Illinois Medical Assistant Requirements and Approved CMA Programs

Medical assistants fill a vital role in a healthcare setting. They are classified as unlicensed professionals in the State of Illinois. As such, there is no documented scope of practice to direct their work as there is for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants. It is left up to the supervising physician to determine what the medical assistant can and cannot do based on state policies for unlicensed professionals. Physicians, with some guidance from certifying organizations, can apply their interpretation of the law as it relates to practice and assign tasks to medical assistants. For this very reason, the duties of medical assistants vary from one place to another.

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According to the Illinois Medical Practice Act, “a physician may delegate patient care tasks or duties to an unlicensed person who possesses appropriate training and experience provided a healthcare professional, who is practicing within the scope of such licensed professional’s individual licensing Act, is on site to provide assistance.” This guideline gives physicians full authority to assign patient care tasks to medical assistants based on their judgment of the MA’s ability, education, and training.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians will hire more medical assistants to manage administrative and clinical tasks, which will improve efficiency in medical practice. Medical assistants have to share in the responsibility of care, follow up on pending orders, track lab reports, and improve communication between the physician and patient, which ultimately improves patient satisfaction.

Benefits of Becoming a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants are the first point of contact in many health care settings. They answer the phones, schedule appointments, update patient records, follow up on lab reports, and greet patients as they arrive at the medical office. But more than the administrative duties, medical assistants can perform clinical tasks as trained health care professionals. These may include completing and recording patients’ vitals, record patients’ symptoms on the chart, administer basic tests, instruct the patient on some aspects of health care, assist physicians with diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, collect patients’ specimens for lab analysis, and much more.

If you’re considering medical assisting as a career path, you’ll want to know the benefits before you dive in. The chief concern should be whether jobs will be available after you complete medical assistant training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics records that employment of medical assistants will rise 16 percent from 2021 to 2031 – that is much higher than the national average for all professions and a positive confirmation that jobs are available. The worldwide pandemic almost crippled the health care industry, and highlighted the need for physicians and other health care professionals to focus on what they do best. Medical assistants relieve physicians on mundane duties and allow them to improve patient care delivery.

Another reason medical assisting is so viable is the academic preparation. Compared to the requirements to become a registered nurse or physician, medical assisting provides fast and easy access for anyone to begin a career in healthcare. The state mandates for the educational preparation for medical assistants are non-existent, so candidates can focus primarily on employer needs. Although there are numerous medical assistant programs, it is always best to pursue accredited programs to prepare for national certification.

Repetitive tasks can get boring and lead to dissatisfaction with the job. Medical assisting is an opportunity to challenge yourself every day. The tasks will vary from one day to the next, and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with diverse patients and health care professionals. You can even change jobs and work in a different health care setting to learn new skills and keep your work fresh.

Medical assisting fulfils a basic need to help others in their time of need. Like other health care professionals, medical assistants have a unique opportunity to do something meaningful for others and achieve personal fulfillment and satisfaction in return. Patients who arrive at a health care facility are not in the best of moods. As an MA, you can be that bright spot on the dark horizon.

You’re not limited to big-city areas in health care. Although larger cities might advertise the most jobs and the highest pay rates, smaller communities need health care professionals as well. In fact, the health care industry encourages and provides incentives to health care professionals who are willing to serve in rural communities where staff is limited.

If you can look beyond the limited scope of practice for medical assistants, there is a host of benefits on top of those already listed that can lead to a rewarding career in this field. Take the time to consider your short-term and long-term goals and how working as a medical assistant will help you to meet them while making a positive impact on the industry.

Certified Versus Uncertified Medical Assistants

National certification is critical to your success as a medical assistant. Healthcare employers will hire the best and most qualified individual who will make a positive contribution to the practice. Certified medical assistants function at the pinnacle of the nationally defined score pf practice, delivering efficiency and value to the health care system. Certification sets one medical assistant apart from another.

From the employers’ point of view, a certified medical assistant will require less on the job training than one who is not certified – even if they have both completed the same formal training program. Time is money. Employers are prepared to pay more for someone who can get in and take up assigned duties quickly and efficiently. Certification is an employer’s yardstick to assess whether an individual has the skills and knowledge to get the job done.

Health care facilities that provide services to Medicaid patients will require certification from medical assistant employees. While certification is not required by the State of Illinois, an employer who hires certified medical assistants will enhance the operation their practice and remove themselves from public scrutiny.

Certification demonstrates your commitment to the profession. It requires completion of the rigorous standards set by the certifying organization and dedication to continued education to improve your standard of practice. Your certification confirms your commitment to learning to stay on top of industry trends, including changes in the role of the medical assistant in the evolving health care industry.

See the list of certifying organizations below to determine what is the best option for you.

Medical Board of Illinois Approved Certifying Organizations
American Association of Medical Assistants
20 N. Wacker Drive, #1575
Chicago, IL 60606-2963
(312) 424-3100

American Medical Certification Association
310 Passaic Avenue, Suite 204B
Fairfield, NJ 07004
(888) 960-2622

American Medical Technologists
10700 W. Higgins Road, Suite 150
Rosemont, IL 60018
(847) 823-5169

Multiskilled Medical Certification Institute, Inc.
P.O. Box 17
7007 College Boulevard
Overland Park, KS 66211
(888) 625-8408 or (913) 754-3287

How to Become a Medical Assistant in Illinois

Complete accredited training

A medical assistant improves the efficiency of a medical practice, creating value and improving the flow of the operation. These expectations should not be left to chance. Proper training is essential to the performance of the various tasks you must perform as a medical assistant. You must be able to greet patients, answer the phones, respond to clinical concerns, administer flu shots, measure and record vital signs, follow up on lab reports, schedule appointments, and assist physicians with treatments. Medical assistant training will cover both the clinical and administrative aspects of the profession. Some medical assistants choose to focus on just one side, but competency in both is always beneficial if you decide to change jobs.

As it relates to training, an accredited program is always best. It will provide extensive training, both theoretical and practical, in the administrative and clinical components of medical assisting. Moreover, completion of an accredited program is almost always required if you decide to pursue national certification. You will need to select the type of training that suits your needs. Whether it is a two-year degree program offered at your local college, a 12-month diploma program, or a 9-month certificate program, the program should include all the training you’ll need to function competently in your first role as a medical assistant.

In your search for a good medical assistant program in Illinois, consider the following.

Duration of the medical assistant program: How much time are you willing to commit to your medical assistant education? A certificate program provides the shortest route with a completion time of 6 to 9 months. A diploma program may provide training that is a bit more advanced than a certificate program while the associate degree will include general education courses required for a degree. A degree is worthwhile if you plan to further your studies in a related field and want to get a head start on earning college credits.

Employer-centered curriculum: Then end goal of the medical assistant program must be to produce well-qualified graduates who are capable of working with patients to reduce the time and burden of physicians. It should seek to increase understanding of the administrative and clinical tasks that medical assistants must perform to improve patient satisfaction and the efficient operation of the practice.

Experienced instructors: Faculty should be up to speed on industry practices and trends, state laws as they relate to the duties of unlicensed professionals, and the tasks that physicians are likely to assign to medical assistants.

Flexible formats: A program that fits with your schedule will remove any hindrance to going forward with your career goals. If you decide on an online program, it must include face-to-face sessions with the instructor and in-person practice on-site and at local health care facilities.

Hands-on experience: Hands-on practice is essential for the development of those clinical and administrative skills that are vital to your role as a medical assistant. The practical part of the program should include sufficient hours for the development of those skills.

Financially viable: Is the program cost in line with the content delivered and course hours? Does the advertised cost include materials and supplies? Is the program eligible for financial aid? Compare programs to get the best value for money.

Fringe benefits: What does the medical assistant program offer to enrolled students and alumni? Preparation for the certification exam, remedial support, extra hands-on practice, and job placement assistance are some things you should look for.

Obtain Medical Assistant Certification

The CMA Certification Exam is a multiple-choice exam that comprises of 200 questions. Out of the 200 questions, 180 will be scored and 20 will be pretested. The exam assesses three principal categories:

Clinical Competency (59%)

  • Clinical Workflow: Patient Intake and Discharge
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Procedures/Examinations
  • Pharmacology

General (21%)

  • Legal and Ethical Issues
  • Communication

Administrative (20%)

  • Billing, Coding, and Insurance
  • Schedule Appointments and Health Information Management

Eligibility Requirements

You can sit for the exam if you meet one of the criteria outlined below:

  1. Must be completing or a recent graduate of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assistant program. If you’re enrolled in a medical assistant program, you can take the exam no more than 30 days prior to completing the program and practicum. If you’ve graduated from a program, you must take the exam within 12 months of your graduation date.
  2. Must be a nonrecent graduate of a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assistant program. You’re considered a nonrecent graduate if you apply for the exam more than 12 months after graduation.
  3. Must be a CMA (AAMA) recertificant. Use this option if you previously passed the CMA Certification Exam and want to recertify the CMA credential.

Application Steps

  1. Verify that you are eligible to take the exam
  2. Review the exam policies and information
  3. Gather your documentation for your eligibility category
  4. Determine start date for 90-day testing period – this will determine when you apply for the exam.
  5. Submit your application, pay the application fee of $125 for AAMA members or $250 nonmembers
  6. Make name, email, and postal address corrections in a timely basis
  7. Schedule your exam appointment after your application and payment are processed
  8. Complete the exam and receive a pass/fail notification
  9. Watch for your official score reports – within three weeks after your exam
  10. Watch for your certificate or digital badge via email

RMA Certification

RMA certification is another certification option for medical assistants. You must pass the AMT examination for RMA, to become certified.

Following are some other requirements for RMA certification:

Through formal education-

  • Must have graduated, within the past 4 years, or scheduled to graduate from an accredited MA program or program that is housed within an accredited institution.
  • Must have completed 720 hours of instruction that includes at least 160 hours of externship

Other training –

  • Must have completed a medical assisting work-study/training program within the last 4 years such as:
    • An apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor (DOL)
    • A federally recognized State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA)
    • Workforce Development/Employer program

Work Experience

  • Must be employed as a medical assistant for a minimum of 3 years within the past 7 years – 3 years of full-time employment at 36 hours per week is the equivalent of 5,616 hours. Provide documents of both administrative and clinical duties on the employment letter
  • Experience must include both clinical and administrative duties
  • Must have a valid CPR card (copy of front and back). CPR training must include both theoretical and in-person demonstration of CPR proficiency.


  • Must be recent graduate, or scheduled to graduate from a formal medical services training program of the United States Armed Forces – Must have graduated within the last 4 years.

The application fee for the RMA exam is $135. You must schedule your exam online after you receive approval from the RMA.

The official certification will be supplied within 7 to 14 days after you pass the exam.

Illinois Medical Assistants FAQs

Are medical assistants required to be licensed or certified by the State of Illinois?

Medical assistants are not required to be licensed or certified by the State of Illinois. Health care employers typically require medical assistants to be certified as a confirmation that they can perform at the highest level of practice.

What duties are medical assistants allowed to perform?

A physician determines the tasks that a medical assistant can perform in the absence of state guidelines. He or she will assign tasks in keeping with the MA’s education, abilities, and experience. Some of the tasks include:

  • Performing direct care tasks such as responding to telephone inquiries, escorting patients to examination rooms, completing and recording vitals, recording symptoms on the chart, and relating information to the patient regarding preparation for various types of exams
  • Assist medical providers with conducting diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • Writing requisitions of lab tests and procedures
  • Dispatching messages to other departments
  • Collects patients’ specimens and returns them to the lab for analysis
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and supplies
  • Administer basic first aid
  • Administer medication as directed by the physician

Contact the Illinois Society of Medical Assistants


CAAHEP & ABHES Accredited Medical Assisting Programs Illinois

Belleville, IL Medical Assistant programs:
Southwestern Illinois College
2500 Carlyle Ave,
Belleville, IL 62221

East Peoria, IL Medical Assistant programs:
Illinois Central College
1 College Dr,
East Peoria, IL 61635

Rolling Meadows, IL Medical Assistant programs:
Northwest Suburban College
5999 S. New Wilke Road, Building 500
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008