Role delineation study is one of several phrases used to describe the systematic collection of data describing the responsibilities required of a professional and the skills and knowledge needed to perform these responsibilities. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) periodically conducts a role delineation study (RDS) to determine what Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) are actually doing in the workplace. The results of the AAMA Role Delineation Study: Occupational Analysis of the Medical Assisting Profession are used primarily for the following purposes:

● Description of the field of medical assisting for other health care professionals

● Identification of the entry-level areas of competence for medical assistants

● Framework for the development of continuing education programs

● Framework for self-assessment by practitioners1

The AAMA conducted role delineation studies in 1996 and 2002–2003, and is intending to do another RDS in 2007.

The first part of a typical AAMA Role Delineation Study consists of surveying Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) holding current status who are employed in the medical assisting profession. Many role delineation studies obtain data from practitioners of the profession, but not from educators who are teaching future members of the profession. In the 2002–2003 AAMA Role Delineation Study, however, educators in accredited programs were also surveyed to ascertain their opinions about which knowledge, skills/competencies, and attitudes were necessary for their students as they prepared to enter the workforce.

Role delineation studies often focus on the competencies and didactic knowledge needed by current members of a profession. However, in the 1996 and 2002–2003 AAMA role delineation studies, participants were also asked what CMAs would need to be able to do and to know in the foreseeable future. This line of inquiry is most appropriate because health care is one of the most rapidly changing and advancing sectors of the U.S. economy. Furthermore, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assisting will continue to be one of the fastest growing professions for at least the next 10 years. Including future-oriented questions in AAMA role delineation studies, consequently, is imperative.

The statistical results of the RDS survey are compiled and shared with the AAMA Board of Trustees, Certifying Board, Continuing Education Board, and the Curriculum Review Board of the AAMA Endowment. For the 1996 and 2002–2003 studies, a task force consisting of members of the four boards and representatives of the CMA workforce was established to review the statistical findings and submit a draft of the official RDS document to the four boards. Comments, questions, and suggestions were submitted to the task force by members of the four boards. The task force evaluated this input and made appropriate changes to the draft RDS document. The AAMA Board of Trustees received the revised draft and approved the final and official content of the AAMA Role Delineation Study.

Once the final version of a AAMA RDS is approved by the Board of Trustees, the document is published in CMA Today, put on the AAMA website, and forwarded to the Curriculum Review Board, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP), the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), the Certifying Board, and the Continuing Education Board, and other communities of interest.

The Curriculum Review Board (CRB) of the AAMA Endowment is a Committee on Accreditation (CoA) of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). After studying the statistical results of the Role Delineation Study and the official RDS document, the CRB determines whether to recommend any changes to the curriculum content and the entry-level competencies in the CAAHEP Standards and Guidelines for Medical Assisting Educational Programs. Such changes impact medical assisting programs accredited by CAAHEP, and become official when approved by CAAHEP and incorporated into the Standards. (The changes also affect the accreditation standards of ABHES.) Appropriate revisions of the Standards are also required by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the body that oversees and approves all CAAHEP standards and processes.

The AAMA Certifying Board (CB) has the responsibility of ensuring that the AAMA CMA Certification/Recertification Examination reflects the entry-level knowledge required of Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs). To maintain its national accreditations by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the National Certification Commission (NCC), the Certifying Board must revise the Content Outline of the CMA Certification Examination and the examination forms themselves when analyses of the profession, such as role delineation studies, indicate the necessity of modifications. The AAMA is required to update test specifications in order to be in compliance with the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education).

Accurate measurement and evaluation of continuing (as well as initial) competence and knowledge is another important dimension of educational, credentialing, and recredentialing programs. The AAMA Continuing Education Board (CEB) is charged with creating and approving continuing education modalities that provide high quality continuing professional development for Certified Medical Assistants. In response to the needs of CMAs who have advanced beyond entry-level medical assisting, the CEB created the Advanced Practice of Medical Assisting document. The purpose of this document is to “define advanced medical assisting skills and areas of knowledge for the purpose of designing relevant continuing education opportunities.”2 The Continuing Education Board, through the AAMA Continuing Education Department, awards AAMA Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to continuing education offerings that meet the guidelines and criteria of the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) and fall within the parameters of the Role Delineation Study, the Content Outline, or the Advanced Practice document.

All of these important professional documents of the American Association of Medical Assistants and the American Association of Medical Assistants Endowment depend on a valid and comprehensive role delineation study. For further information about the AAMA Role Delineation Study and its relationship to the CAAHEP Standards, the Content Outline of the AAMA CMA Certification/Recertification Examination, and the Advanced Practice document, please contact AAMA Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, at dbalasa@aama-ntl.org.