What Do Certified Medical Assistants Do? Job Guide & Expert Insights

Posted on 04.04.2024

Author: Lauren Ambrosio
Time to Read: 8 minutes

A Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) is a healthcare professional who supports doctors and nurses by performing various clinical and administrative tasks in a medical setting.

We spoke with Theresa Sinkevich, an experienced Registered Medical Assistant and educator at CareerStep, to gain her perspective on the medical assisting profession and the pathway to securing a position in the field. Theresa notes, “Becoming a CMA offers a steppingstone into the healthcare world, providing a broad understanding of medical field intricacies.”

What is a certified medical assistant (CMA)?

A Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) is a vital part of a healthcare team, helping doctors and nurses by doing various tasks in medical offices or clinics. CMAs take care of patients by checking their vital signs, giving shots, drawing blood, and getting them ready for exams. They also assist during medical treatments.

Besides working with patients, CMAs handle office tasks like updating medical records, scheduling appointments, and managing the front desk. They act as a link between patients and healthcare providers, making sure everything in the clinic runs smoothly, and patients get good care. CMAs must have medical knowledge, be good with technical tasks, and have strong people skills.

“A CMA is deeply involved in patient care and healthcare administration, making them indispensable in medical settings,” Theresa explains.

Read more: 6 Promising Professions in Allied Health

What does a CMA do?

A certified medical assistant is a key player in healthcare teams, assisting doctors and nurses with patient support. CMAs handle many different tasks, both in caring for patients and office work. Medical assistant job duties include:

  • Checking vital signs like blood pressure, weight, and temperature
  • Collecting patient histories
  • Prepping patients for checkups or tests
  • Helping during treatments, like taking care of wounds
  • Performing blood draws
  • Administering shots like immunizations
  • Documenting patients’ medical records
  • Providing support during medical tasks
  • Customer service

“CMAs are the backbone of patient care, offering support that keeps healthcare facilities running smoothly,” says Theresa.

Read more: 5 Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant

Types of medical assistants

There are several types of medical assistant roles. There are jobs for entry-level and experienced, credentialed medical assistants. Different types of medical assistants include

Read more: Medical Careers in Demand [That Don’t Require A Degree]

Where do CMAs work?

CMAs work in a variety of healthcare settings, providing them with diverse work environments and experiences. Here are some common places where CMAs can be found working:

Physicians’ offices

  • Often provides a more routine and predictable schedule, with standard business hours.
  • CMAs assist with patient intake, record vital signs, update medical records, and may perform basic laboratory tests.
  • Smaller practices might require CMAs to handle more varied tasks, including administrative duties.


  • Fast-paced with the possibility of working shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays.
  • CMAs in hospitals might work in specific departments like emergency, pediatrics, or surgery, assisting with a wide range of clinical tasks.
  • Work hours can be less predictable, and CMAs may encounter a more diverse patient population with varying medical needs.

Outpatient clinics (e.g., urgent care centers)

  • Busy settings that often require flexibility in scheduling, as many are open extended hours.
  • CMAs assist with a high volume of patients, performing tasks like wound care, vital signs, and patient education.
  • May have more unpredictable work hours than a physician’s office but more routine than hospitals.

Specialty clinics (e.g., pediatrics, cardiology, orthopedics):

  • Specialized care often allows for more regular hours, similar to physician’s offices.
  • CMAs gain specialized knowledge in their field, assisting with procedures and care specific to the clinic’s focus.
  • The tasks and patient interactions can be more specialized, focusing on the clinic’s particular medical field.

Long-term care facilities

  • Steady environment with potential for shifts covering all hours, including overnight.
  • CMAs may provide more personal care, assist with medications, and monitor long-term health conditions.
  • Work can be more consistent in terms of patient population but requires building longer-term relationships with residents.

Community health centers

  • Often serve a diverse population, possibly with set hours, but sometimes extended to meet community needs.
  • CMAs perform a variety of clinical and administrative tasks, supporting community health initiatives.
  • May offer the opportunity to work with a wide range of patients and conditions, focusing on community health.

Educational institutions

  • Typically provides stable hours, following the academic calendar with potential seasonal breaks.
  • CMAs in schools or colleges might manage student health records, provide basic care, and support health education.
  • Work is generally more predictable and may include educational responsibilities, such as health promotion among students.

CMAs can choose a workplace that fits what they’re good at, what they like, and what they want to achieve in their career. Learn more about the medical assistant program offered at CareerStep, including course outlines.

CMA salary and job outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that medical assistant jobs will grow by 14% between 2022 and 2032*, much faster than most other jobs. This is because there’s a bigger need for medical services that prevent illnesses, and these jobs are often filled by medical assistants. Every year, there will be about 114,600 new job openings for medical assistants, mainly to replace those who leave for other jobs or retire.

Medical assistants earned a median salary of $38,270 in May 2022. How much they earn can change depending on where they work and their location. For example, medical assistants in outpatient care centers usually make more money, around $42,820, compared to those in doctors’ offices, who make about $37,900. Generally, the average salary for medical assistants is around $37,190, but this can range from less than $29,070 to more than $48,170.

* BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook – Medical Assistants

“The demand for CMAs is growing, reflecting the vital role they play in healthcare,” Theresa states.

How to become a certified medical assistant (CMA)

To become a certified medical assistant (CMA), you’ll need to complete a diploma program, gain hands-on experience through an externship, and pass a certification exam offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) or the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

Step 1: Complete high school

The first step in the CMA career path is to earn a high school diploma or GED. This foundational education is crucial for pursuing further studies in medical assisting.

Step 2: Enroll in a medical assisting program

Look for a medical assisting program at a community college, vocational school, or technical institute. These programs typically offer a certificate or associate degree and cover both clinical and administrative skills necessary for a certified medical assistant.

Step 3: Complete externship or clinical experience

Many programs include an externship or practical clinical experience. This hands-on training is vital, as it provides real-world experience in a healthcare setting.

Step 4: Pass the certification exam

After completing your education, you’ll need to pass the CCMA exam offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) or the CMA exam offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Preparing for and successfully passing your exam is a critical step on the CMA career path.

Step 5: Apply for jobs

With your certification in hand, you can start applying for CMA positions. You can work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, and physicians’ offices.

Step 6: Maintain certification

CMAs are required to recertify every 60 months through continuing education or re-examination to ensure they stay up-to-date with the latest in healthcare practices.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a certified medical assistant (CMA)

Do CMAs have to be good at math?

No, you don’t have to be great at math to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). Basic math skills are necessary for tasks like calculating medication dosages and handling billing, but advanced math is not required.

“While not all tasks require advanced math, CMAs need basic skills for tasks like dosage calculations,” Theresa clarifies.

Are CMAs nurses?

Theresa explains that CMAs and nurses serve different but complementary roles in patient care, with distinct education and responsibilities. Nurses are not CMAs, and CMAs are not nurses.

Do CMAs have to draw blood?

Some CMAs are trained to perform tasks like drawing blood, depending on their job setting.

What are CMAs not allowed to do?

CMAs are not authorized to prescribe medications, make diagnoses, perform surgeries, interpret lab results, or provide medical advice.

How does a CMA compare to other healthcare careers?

Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) play a vital role in healthcare, often serving as a crucial link between patients and doctors. They perform both administrative and clinical tasks. Let’s see how the CMA role compares to other healthcare positions regarding responsibilities, education, and salary.

CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) vs CCMA (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant)

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), while the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential is offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

Both prepare students for careers as Certified Medical Assistants, though CCMAs tend to focus on clinical duties and perform fewer administrative tasks.

CMA vs CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)

  • Education: CMAs usually complete a one to two-year program, while CNA training can be completed in a few weeks to months.
  • Responsibilities: CMAs handle various tasks from administrative to clinical, whereas CNAs focus more on direct patient care.
  • Salary: CMAs generally earn a higher salary compared to CNAs due to their broader scope of responsibilities.

CMA vs RMA (Registered Medical Assistant)

  • Certification: Both CMAs and RMAs perform similar roles, but they’re certified through different organizations. CMAs are certified through the AAMA, while RMAs are certified through the AMT.
  • Education and training: Both roles require similar education, usually a post-secondary certificate or diploma.
  • Job responsibilities and salary: CMAs and RMAs have similar job responsibilities and salary expectations, as their roles in medical settings are quite comparable.

CMA vs LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse)

  • Education: LPNs undergo more extensive training than CMAs, typically requiring one to two years of nursing education.
  • Responsibilities: LPNs provide more in-depth patient care and can perform certain nursing duties.
  • Salary: LPNs typically earn higher salaries than CMAs due to their advanced training and scope of practice.

Medical Assistant vs Sterile Processing Technician

  • Responsibilities: Medical assistants have a broad role, while sterile processing technicians focus on cleaning, sterilizing, and preparing medical instruments.
  • Education: Both roles require post-secondary education or certification, but their focus areas are different.
  • Salary: The salaries can vary, with medical assistants generally earning more due to their direct involvement in patient care.

Medical Assistant vs Pharmacy Technician

  • Education: Both roles typically require a diploma or certificate; however, pharmacy technicians may need to pass additional certification exams.
  • Responsibilities: Medical assistants have varied duties, while pharmacy technicians focus on assisting pharmacists, managing medications, and customer service.
  • Salary: Salaries are similar, but variations can occur based on the work environment and state.

Medical Assistant vs Patient Care Technician (PCT)

  • Education: Both require similar levels of education, but PCTs often receive additional training in specialized patient care techniques.
  • Responsibilities: PCTs focus more on direct patient care compared to CMAs.
  • Salary: The salaries are comparable, but PCTs might earn slightly more depending on their additional responsibilities and skills.

Medical Assistant vs Phlebotomist

  • Education: Both careers require certification or a diploma. Phlebotomists focus specifically on blood draw and specimen collection.
  • Responsibilities: CMAs have a broader role, while phlebotomists specialize in drawing blood and handling specimens.
  • Salary: Medical assistants typically earn more due to their wider range of responsibilities, though salaries can vary by location and experience.

Take the next steps in becoming a certified medical assistant

“Becoming a CMA is more than a job; it’s a steppingstone to a fulfilling career in healthcare,” says Theresa. Considering a career as a medical assistant? Learn more about Career Step’s medical assistant training program and call us at 1.800.411.7073 to enroll.

Read more: How CareerStep Can Help You Get Hired