What Is a Medical Assistant (CMA)?

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Updated: June 13, 2022


Medical Assistants handle both clinical and administrative duties during their shift.

If you are searching for a career with stability and the opportunity to make a real difference in your community, healthcare jobs are the answer. Working in healthcare can give you the chance to form your own career path, ensuring you can take charge of your future and what comes next. Fortunately, starting a career in healthcare doesn’t mean lots of schooling or degrees that take years to complete. Instead, you can begin your healthcare career soon by becoming a Medical Assistant.

Medical Assistants are in high demand across the country with most reports estimating an 18% increase in Medical Assistant jobs over the next 10 years. Medical Assistants have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and choose the one they love best. Whether you work in a physician’s office, in a patient’s home, or in another clinical setting, working as a Medical Assistant can give you the ideal mix of administrative work and patient care.

Here’s what you should know about a career as a Medical Assistant.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do? 

Medical Assistants are essentially the right hand of physicians and other clinicians, taking care of both administrative and patient care jobs throughout their shift. Medical Assistants take vital signs, assist with patient exams, keep up with documentation and other paperwork, collect lab samples, and provide a calming presence for patients. While most Medical Assistants work in primary care offices, you can also find work in hospitals, home care agencies, fertility clinics, chiropractic offices, and senior living communities.

A shift as a Medical Assistant is busy, to be sure, but it is also quite rewarding. Medical Assistants have the opportunity to showcase their administration skills as well as their patient care skills. On the administrative side, Medical Assistants are often tasked with completing paperwork, taking medical history information, and managing office records. An eye for the big and small details is a must. On the patient care side, Medical Assistants are often the first person the patient sees when they are admitted or brought back to the exam room. Medical Assistants set a calming and positive tone for the visit as they take vital signs and get more information about the reason for the visit. They are also in charge of following up with any lab preparations or medication administration.

It is wise to begin a career as a Medical Assistant who performs both administrative and clinical duties. However, as you begin to understand what you like and what you excel at, there are options to further specialize by becoming either a Clinical Medical Assistant or an Administrative Medical Assistant.

Course Work for Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants help with patient care tasks as well as preparing samples for the lab.

Becoming a Medical Assistant begins with a high school diploma. Most Medical Assistants receive further training at a community college or technical high school level in order to receive their specialized training and certification. Some Medical Assistants even graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting or Health Sciences.

If you are taking courses in high school or community college with the goal of becoming a Medical Assistant, you will likely take courses like:

  • Biology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Chemistry
  • Medical Terminology
  • Community Health
  • First Aid and CPR
  • Clinical Skills and Procedures
  • Billing and Coding

The more initial and ongoing education you receive, the more specialized and skilled you can become as a Medical Assistant.

Education and Training Requirements

Medical Assistants rank as the #9 best jobs without a college degree, which means you can begin your healthcare career without the expense or time of a 4-year degree. However, you cannot simply graduate from high school and walk right into a Medical Assistant role. There are a number of one-year certification programs offered at the community college level, as well as a 2-year degree in order to become qualified and certified.

During your time working to obtain your training, you will learn information about how to perform clinical skills as well as how to prepare documentation, billing, and other administrative tasks. In some cases, Medical Assistants are hired before they complete their certification requirements to slowly ease into their new role.

How Long Does it Take To Become a Medical Assistant?

There are typically two routes to becoming a Medical Assistant. The first is to take a Certification route, which is about a one-year, full-time commitment. The other option is to gain an associate’s degree in medical assisting, which can give you even more expertise which will help you find a job more easily. An associate’s degree typically takes two years to receive, taking a full-time class load.

How Much Does it Cost?

As with nearly everything, the cost of Medical Assisting education varies greatly from region to region. However, an average yearly cost for community college enrollment is $3,800 for in-state students. You can offset costs of your education by applying for scholarships, taking on a work-study program, or receiving assistance from government agencies based on your current income.


At the conclusion of the medical assisting educational program, you will have the option to take a certification test. Passing the test will give you a Certified Medical Assistant title as well as open up more job opportunities. Most employers do seek certification in addition to completion of the educational portions of the program. 

You can receive certification from different accrediting organizations such as the American Association of Medical Assistants or the National Heathcareer Association. In most instances, the college program you take will offer information about how to study for the exam as well as assist you with signing up for the test.

As you continue on your career, you can choose to take more education or get more certifications to operate specific equipment or complete certain tasks.

Registered Medical Assistant 

After you have worked as a Medical Assistant for five years, you can look to test to become a Registered Medical Assistant through the American Medical Technologists agency. You’ll be tested on typical subjects like anatomy, laws, ethics, and insurance before receiving your Registered Medical Assistant certificate. Getting an RMA designation is not necessary, but you might enjoy having the additional credentials and your state may recognize RMAs differently than CMAs which can potentially increase your pay or responsibilities.

Certified Medical Assistant 

Your CMA, or Certified Medical Assistant, certificate is gained after you pass the test through the American Association of Medical Assistants. You do need to renew your certificate every 5 years with the organization to stay certified. If a CMA certificate is not available at your program, you can also choose to receive a CCMA, or Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, from the National Healthcareer Association or an NCMA, National Certified Medical Assistant designation from the National Center for Competency Testing.

How Much Does a Medical Assistant Make?

The national average salary for Medical Assistants is reported to be $35,850 per year. The majority of Medical Assistants make between $30,000 and $41,000 per year. Most work full-time, which would make them eligible for health care and other benefits as well, which is not counted in the average salary noted here.

Medical Assistants have the opportunity to grow within their job and within their offices or agency. Often, obtaining more responsibilities and additional skillsets will help to increase hourly wages or salary. Further, Medical Assistants can choose to take more than one job in order to increase income as they are in demand in nearly every setting.

Job Satisfaction

In general, Medical Assistants are satisfied with their jobs. While any job in a healthcare setting can be stressful, Medical Assistants often are less stressed than other clinicians who work in busier settings, such as a hospital. Further, CMAs that work in physician offices often don’t need to work extended hours, including weekend or holiday hours, which is a nice perk.

It is important to note that Medical Assistants are on their feet a majority of their shift, and might have to lift more than 25 pounds at any given time during the day. 

Wrapping It Up

Choosing a career in medical assisting is a wise decision if you are looking for job stability as well as the opportunity to experience both the clinical and administrative sides of the business. Good luck!

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