The American Association of Medical Assistants has noticed a disturbing trend in the American allied health arena: Some health care employers are confusing Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) with Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). To compound the confusion, there are some states that have, for many years, recognized certified medication/medicine aides, who are also referred to as CMAs.

The AAMA explains the differences to inquirers. However, it is incumbent upon every CMA to be able to articulate these differences. Here is a statement that can be used to explain the difference between CMAs and CNAs:

Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) are allied health professionals who work primarily in ambulatory settings (clinics and medical offices) under the supervision of physicians. CMAs are capable of doing both clinical and administrative procedures, and are educated and tested in such procedures.

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)—the only medical assisting professional organization recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA)—bestows the CMA credential on those medical assistants who pass the AAMA CMA Certification Examination. The National Board of Medical Examiners—responsible for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and many national specialty examinations for physicians—serves as test consultant for the CMA Certification Examination.

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are allied health professionals who work primarily in in-patient settings (hospitals and nursing homes) under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). For the most part, CNAs provide bedside care to patients and assist the RNs and LPNs under whose supervision they work. State and federal laws require nursing assistants to take a short course and pass a basic test in order to become CNAs and thus be permitted to work in skilled nursing facilities.

What are certified medication aides, or certified medicine aides? Essentially, medication/medicine aides are advanced CNAs who are permitted to administer certain medications in skilled nursing facilities and hospitals under the supervision of an RN or an LPN. Additional basic education and testing are required for a CNA to become a certified medication/medicine aide.

In states that have established the certified medicine aide classification, it is important for a medical assistant to discern whether a prospective employer who is attempting to hire a “CMA” is really looking for a medical assistant, or for a medication/medicine aide. The distinguishing factor is usually the nature of the delivery setting. Clinics, medical offices, and other ambulatory settings are usually interested in hiring Certified Medical Assistants; hospitals, nursing homes, and other in-patient settings are usually looking for CNAs and certified medication/medicine aides.

The AAMA cannot force a state to do away with, or change the title of, the medicine aide category. However, the AAMA on at least two occasions has been successful in persuading a state to use a title for this health care worker other than certified medicine/medication aide, thus preventing confusion with the CMA credential.

Another area of responsibility for state public affairs leaders (and all medical assistants), therefore, must be monitoring proposed legislation and regulations that would create a certified medication/medicine aide classification. Please contact the AAMA immediately if you become aware of an effort to create a category of advanced CNAs designated as certified medication aides, or certified medicine aides.

Questions? Contact Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, at dbalasa@aama-ntl.org or 800/228-2262.