Registered Medical Assistant: Certification & Externship Programs

Find out about the certifications needed and externships available to help you become a registered medical assistant. Discover the requirements that must be met for certification, what externship training is out there, and more. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Training Is Needed to Be a Registered Medical Assistant?

Registered medical assistants, or RMAs, are a type of nationally certified medical assistant, qualified to perform certain clinical and clerical duties in a medical setting, such as a hospital or clinic. RMA programs are generally certificate programs, able to be completed in about a year, and qualify an individual to take at least one of the available medical assistant certification exams after completion. There are a number of organizations that certify medical assistants, each with slightly different requirements, but externships are one commonality to all. Externships are designed to provide real world, on-the-job training to students without the difficulties of applying, as they are often included as part of the training program.

Registered Medical Assistant A certified position that performs clinical and administrative tasks in medical facilities
Requirements 17 or older, high school diploma or equivalent, background check, drug tests, health screenings, and up-to-date vaccinations
Courses Anatomy and physiology, human biology, pharmacology
Externship 160 hours of work experience
Certification RMA certification through ARMA or AMT

What Are the Requirements to Join a Registered Medical Assistant Program?

Most programs require medical assistants be at least 18 years old, although a few do allow 17-year-olds to join RMA programs. A high school diploma or equivalent is required, and you must be able to prove that you are a legal resident of the US. Background checks and drug screenings are commonly required, as are health checkups, including tuberculosis screenings. Vaccinations are necessary in most states, although the exact list of vaccinations is likely to vary some from program to program. Certain physical requirements, such as the ability to lift twenty pounds, may also need to be met.

What Courses Will I Take in a Registered Medical Assistant Program?

Typing courses are often part of a medical assistant program; RMAs spend a lot of time entering information into computers on behalf of doctors, so speed is crucial. The basics of patient care are also covered, including taking vital signs, safety, moving patients, and teaching how to use medical aids like wheelchairs and crutches. Anatomy and physiology, human biology, and medical terminology are necessary to help RMAs understand what the information they obtain means and communicate it properly with doctors and nurses. Pharmacology and phlebotomy are often covered as well, as they relate to basic medical tasks that assistants may be asked to do. In addition to working with patients, basic customer service and professional development may be covered.

What Is Involved in an Externship for a Registered Medical Assistant Program?

An externship as part of an RMA program is commonly around 160 hours in length, and typically takes place at an affiliated medical institution nearby. Online programs are unlikely to have an included externship, so students may need to seek out opportunities on their own. These externships consist of actual work in a real-world environment, dealing with actual patients and finding out the realities of the job. The externship usually takes place for a few weeks after all classroom work is finished, but before certifications are fully earned.

What Are the Certifications That Must Be Held to Be a Registered Medical Assistant?

Several organizations exist which certify medical assistants, all generally held in equal standing. Two that give the designation of RMA are the American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA) and American Medical Technologists (AMT). To achieve RMA certification through AMT, it is necessary to have completed an accredited medical assistant program, with at least 720 hours of classroom training and a 160-hour clinical externship, then apply for and pass the certification exam. ARMA certification is a bit more difficult, with only those who have graduated from an accredited affiliate school with an approved curriculum able to obtain certification immediately. Those who have completed programs from accredited schools that are not affiliated will need one year of work experience, while those from non-accredited programs, online programs, or who only have on-the-job training will need three years' experience. ARMA does not require a certification exam to be taken.

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