Registered Medical Assistant (RMA): Salary, Skills, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Registered medical assistants have a critical role in health care helping doctors and nurses with many tasks. Here’s how you can get started in this career.

[Featured Image]:  A female registered medical assistant, wearing a blue uniform and a head covering. She is standing in front of a building with a white wall.

Medical assistants, whether “registered” or “certified,” perform both administrative tasks and direct patient care. They play an important role in keeping medical facilities running smoothly so that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can deliver the best care possible. As a medical assistant, you’d be embarking on a steady career helping people who are suffering from illness or injury.

Jobs within the health care industry have promising growth of 13 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. The expected job growth for medical assistants is even higher, at 16 percent [2].

Here’s how to get started in a fulfilling career as a registered medical assistant. 

What is a registered medical assistant?

A registered medical assistant (RMA) is responsible for administrative tasks and basic patient care, such as conducting basic tests, sterilizing instruments, and measuring vital signs. They are assistants to physicians and nurses, doing much of the back-end work to ensure the facility and patient care run smoothly.

Medical assistants can perform tasks such as instructing patients about their prescriptions or dietary restrictions, removing stitches, drawing blood, or helping patients go to the bathroom. 

A registered medical assistant has earned one of two medical assistant credentials. Aspiring medical assistants can either take the American Medical Technologist (AMT) certification exam, or register with the American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA) after graduating from an accredited medical assistant institute.

Registered medical assistant vs. certified medical assistant

The main difference between becoming an AMT registered medical assistant and an American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certified medical assistant is the title.

Both cover the same concepts.

Strangely, the AMT credential for registration is more similar to the AAMA’s certification, than to the ARMA registered credential, because the ARMA does not require an exam. Therefore, only the AMT registered and AAMA certified medical assistants can participate in regulatory oversight. 


Read more: What Is a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)?

Registered medical assistant tasks and responsibilities

As a registered medical assistant, your typical tasks and responsibilities might include:

  • Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, and temperature

  • Record patient history and personal information 

  • Assist physicians with patient examinations

  • Provide patients with prescriptions or injections as directed by doctors

  • Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests and administer tests

Where does a registered medical assistant work? 

Medical assistants who receive credentials from AMT or ARMA can work in a variety of medical settings, including the following:

  • Doctor’s offices: Over 50 percent of medical assistants work in a physician’s office or clinic, treating the same patients over the years [3]. This environment can provide more of a sense of community, if that is something you value in a job. 

  • Hospitals: Approximately 15 percent of medical assistants in the US work in hospitals [3]. These jobs may be more demanding because hospitals operate 24/7, and providers rarely see the same patient twice, but hospitals offer competitive salaries and benefits.

  • Outpatient clinics: Outpatient care centers are like a cross between a clinic and a hospital, in that they provide surgical services and laboratory tests but not overnight stays—so they tend to be less stressful than working in a hospital.

  • Medical research centers: Medical assistants might be needed in clinical trials to help collect samples, prepare them for diagnosis, and input participant information. In this environment, you’ll gain first-hand knowledge of research and development.

  • Diagnostic laboratories: In a diagnostic lab, tests (such as x-rays, blood tests, MRIs, CT scans) may use blood, urine, or other body tissue or fluid to determine whether there is disease or illness present. Medical assistants help with clinical and administrative tasks.

Registered medical assistants can also work in nursing homes, and in specialized clinics with pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, chiropractors, and podiatrists. They may also work in insurance companies, prisons, the military, and universities.

Registered medical assistant salary

Registered medical assistants earn a median annual salary of $37,190 [2]. The advantages of this career are that it tends to be a steady job often accompanied by benefits such as health care insurance. This salary may vary depending on your location, type of health care facility, and level of experience. Specialized medical assistants, such as ophthalmologists or podiatrists, can earn more money.

Due to rising demand, the number of medical assistant jobs is projected to grow 18 percent between 2020 and 2030 [2]. 

How to become a registered medical assistant

To become a registered medical assistant, you’ll need to gain relevant job skills and either an AMT or ARMA certification. Here’s what else you need to know.

Read more: How to Get a Job as a Medical Assistant | 10 Steps

1. Complete a training program.

Completing an accredited medical assistant training program is the first step to gaining a foundation to become a registered medical assistant. You’ll need at least a high school diploma or GED before applying. 

These programs are typically offered online or in-person at community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and, in some cases, universities. They tend to take a year or two to complete, covering a range of topics from first aid to anatomy and physiology.

2. Gain work experience.

Most medical assistant programs require completing either an internship or externship before receiving your diploma. Your program should provide you with coursework and lab experience, but you’ll still want to be able to shadow an experienced medical assistant. While you might receive training as a new medical assistant, you’ll be better equipped if you’ve drawn patients’ blood or taken vitals under supervision.

When applying to become a registered medical assistant, you’ll want to make sure you possess both clinical and administrative skills. As you gain more and more experience, it is wise to highlight and quantify your skills on your resume.

Refresh your skills

These courses might help you boost your skills, if you ever need a refresher after your program:

1. Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us from the University of Pennsylvania

2. Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students from the University of Pittsburgh

3. Healthcare IT Support Specialization from Johns Hopkins University


3. Get certified.

After obtaining your medical assistant diploma, you’ll need to take (and pass) an exam to become a registered medical assistant. There are two exams you can take:

  • American Medical Technologist (AMT) certification exam: Students qualify for this exam by submitting records to show completion of a medical assistant program. The AMT exam has over 200 questions that cover knowledge on clinical, administrative, and general medical assisting. 

  • American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA): Medical assistants can gain registered status through the ARMA system. You must have graduated from an accredited medical assistant program, and often you’ll need a letter of recommendation or proof of employment from an employer.

4. Grow in your career.

Once you’ve been a medical assistant for a few years, you might be looking to the horizon. Maybe you want to switch clinics or start at a hospital instead. Maybe you want to take on extra responsibility as a specialized medical assistant. Here are some options for career growth:

  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA): As a CCMA, you can perform all of the same duties that an RMA can, as well as clinical duties such as administering injections. You are eligible to take this exam after you’ve worked for one year as a medical assistant.

  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA): As an NCMA, you’ll be able to perform the same RMA duties, but with more emphasis on clinical tasks. You can earn this certification directly after completing an RMA training program.

  • Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA): As a COA, you can assist eye doctors with both medical and administrative duties. You might need specialized training under an ophthalmologist before taking this exam.

  • Podiatric Medical Assistant Certification (PMAC): With this certification, you can perform duties in a podiatrist’s clinic. Like with ophthalmology, you’ll need work experience in a podiatry office to earn this certification.

Explore health care administration with Coursera

Interested in becoming a registered medical assistant? Consider the Healthcare Organization Operations specialization from Rutgers University. You’ll learn about different types of health care organizations and how they work, so you can be primed and ready to apply, interview, and work for a registered medical assistant role in the future.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Healthcare Occupations,” Accessed October 5, 2022.

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