For several decades, the conventional wisdom has been that state boards of nursing are generally hostile to the medical assisting profession. It has also been thought that state boards of medical examiners are generally supportive of medical assisting, but do not have a sufficient understanding of medical assisting education and the Certified Medical Assistant® (CMA) credential.

On March 30, the South Carolina Society of Medical Assistants (South Carolina Society) brokered an important meeting in Columbia, S.C., with the administrators of the South Carolina Board of Nursing and the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. I was honored to be one of the participants in this meeting, and I am happy to report that the outcome of this meeting bodes well for the right to practice of Certified Medical Assistants in South Carolina. In addition, I believe that the tone and substance of this meeting is indicative of a growing awareness and acceptance of CMAs by state nursing boards and medical boards.

Because of recent statements that called into question the continued right of South Carolina physicians to delegate a reasonable scope of procedures to competent and knowledgeable medical assistants, Donna Buchanan, CMA, arranged a meeting with Joan Bainer, RN, administrator of the South Carolina Board of Nursing. Past AAMA President (1998–1999) Glenda Cartee, CMA, Debbie Babb, CMA, and I also attended this meeting. As the discussion quickly turned to issues impacted by the language of the medical practice act, Bainer was kind enough to ask Bruce Duke, administrator of the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners, to join the meeting. The answers and opinions provided by both Bainer and Duke proved to be invaluable and encouraging.

Both administrators enthusiastically affirmed the important role of Certified Medical Assistants in the South Carolina health care delivery system, and allayed the concerns about the right to practice of medical assistants. Bainer was particularly impressed by the depth and breadth of the curriculum in medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). She also looked favorably upon the fact that CMAs must maintain currency in order to continue to use the credential in connection with employment. Of special note is the fact that Bainer stated she does not consider CMAs as falling within the following definition of “unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP)” in the Nurse Practice Act:

 

“Unlicensed assistive personnel” or “UAP” are persons not currently licensed by the board as nurses who perform routine nursing tasks that do not require a specialized knowledge base or the judgment and skill of a licensed nurse. Nursing tasks performed by a UAP must be performed under the supervision of an advanced practice registered nurse, registered nurse, or selected licensed practical nurse.

 

Both administrators indicated that they would be happy to contact representatives of the South Carolina Society of Medical Assistants whenever issues arose that could have an impact on medical assisting practice. The agendas and minutes of both boards are available online, and Bainer and Duke encouraged the South Carolina Society to access these documents at the respective websites of the two boards. In turn, the representatives of the South Carolina Society offered to be of assistance to the two boards on issues of mutual concern.

Having attended annual meetings of both the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, I believe that the spirit of cooperation between medical examining boards and nursing boards is becoming the rule rather than the exception in many states. Of course, there are still a good number of states in which organized medicine and organized nursing are bitter enemies. This animosity, unfortunately, is often reflected in a strained or hostile relationship between the board of nursing and the board of medical examiners. It is my hope, however, that the AAMA and our state societies can serve as agents of healing and understanding between the two professions and the two boards. Most importantly, by doing so the recognition and legal protection of the right to practice of Certified Medical Assistants will be increased.

I commend the South Carolina Society of Medical Assistants for their excellent work in the government affairs arena—especially in light of this recent meeting. I will take this accomplishment and use it as a point of reference as I continue to advance the interests of the AAMA and the medical assisting profession in my dealings with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Any questions about this issue may be directed to Donald A. Balasa at dbalasa@aama-ntl.org.