Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

Health Science | NHA CCMA | Medical Assisting | AAMA CMA

AAMA CMA vs NHA CCMA: What’s the Difference?

February 13th, 2023 | 9 min. read

Print/Save as PDF

When working with CTE medical assisting instructors, it’s clear that one thing they all focus on is helping their students become certified.

Because iCEV is an independent curriculum developer, teachers often ask us for advice on which medical assistant certification is the best.

There are many national medical assisting certifications out there, which each have their own benefits and drawbacks.

So where do you even begin when choosing a medical assistant certification?

Two of the most popular options teachers ask us about are the AAMA CMA and NHA CCMA certifications.

To help you find the right certification for your medical assisting program, we’ll answer the four most common questions teachers ask about the AAMA CMA and NHA CCMA certifications:

  1. What’s the difference in their workplace duties?
  2. What topics are on the exams?
  3. What’s the certification process?
  4. Which one should you implement?

1. What’s the Difference Between a CMA and CCMA In the Workplace?

aama-cma-iconThe AAMA Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification designates a person possesses the clinical and administrative skills needed to work as a well-rounded medical assistant.

CMAs often work within outpatient or ambulatory care facilities both to complete clinical tasks and administrative duties, depending on the needs of the provider they work for.

nha-ccma-iconThe NHA Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification denotes an individual has the skills needed to work as a medical assistant in an ambulatory healthcare setting.

In most cases, a CCMA is focused on clinical skills and working with patients, however, in smaller healthcare facilities a CCMA may also take on minor administrative tasks.

Overall, some healthcare providers may prefer one of these credentials over the other. However, in many facilities, a CMA and CCMA may hold very similar positions!

Now that you understand the role of each type of medical assistant, let’s dig into the details of the exams!

2. What Topics are on the CMA and CCMA Exams?

Though the AAMA CMA and NHA CCMA exams are both medical assisting certifications, the tests emphasize different topics.

So what exactly do these topic areas encompass for each medical assistant exam?

AAMA CMA Exam Topics


The AAMA CMA exam has 180 scored questions and 20 pretest questions that are organized into three overarching categories:

  1. General
  2. Administrative
  3. Clinical

The General category has two sections focused on the basic healthcare knowledge a CMA should understand. These are:

The Administrative category has two sections pertaining to the administrative tasks a CMA is responsible for. These include skills related to:

  • Billing, Coding, and Insurance
  • Scheduling Appointments and Health Information Management

The Clinical category is the largest portion of the exam with four sections covering the most common clinical duties a CMA is responsible for. Specifically, you’ll find items focused on:

  • Clinical Workflow: Patient Intake and Discharge
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Procedures/Examinations
  • Pharmacology

Overall, your students must be proficient in all of these areas to earn their CMA certification.

NHA CCMA Exam Topics


The NHA CCMA exam has 150 scored questions and 30 pretest questions that fall into seven topic areas called “domains”:

  1. Foundational Knowledge and Basic Science
  2. Anatomy and Physiology
  3. Clinical Patient Care
  4. Patient Care Coordination and Education
  5. Administrative Assisting
  6. Communication and Customer Service
  7. Medical Law and Ethics

The Foundational Knowledge and Basic Science domain focuses on the overarching healthcare concepts a medical assistant should know. These include healthcare systems, basic pharmacology, nutrition, and psychology.

The Anatomy and Physiology domain focuses on what a medical assistant needs to know about organ systems, pathophysiology, microbiology, and disease processes.

The Clinical Patient Care domain includes the highest number of questions on the NHA CCMA exam. It encompasses the majority of duties a medical assistant completes, including general patient care, lab procedures, phlebotomy, and EKG testing.

The Patient Care Coordination and Education domain focuses on the ways a CCMA will interact with patients and families during care, especially in unique situations.

The Administrative Assisting domain includes tasks a clinical medical assistant may be responsible for in a small healthcare practice. These include patient scheduling, working with medical records, and documenting information.

The Communication and Customer Service domain concerns the ways a medical assistant communicates with patients and other members of the healthcare team. You’ll find items pertaining to telephone etiquette, customer service, professionalism, and more.

The Medical Law and Ethics domain focuses on regulations related to patient privacy, advanced directives, medical malpractice, and the Hippocratic Oath.

Overall, each category on the NHA CCMA exam ensures your students are prepared to work as a clinical medical assistant.

Now that you know what each medical assisting exam entails, let’s dive into the certification process!

Prepare Your Students with HealthCenter21

3. What’s the Certification Application Process?

Because the CMA and CCMA exams are provided by different organizations, the eligibility requirements and application fees differ.

Understanding these details can help you determine which option will work best for your program and students.

The AAMA CMA Certification Application Process


The AAMA has three categories of eligibility for candidates interested in the CMA exam:

Category 1: A current student or recent graduate (in the past 12 months) of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program

Category 2: An individual who graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited program more than 12 months ago

Category 3: A person who had previously passed the AAMA CMA exam and seeks to be recertified

If an individual meets any of these criteria, they are considered eligible to apply for the CMA exam.

When applying for the CMA exam, candidates must pay the application fee, which ranges from $125 to $250 depending on their eligibility category.

For a high school medical assisting program, your students would fall under Category 1 and the fee to apply is $125.

After the application has been processed and approved, the exam is scheduled to take place at an authorized AAMA testing site.

The NHA CCMA Certification Application Process


To apply for the NHA CCMA exam, a candidate must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent and meet one of the following requirements:

  • Completion of a medical assisting training program in the past five years
  • Completion of a Department of Labor approved apprenticeship program in the past five years
  • Completion of medical training within the US Military in the past five years
  • Completion of NHA-approved externship coursework in the past five years
  • One year of supervised medical assisting work experience in the past three years

If a candidate meets any of those requirements, they are eligible to apply for the exam and must pay the $160 fee.

But what if you want to use the CCMA certification as part of your CTE high school medical assisting program?

A current high school student is eligible to take the NHA CCMA exam if they are scheduled to graduate from an accredited medical assisting program within the next 12 months.

If your students meet that criteria, they can pay the $160 fee and apply to take the exam.

After the application has been processed, NHA schedules the exam which can take place either at an independent testing site or your school if it’s been approved.

Now that you know the requirements and fees associated with each certification, there’s one last question: Should you use the CMA or CCMA certification in your program?

4. Which Medical Assistant Certification Should You Implement?


When deciding between the AAMA CMA and NHA CCMA exam, the right choice depends on three factors:

  • Your course standards
  • Your students’ goals
  • The needs of your community

We’ll dive into each factor to help you decide whether to use the CMA or CCMA certification.

Your Course Standards

Most medical assistant programs have documented course standards that dictate what you must teach to satisfy your school or state requirements.

To pick the right certification, compare the CMA and CCMA topic outlines side-by-side with your standards to see if one better aligns than the other.

As you compare each document, make a note of any exam objectives that line up with your course standards.

Once you finish reviewing, go back and see if one exam hits more of your standards than the other.

Though this process takes time and effort on your end, if it shows one of the exams far outweighs the other in relation to your standards, it’s well worth it!

If there doesn’t seem to be a clear winner, or if your course standards aren’t well defined, consider the next two factors to make a confident decision.

Your Students’ Goals

Understanding your students’ career goals can help you choose the right medical assistant certification to meet those goals.

For students who want to perform both clinical and administrative skills, the CMA certification could better prepare them for a well-rounded career.

For students interested in focusing specifically on clinical procedures, the CCMA certification is the better option.

If your students aren’t sure of what type of medical assisting position they want to pursue, the final factor can help them decide.

The Needs of Your Community

If all else fails when deciding between the CMA and CCMA certifications, it’s time to connect with your local healthcare providers.

This can be one of the best ways to ensure you choose the certification that will help your students start their careers.

After all, who better to give you input than the people who will employ your students after graduation?

Depending on the types of healthcare facilities in your area, you may find employers prefer new employees to have one certification over the other.

Ultimately, you’ll likely find it takes a combination of these three factors to decide between the AAMA CMA and NHA CCMA certification.

Whichever certification you choose, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done your research to prepare your students for success.

But your work doesn’t end after you’ve decided on a certification. Now you need to prepare your students to pass the exam!

Choose the Right Textbook for Your Medical Assistant Course

While a certification is an important goal to steer your Medical Assistant course, picking the right one to implement is only the first step to getting your class up and running. 

Next you need to find the right curriculum to help your students reach that goal of getting certified and starting themselves on successful career pathways. 

A textbook serves as an excellent foundation for health science classes, a core you can structure the rest of your course around. For new teachers in particular, a textbook is a wonderful resource to help you gain your bearings and relieve your anxieties about teaching your class.

But with the number of Medical Assistant textbooks out there, which one will be the right fit for you?

Read this review article to dive into some of the most popular textbooks used in Medical Assistant classes!

Read Reviews of Popular Medical Assisting Textbooks >