Medical Assisting

How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant

Medical AssistingJune 13, 2024

Working as a medical assistant is an attractive option for individuals who possess exceptional interpersonal, communication, and critical thinking skills, along with a strong desire to help others. There are 764,000 medical assistants currently employed in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and that number is expected to increase considerably over the next decade.

Anyone interested in pursuing a career as a medical assistant should learn about the daily duties associated with the profession, the necessary skills to excel in the job, and the education and training required to become a registered medical assistant.

Registered Medical Assistant Job Description

Registered medical assistants work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities, providing patient care assistance and administrative support to physicians and nursing staff. Some spend hours on their feet performing clinical duties, while others spend considerable time at their desks answering phone calls or recording patient data. Their work hours vary depending on their work environment, but a typical shift is between eight and 10 hours.

During their shifts, medical assistants may discuss cases with medical staff, administer basic medical tests such as electrocardiograms (EKGs), or update patients’ charts.  

Other common duties for medical assistants include the following:

  • Scheduling medical appointments
  • Measuring and recording patients’ vital signs
  • Drawing blood
  • Preparing patients for further examination
  • Preparing patients for inpatient/outpatient procedures
  • Cleaning examination rooms and restocking supplies
  • Collecting urine samples and other laboratory samples
  • Taking patients’ medical histories

Importance of Medical Assisting Certification

After meeting the requirements to become a medical assistant, including gaining the proper training and experience, many medical assistants choose to pursue a professional certification, such as the registered medical assistant (RMA) certification from the American Medical Technologists (AMT) organization.

Certified medical assistants may have some advantages over those who aren’t certified. These advantages include the following:

  • Ability to find jobs more easily
  • Potential to earn a higher salary
  • Capacity for more career growth opportunities
  • Possession of demonstrable skills and knowledge

Registered medical assistants are trained in health and safety practices as well as compliance with basic healthcare laws during their training. This knowledge not only benefits the medical assistant but also helps to protect the facility that employs them and the patients seeking care there.

Steps to Become a Registered Medical Assistant

The work performed by a registered medical assistant is particularly suited to individuals who enjoy helping others and having a positive impact on their community. Other essential attributes of people who excel in this role include excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work well with others.

The process to become a registered medical assistant typically includes the following three steps:

1. Complete an Educational Program

The minimum requirement to work as a medical assistant is a high school diploma (or its equivalent) and hands-on training. However, to gain certification, students must typically meet additional requirements, such as completing a fully accredited medical assisting program at a college or a vocational school. 

One such medical assisting program is the Associate of Occupational Studies in Medical Assisting program. This program provides foundational knowledge in areas such as anatomy, legal compliance, maintaining electronic health records (EHRs), and preparing for diagnostic tests. The program’s length may vary, but students typically complete it in about two years with a full-time commitment.  

While most graduates become certified or registered medical assistants, some prefer to continue their education and earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in a related medical profession such as nursing to qualify for higher-paying roles.

2. Develop Key Skills

Registered medical assistants need to have certain technical skills to perform most of their core duties. This includes understanding how to operate medical and office equipment, take vital signs, and prepare instruments. They must also be equipped to perform their duties accurately to avoid medical errors or misinterpretations, which requires strong attention to detail.

Other key skills that medical assistants must have include the following:

  • Customer service skills: Medical assistants must be able to respectfully communicate with patients, including by actively listening to their concerns and queries.
  • Administrative skills: They should be capable of performing administrative tasks such as ordering medical supplies, arranging hospital admissions, and coordinating with outside medical providers.
  • Basic medical skills: They need to be able to perform basic medical procedures like inserting an IV, applying or changing wound dressings, and drawing blood.

Anyone interested in working as a registered medical assistant can gain these skills through a medical assisting training program as well as through work experience.

3. Earn a Certification

Medical assistant certification follows taking an examination. To become eligible to take the RMA certification exam administered by the AMT, individuals need to have completed an accredited medical assisting program that includes 720 hours of instruction and at least 160 hours of externship participation. For those who have not completed a training program, there are pathways to certification through an apprenticeship program or several years of on-the-job experience.

The 200-question AMT exam covers general medical assisting knowledge and clinical and administrative content. 

Medical assistants may also choose to pursue RMA certification from the American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA) or a certified medical assistant (CMA) credential from the American Association of Medical Assistants. Both credentials have their own requirements.

Job Outlook for Registered Medical Assistants

The job outlook for medical assistants is promising, with a projected job growth of 14% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,which is much faster than the average for all occupations. During this period, about 114,600 job openings will be available annually due to job growth and medical assistants leaving the labor force or switching occupations.

Begin the Journey Toward a Rewarding Career as a Registered Medical Assistant

Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of patients? If so, consider enrolling in the Associate of Occupational Studies in Medical Assisting program at Saint Paul’s School of Nursing.

This program can be completed in as little as two years.  Upon graduation, students will have learned the knowledge and skills to be prepared to work in any of a number of healthcare settings. The program also can help prepare you to take a certification or registration exam upon graduation and begin your career in the field of medical assisting.

Ready to get started? Discover more about the Saint Paul’s School of Nursing program today.

Recommended Readings
How to Become a Medical Assistant
What Does a Medical Assistant Do in a Hospital?
How to Become an EKG Technician

American Association of Medical Assistants, What Is a Medical Assistant?
American Medical Technologists, Medical Assistant (RMA)
American Registry of Medical Assistants, Application Criteria
Indeed, “How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant”
Indeed, “Medical Assistant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications”
Indeed, “Registered Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants