Your Guide to the NHA CCMA Exam
Congratulations on your pursuit of a career in medical assisting! If you’ve already finished a course of study in medical assisting, you’re just one last step from entering into the occupation: you’ll need to pass a certification exam.
Virtually every field in the health profession has its own certification procedures. Often, there’s a single exam and accrediting agency that oversees the entire occupation. When it comes to medical assisting, though, there are multiple options.
In this study guide, we’ll be discussing the National Healthcareer Association’s (NHA) Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam. To begin, we’ll briefly discuss other exam options, describe the NHA, and help you ensure you’re eligible to sit for the CCMA test. With those details accounted for, we’ll dive into the bulk of this guide: the CCMA study guide. While this guide will help prepare you for the test, it’s also important to actually take CCMA practice tests as part of your exam prep strategy.
What’s involved in becoming a certified medical assistant?
There are multiple certification options for medical assistants. In addition to the NHA CCMA exam, there are also the American Medical Technologists’ (AMT) RMA exam; the National Center for Competency Testing’s NCMA exam, and the American Association of Medical Assistants’ CMA exam. If you’re not sure which test is the right one for you, check out this overview we’ve put together.
What is the NHA?
The National Healthcareer Association is a for-profit provider of certification for a variety of allied health career fields. Since 1989, the NHA has awarded more than half a million certifications.
How do I know if I’m eligible to take the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant exam?
There are two pathways to eligibility for taking the CCMA exam. All applicants must be 18 years of age or older, and must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, applicants must either have completed a medical assisting training program in the past year, or have worked as a medical assistant for at least one year, and within the last year.
Does my certification expire? Will I need to renew it at some future date?
Maintaining certification involves completing at least 10 hours of Continuing Education courses every two years. Certification becomes noncurrent if renewal lapses for one year. After three years of lapse, all past due fees and CE hours must be completed before renewal. If five or more years lapse, the certification is revoked, and applicants must take the certification again. For more information about renewal and recertification, click here.
Exam Overview: CCMA Study Guide
The CCMA exam contains 150 scored items, with 30 pre-test questions. Test takers are allotted 3 hours to complete the exam. The test is divided into 7 sections: Basic Science and Foundation Knowledge; Anatomy and Physiology; Clinical Patient Care; Patient Care Coordination and Education; Administrative Assisting; Communication and Customer Service; and Medical Law and Ethics. More than half of the test’s questions (54%) are devoted to Clinical Patient Care. Many of the sections contain subsections: for example, infection control and testing and laboratory procedure are separate subsections within the Clinical Patient Care section.
Studying and preparing for each section involves taking into account two separate types of competencies: knowledge of certain topics, and the ability to perform certain tasks. Some sections only involve general knowledge, while others involve both general knowledge as well as knowledge of how to perform specific tasks.
In this study guide, we’ve provided an outline of each of the sections and subsections that comprise the CCMA. Under each section and subsection (as appropriate), we’ll list both the topics that you’ll need to have knowledge of, as well as some of the tasks that you’ll need to know how to perform.
Following the study guide, you’ll find an extra section: Core Knowledge and Skill Areas. This is not an extra test section, and will not appear on the exam as such. However, the NHA considers knowledge of these topics and skills to be both necessary and fundamental for any medical assistant, and points out that they could be used as part of a particular test item. It’s therefore useful to review these knowledge and skill areas, and ensure that you’re familiar with each of them.
Basic Science and Foundational Knowledge
This section contains a number of subsections related to the foundational knowledge necessary for any medical assistant. Subtopics include the health care system and settings, medical terminology, pharmacology, nutrition, and psychology. This section contains 15 questions, and accounts for 10% of the total CCMA exam.
Health care system and settings
This subsection assesses your understanding of the health care system in its totality, and of specific professional and clinical settings within the system. Topics include the role that a medical assistant plays alongside other providers and allied health professionals; the scope of practice of various professionals; titles and official credentials; forms of health care delivery, such as HMOs, PCHM, PPOs, collaborative care, and so on; the fundamentals of health insurance; alternative modalities and additional services; and the differences between general practice and various specializations, along with the services that accompany each.
In this subsection, your understanding of common terminology used in the medical field will be tested. Topics may include terminology of a directional as well as a positional nature; how to put together medical terms using prefixes and suffixes, as well as how to make certain terms plural; the names of specific medical instruments, procedures, and particular conditions; and the abbreviations and symbols commonly used in medical terminology.
This subsection of the test assesses your knowledge and understanding of a wide range of topics related to basic pharmacology. Topics may include methods of storing and disposing of pharmaceuticals; ability to use the Physicians’ Desk Reference and various online references; administering medications; how drugs are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted in the body; the various methods of administering pharmaceuticals; medications which appear similar or have similar names; various forms of drugs; how to measure pharmaceuticals; pharmaceutical side effects, indications, and contraindications; classifications of pharmaceuticals; and drugs which are commonly prescribed, along with their common abbreviations.
Nutrition is a fundamental part of overall patient health. In this test subsection, you’ll be assessed on your knowledge of: nutrition labels on various foods; eating disorders that patients may present; various supplements and vitamins; educating patients on nutrition; nutrients in the diet; and the varying dietary needs of patients with specific conditions and diseases.
A general awareness of concepts in psychology is important to your ability to offer balanced care. This test subsection includes a number of topics, such as psychological defense mechanisms; processes for performing mental health screenings; stressors associated with both environment as well as socioeconomic factors; psychological issues associated with developmental delay, specific diseases, and physical disability; the various grief stages and end-of-life coping; and general psychological developmental stages.
Anatomy and Physiology
In this section, your understanding of anatomy and physiology will be assessed. Subtopics featured in this area of the test include body structures and organ system, pathology and diseases processes, and topics related to microbiology. There are 12 questions in the section of the test, comprising 8% of the total number.
Body structures and organ systems
An awareness of the body’s various structures and organ systems is an important part of your overall education as a medical assistant. Topics that may be included in this subsection are: organ system interaction; maintaining homeostasis; the functioning and overall structure of various systems in the body, particularly the organs, and the location of these systems; and various structures, anatomical locations, and positions.
Pathophysiology and disease processes
It’s important to both recognize and understand the progression of various pathophysiological states in patients. This subsection of the exam will include topics such as: pandemics and epidemics; various risk factors associated with morbidity and high mortality rates, including disease complications and accompanying diseases; various means of diagnosis and treatment for various diseases; prevalence, incidence, and risk factors associated with particular diseases; and the etiology of injuries, diseases, and various conditions, along with their signs and symptoms.
An understanding of microbiology is foundational in developing a comprehensive awareness of human anatomy and physiology. This area of the exam will assess your familiarity with concepts in microbiology. Topics may include: microbiological agents of infection, along with processes of infection and growth conditions; microorganisms and their ability to exist within hosts; and the structure of cells, including the various parts such as the nucleus, nucleolus, ribosomes, mitochondria, lysosomes, cytoplasm, cell membrane, and cell wall.
Clinical Patient Care
This section is the largest on the CCMA exam by far. It will test your knowledge related to topics such as general patient care, infection control, testing and laboratory procedure, phlebotomy, and EKG and cardiovascular testing. The total number of questions in this section is 81, which represents 54% of the total.
General patient care
If the Clinical Patient Care section comprises the largest section of the test, then the same can be said of the general patient care subsection with respect to the Clinical Patient Care section. In fact, general patient care contains 46-47 questions, and makes up 31% of the test.
With this in mind, it’s important to spend a significant amount of time studying topics related to general patient care. Both your general knowledge of specific topics will be tested, as will your understanding of how certain tasks are performed. This is the first appearance of task-based knowledge so far on the CCMA exam. Here, we’ll consider both task-based knowledge and general knowledge separately. We’ll also do so in subsequent sections, wherever task-based knowledge is included.
With respect to general patient care, an understanding of how to perform a large number of tasks is important. These tasks may include: identifying patients; preparing the exam room; maintaining safety; completing the intake process; taking vital signs and anthropometric measurements; identifying abnormalities; assisting the primary provider with the exam, whether general or specialized; preparing a patient for a procedure; preparing and administering medicine through a variety of routes; removing sutures or staples; irrigating ears or eyes; performing first aid; and more. Additionally, other task knowledge is important, such as: performing CPR; assisting practitioners in the face of traumatic injury; assisting with certain surgical procedures; reviewing discharge instructions; following discharge guidelines; sending prescription orders; documenting patient care; operating an Electronic Health Record/Electronic Medical Record system; and entering orders into a Computerized Physician Order Entry system.
In addition to an understanding of these tasks, there’s also a wide range of general knowledge on which you’ll be assessed as part of the general patient care subsection. This knowledge includes topics such as: identifying patients and their history; measuring vital signs, along with normal and abnormal readings; measuring BMI, weight, and height; positioning and draping; equipment and instruments related to both general and specialty examinations; pre- and postprocedural patient instructions; needs of specific populations; working with pediatric patients; patient consent; immunization schedules; allergies; infections; sterilization techniques; calculated dosages; and common medications, along with common forms of labeling and logging. Additionally, your knowledge of other areas will be assessed, including: injection sites; storing injectable medication; techniques for removing sutures and staples; topical, ear, and eye medications; common injuries and their treatments; common surgeries; emergency scenarios; action plans for emergency situations; CPR and life support; referrals, prior authorization, and insurance; legal issues surrounding prescription drugs; and medical record components.
Both your knowledge of specific tasks related to infection control, as well as your understanding of infection control in general, will be tested in this section. In terms of task-related knowledge, topics will include: disposing of various materials with OSHA-determined biohazard classification, such as sharps; performing various aseptic techniques in a variety of clinical scenarios; sterilizing equipment; disinfecting equipment and instruments; proper handwashing; and infection control-related guideline adherence.
In addition to these tasks, general knowledge of a number of areas is necessary for this section of the exam. This knowledge includes topics such as: so-called universal precautions; maintaining logs of things like equipment, temperature, and so on; disposing of waste; chemical cautions; Safety Data Sheets, or SDS; cleaning procedures; asepsis techniques in general medical and surgical scenarios; methods of sterilization such as autoclave, germicidals, and so on; protective equipment; modes of disease transmission; hand washing; and sanitizers.
Testing and laboratory procedure
Task-based knowledge tested in this subsection may include: collection of urine, stool, and other specimens; CLIA-waived testing; hearing, vision, and allergy tests; pulmonary testing; documenting results and recognizing abnormalities; labeling specimens properly; and handling and transporting specimens. General knowledge on the following topics is also important for this section: point of care testing; provider request forms; collecting specimens; waived test regulations; quality control; ranges of test values; various vision and hearing test elements; peak flow; allergens and allergy testing; specimen handling, storage, and disposal; and ICD-10 codes.
Both task-based and general knowledge will be assessed as part of the phlebotomy subsection. Task-centered topics include: verifying orders; site selection and preparation; performing venipuncture and capillary puncture; post-puncture care; handling, processing, and labeling samples; identifying normal and abnormal results; preparing samples for outside assessment; and adhering to distribution guidelines. General knowledge of the following topics is also essential: patient identifiers; preparing and assessing patients; blood vacuum tubes; blood-borne pathogens; medical conditions that may impact collection; site preparation and various techniques; tube types; blood testing equipment and its calibration; sample storage; processing and labeling; and databases.
EKG and cardiovascular testing
Task-based EKG knowledge of the following types is necessary for this subsection: preparing patients for EKG; ensuring that equipment is operating properly; identifying abnormal results; assisting primary provider with profiling; and recording results to either EMR or paper chart. General knowledge on the following topics is also important: segments, intervals, and waveforms; calibrating equipment; identifying abnormalities; techniques; adverse reactions; electrode placement; preparation; and minimizing artifacts and interference.
Patient Care Coordination and Education
This section of the test involves both general knowledge and an understanding of how to perform specific tasks. It includes 7-8 questions, and makes up 5% of the total.
Task-centered topics in this section include reviewing patient records; working with and assisting providers; facilitating compliance; and working in a team-based setting. General knowledge of the following is also important: preventive medicine; education; resources for coordinating outpatient care; community and specialty resources; care barriers; tracking technology; and team members roles.
In this section, both your overall knowledge of administrative assisting as well as your awareness of specific tasks will be assessed. It contains 19-20 questions, representing 13% of the total exam.
Task-based topics include: scheduling; insurance verification; checking patients in and out; diagnostic codes; getting prior authorization; preparing documentation; reconciling charges; billing patients; resolving issues with billing; managing records; facilitating referrals; providing customer service; entering information into a database; evaluating safety; and maintaining clinical and administrative supply inventories. General knowledge of other topics is also essential, including: filing and scheduling; assessing appointment urgency; duration requirements; phone etiquette; software systems; legal requirements relating to records; medical record categories; documentation requirements; charts; referrals; financial eligibility; government regulation; third party billing; specialty pharmacies; insurance-related terms; collections; online banking and payments; auditing; data entry; and logging inspections.
Customer Service and Communication
Here, your awareness of topics related to customer service and communication will be tested, along with your understanding of specific customer service tasks. This section contains 7-8 questions, which accounts for 5% of the test.
Task-centered topics may include: changing communication for various patient audiences; relaying communications; communication via phone; preparing written correspondence; working with difficult situations; and facilitating teamwork. General knowledge related to the following topics is also essential for preparation: styles of communication; effective communication; interview techniques and boundaries; active listening and the communication cycle; feedback and professional presence; surveying patients; handling difficult situations; documenting incidents; analysis cause and effect; and business letter and email etiquette.
Medical Ethics and Medical Law
In this final section, both your knowledge and understand of specific tasks will be tested with respect to medical ethics and medical law. The last section of the test contains 7-8 questions, which comprises 5% of the total exam.
Knowledge of the following topics is important for this section: complying with regulatory and legal requirements; adhering to ethical codes; complying with directives; documenting health care proxies; collecting Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment forms; protecting patient privacy; reporting violations; and providing unbiased care. General knowledge of other topics is also vital, such as: informed consent; advanced directives and power of attorney; record storage; when to share or release information; medical malpractice; reporting laws; and the Hippocratic Oath.
Core Knowledge and Skill Areas
As mentioned above, knowledge of certain general topics and skills will come in handy when taking the CCMA exam. These items may appear in relation to one of the testing topics elsewhere in this guide. Therefore, it’s helpful to have an understand of these core knowledge and skill areas.
Knowledge of the following general topics will be helpful in preparing for the CCMA: online patient portals; coding and charting systems such as ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and CPT; EHR/EMR and paper record systems; working collaboratively with providers; methods for educating and communicating with patients; techniques for sterilization and asepsis; standards of care and scope of practice; various laws such as the ACA, ADA, and HIPAA; and organizations related to the medical professional, such as the CDC, OSHA, FDA, and so on.
Additionally, knowledge of the following core skills is helpful: arithmetic, measurements, writing, and word processing; computer literacy; using general software programs; using office equipment; behaving responsibly via social media; acting professionally; developing interpersonal skills; working as a team; thinking critically; managing conflict; exhibiting leadership; exhibiting cultural competence; and working with patients with diverse backgrounds.
ScopeNotes: The #1 Choice for CCMA Exam Prep
This study guide is a solid start on the path to passing the CCMA. However, in order to perform well on the test and become a certified medical assistant, you’ll need to do more. CCMA practice tests are the best way to prepare for the exam: the more practice tests you take, the better you’ll ultimately do. ScopeNotes is the #1 choice when it comes to test prep for the CCMA. Why? We’ll tell you:
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