t be confused that RMA means “Registered Medical Assistant” – it is a bona fide “certification” for medical assistants….AMT just has a few more options for taking the exam as compared to the AAMA, which will only allow those who graduated from an ABHES or CAAHAP-accredited programs to sit for their exam. AMT allows those who graduated from schools with regional accreditation to take the exam, and certain types of work experience as well. Good luck! /Sue (RMA, CMAS, and Medical Assisting professor here in Maine).

  3. Kathy says:

    I have been a medical assistant for over 20 years. I graduated from Concorde Career Institute 1992. I never did take CMA. I have Bachelor’s of Health Science now. I graduated from South University Tampa Florida September 9,2011. Can you please tell me how I can get my CMA. I am also a Certified Nurse Assistant. I have been working without being certified. I grateful for the information. Thank you.

  4. Sharon says:

    I graduated from Salter School, Massachusetts in November of 2013. I plan on moving to Florida in 2016. I have been asking around to find out if it is possible to obtain a position as a Medical Assistant without being certified. I have not yet received an answer to my question. Can someone please let me know what I should do?

    • Laura says:

      I am currently in a tech school in Green Bay, WI, which is affiliated with the AAMA. So we will sit for the national test in December, right after graduation. I have a close friend who goes to school with me. She is moving to Florida in Jan of 2016 also. There are many jobs there for CMA’s, which makes her happy. Have you tried calling the AAMA about taking the test or what you need to do for it. I cannot imagine them not allowing tests for MA’s, as all it is is money for them and a certification for us. The test is 225.00.

    • Angela says:

      I read your post and i to have been working as an MA for 7 years not certified but from an accredited school. I haven’t been able to find a job with 7 yrs experience because im not certified. I find it simply stupid to have a cut off date of this test not being available to people who’ve been to school with experience. I was writing cause i was wondering if you had gotten an answer to your post

  5. lana says:

    can some one still graduate with college with out passing the cma and take the cma again after they graduate?

  6. gail says:

    How can you become registered if you have been working in the field for 11 years but have not taken classes? On the job training..

  7. amy says:

    I am in the same situation as gail, working for years without certification, on the job training.. what can you do if the knowledge is there and really do not want to go to school for something i already know?

  8. Susan DeBaise says:

    I graduated thirty years ago from a medical assistant program. Passed the national registry exam. Was also a certified phlebotomist. The company I work for now requires I take the certification exam. I have worked for this company for eleven years. Does anyone know who I can contact about taking the certification exam? I did get a copy of my credentials from the schools I attended. I also have my diploma from The national registry exam.

  9. nucole says:

    NCCT offers certification based on work experience

  10. Cindy says:

    I would like to know if Medical assistants must be certified in order to work with patients that have medicare or medicaid. If so is it a nation wide rule or is it state by state

    • Donna says:

      Yes, this is a national issue. The CMS is concerned about who is documenting into the electronic medical records. In the case of the CMS this reporting agency is tied to big state and federal dollars. They are obviously concerned about the possibility of charting errors and how this will affect the monetary values of the states and federal government. They only want “qualified ” professionals to be able to chart in the records.

      If you want more information go to the AAMA website and search “CMS ruling”. The CMA has been granted the right to chart in the electronic medical records. This has been done because of the training that the CMA goes through.

  11. Kim says:

    I was working for a help care provider private sitting through medicaid and was hired without certifications and was just told that I must complete course work and get certified to be paid what do you think? I know that there are laws that prohibits this kind of misconduct and abuse of employees worth ethics?

  12. Nancy says:

    I also have been a medical assistant for over ten years and I have never been certified. I recently applied for a position at a pediatric clinic with physicians that I had worked for in the past. Unfortunately was not hired. I was very surprised because I was told by a fellow nurse that it was a pretty good chance I would get the job. So after a few months of wondering why….now I figured out. I did not get the job because I was not certified. I have been researching this as well and made a phone to the AAMC. I was told there is no record of the school that I attended. I just want a chance to take the exam based on my experience! How can we change this for individuals like me who just want to take the test?!

  13. Gina Meyer says:

    I am in the same situation as most of you who DO NOT have certification as an MA. I have 24 years experience (worked in specialty offices and hospital environment). I was also told I would have to take a two yr program AGAIN to obtain certification. In the state of Ohio it IS NOT required that the MA be certified. It simply is a matter of liability on the employers part (which today, I totally understand! Some recognize the amount of experience the MA has over the years. From what I am finding, not many!! I have been turned down for many positions as a MA and the reasoning …..We found someone more suitable for the position OR we have accepted someone with more experience for the job. May be true in some instances, but I know the real reason. Several lawsuits were filed against the school I attended due to the fact in today’s time these people are in the same boat as me and no one will hire! I have worked with some of the younger generations CMA’s and good LORD, some of them are the most unprofessional workers, lazy , and do not provide exceptional care towards the patient. IT IS RIDICULOUS! So, someone like us who has been in the field for many years gets turned down. I would be willing to get CEU’s,take classes on things updated etc.

    • Susan rhodes says:

      Totally agree , have been working for over 20 years as MA got my training as being an EMT . Now my job is trying to force me out due to not having certification. Low wage increase and not able to advance due to no certification . It really sucks

  14. Ahmadjawid says:

    I was one of the out of United States orthopedist now I am in USA I want to work as MA I don’t have any USA medical cetifacat what shuld I do if gave me some information that well be great thank apologize .

  15. Sue says:

    AMT (American Medical Technologists) is as well known and credible as AAMA and they allow MA’s with work experience and/or regionally accredited educational experience to sit for the exam – check out their website for details. It’s a very well-known, well-respected organization. You earn the RMA credential once you pass the test, and this certification is accepted everywhere in the country as an equal credential to the CMA (AAMA). /S

  16. Tracy says:

    I have been in the medical field for quite a while I started out in phlebotomy and have been doing it for 18+ years I quickly moved into a different trade doing medical assisting two years of experience and it’s all on the job experience I do not have the certification how can I get a job by getting a certification without going through schooling and the huge cost. I have worked in Urgent Care which is a basic ER setting, as a medical assistant and I’ve worked for Cardiac & Vascular Inst. as a MA, I have worked in Podiatry and internal medicine/ Primary Care office as a MA. How can I get the certification with out all the schooling and costs that I can not afford?

    • LM says:

      Tracy, I don’t know where you live or got your training but I would say you are in a better position than someone who went to a school and got certified but does not have experience.
      If you have some 18 years worth of work in phlebotomy you have the right experience . Again, I don[‘t know what it is like for every state but here in NY where I am, I went to a small obscure medical assisting school and though it was not prestigious and classes were held in a run down looking building, it was decent enough and in 4 months I got Medical Assisting, EKG and Phlebotomy certificates. But I wanted to pursue phlebotomy but wherever i go I was told that I need to have done some 100 needle sticks on real patients not just on a training dummy.
      So I have the certificates but not the experience. There have been times in which a potential employer told me that they prefer certification but would still hire someone with the right hands-on experience even without the certificates.
      Your’s is the other way around, but you can look in the internet and ask around do your research and you can find some small , inexpensive but basically good program to get the certifications. In New York City the requirements are not so strict. I hear in other states they are. So again, it depends where you are.

      But if I may go on to ask everyone else, my question is whether to renew with the NHA.

      I graduated with certificates in Phlebotomy, EKG and Medical Assisting.

      I am still looking for the right phlebotomy job but I always renew the Phlebotomy license yearly, or as required since phlebotomy is what I would like to pursue. The people at the National Phlebotomy Assoc told me that even if I don’t renew in a certain year I can always renew the following year (or when I am able to pay for it) and the licence would not be revoked because once I pass the test, I am qualified to be licensed for my life time. I am in NYC so I don’t know if the NPA has the same criteria for all states. If anyone know please say so.
      However with the National Healthcareer Association, it seems to be a different story altogether. The NHA has sent me notifications to pay up and renew every year practically since I graduated but I did not renew because I felt it would be paying money when my Medical Assisting certificate from the school was probably adequate. But recently the NHA sent me a notice saying that it has been at least 2 years since I graduated and if I don’t pay and renew this time, the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant credential will not be valid and I cannot ever re-instate it. However on their email it says that the expiration date was already last year. My MA certificate from the school was not revoked.
      I am wondering if this is just another way to scare me into paying up when the NHA certification, as pretty as it may look on a resume, does not invalidate the certificate I already earned with the school, nor does it guarantee me better chances of finding a phlebotomy job.

      I have been working 17 years in a dermatology office basically doing Medical Office Assistant work even though I don’t have a Medical Office Assistant certificate. I have not done any phlebotomy in my job but I got the MA and ECG and Phlebotomy certificates in a night-school program while I was working as an office assistant in a dermatology office. It seems that the certificates should enhance my job prospects when I decide to move on and I do want to become a phlebotomist, at least part time. But I cannot get my foot in the door without experience as a phlebotomist which I don’t have.
      I doubt renewing the NHA would help in such a situation.

      My question basically is, isn’t a certificate from an accredited Medical Assisting school good enough?

      The NHA does not mean you got better training or more training. It just means you paid them to have them put an official looking stamp-of-approval on your credentials.

  17. Ashley Jennings says:

    I went to school for Medical Assisting 10yrs ago, never went and took the state certification. How ever I have worked in labs and in Dr’s offices. I’m having a hard time finding a job, and was wanting to take the state test to get certified. Is it to late or what can I do ? Please help!

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