Iowa Medical Assistant Requirements and Approved CMA Programs 

Medical assistants play a crucial role on the health care team, working closely with physicians and nurses to manage the workflow of health care facilities and facilitate patient visits. As the healthcare industry makes the shift towards preventative care, medical assistants have taken on expanded roles to include patient outreach, follow-up calls, and patient education. The absence of specific guidelines for medical assistant scope of practice within Iowa and most other states gives physicians some measure of freedom in delegating duties to medical assistants. The expanded role will not only remove some of the burden from physicians, giving them the freedom to attend to more patients but also increase patient satisfaction and outcomes.  

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There are many pathways to becoming a medical assistant. Traditional programs offered at community colleges and vocational schools focus on the basic administrative, clinical, and customer service skills required for success. Accredited programs cover a ranges of skills as outlined by certifying agencies like the American Association of Medical Assistants. There are also specialized programs that prepare students for specific roles such as clinical medical assistants and administrative medical assistants. Additionally, there are still a few employers who offer apprenticeship opportunities to train adults for employment within their practice. These apprenticeships may take in all that the employers need, covering a broad scope of duties that the MA will perform as part of the patient care team.  

What Does A Medical Assistant Do?  

Entry into health care is a pledge to deliver great care to patients, demonstrate compassion and empathy, protect privacy, and improve outcomes. Medical assistants are on the front lines of care, working closely with patients from the moment they arrive at the practice to the close of the visit. They confirm the appointment, send out reminders, check in the patient up arrival, assist health care staff with treatments, counsel patients, and collect patients. They have a direct impact on patient outcomes and satisfaction! They work under the direction of a physician, and sometimes nurses, performing those duties for which they are properly trained. Below are just a few of the duties you can expect to perform in your role as a medical assistant.  

Patient Intake 

Patient intake is no small task. The receiving of patients into the practice impacts patient outcomes to a large degree. A medical assistant must verify important information to pass on the other health care providers within the practice. Failure to catch critical information could result in incorrect diagnosis and other medical errors. The collection of data and updating of records, especially vitals, helps to physician to make an accurate assessment of the patient’s condition. A medical assistant should also be capable of detecting those things that are not immediately obvious relating to the patient’s well-being to relay to the physician. In clinics where there may not be an appointment system in place, the medical assistant must be capable of prioritizing patients and determine who needs immediate attention.  

Extending Compassion  

A visit to the physician is not something that anyone looks forward to. A medical assistant can lighten the experience through the demonstration of compassion and sympathy. He or she is the first point of contact for the patient. It is the perfect time to put the patient at ease with a friendly smile and words of encouragement. An explanation of the procedure that will follow and answering of any questions the patient might have can go a long way to improve the final outcome.  

Maintaining Workflow  

In a bustling medical practice, the medical assistant will spend a substantial portion of time scheduling appointments, answering incoming calls, ordering medical supplies, following-up with labs, and other administrative tasks. A smooth and efficient front office is an essential factor in the reduction of mistakes, patient intake, and customer service. The efficiency of the medical assistant helps the physician focus on the areas he’s needed most – the care of patients.  

Educating Patients 

The medical assistant knows a lot more about maintaining health than the average person. While medical assistants are not to offer medical advice, they can educate patients on maintaining health and well-being. They can answer questions about the treatment proposed by the physician, demonstrate use of simple equipment, reiterate the physician’s instructions, and give encouragement to patients to achieve their health goals. By disbursing tips related to diet and exercise, medical assistants can empower patients to take an active role in their overall health.  

Patient Outreach 

It is not uncommon for patients to forget a scheduled visit to the physician. A medical assistant may have the responsibility of sending out a reminder before the visit and giving any special instructions to ensure a successful visit. After the appointment, the medical assistant may conduct a follow-up to check in on the patient. These simple tasks ensure patients get the care they need to recover from an injury or disease.  

Team Collaboration 

Every member of the healthcare team makes a value contribution to patient outcomes. Medical assistants facilitate communication amongst team members such as nurses, physicians, pharmacists, and other health care providers. By ensuring information is shared a timely manner, the medical assistant can support the team objective to provide comprehensive and effective care to patients. 

Certified Versus Uncertified Medical Assistants  

Medical practices want the best, most qualified individuals who will make a vital contribution as part of the health care team. While certification is not a requirement in the state of Iowa, it is sought after by most employers. Graduates of most medical assistants are capable of performing the administrative and clinical duties expected by most physicians. However, certified medical assistants function at the top of their scope of practice, bringing a higher level of efficiency to the healthcare team. Medical assistants who are certified need little to no on-the-job training, so they can perform as needed from the very first day. Certification is one factor that employers use to assess whether a prospective employee possesses the skills and knowledge to succeed on the job.  

Most certifying organizations require completion of a rigorous and accredited training program. Some may accept a specific number of years of work as a medical assistant to administer the certifying exam. The educational requirements may be acquired through a two-year college, diploma program, or certificate program. 

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

Nationally 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 Iowa 

Complete accredited training 

The fast-paced world of medicine requires that you pursue the best training possible. A medical assistant program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools covers the administrative and clinical skills needed to perform the duties of a medical assistant in most health care facilities. The program will include a theoretical component, whether delivered online or in-person, and a practical component for the application for the skills learned in the classroom. It matters not whether you earn a certificate, diploma or degree – the key thing is to learn the skills needed for success and the knowledge to take and pass the certification exam.  

Duration of the medical assistant program: Medical assistant training falls within allied health and as such training should be short-term – not lengthy as a nursing or other health care degree. Certificate programs in Iowa can be completed in as little as 6 months full-time or 12 months part-time. You can elect to pursue an associate degree program if you plan to pursue higher education. The associate degree is designed to be completed in 2 years. 

Employer-centered curriculum: The medical assistant curriculum should cover a body of knowledge and specialized skills that meets the standards for entry-level employment in the profession. This goal will be accomplished through a combination of classroom, laboratory, and practicum in a medical facility.  

Experienced instructors: Instructors may be certified medical assistants, nurses, or physicians. They ideally should have a wealth of experience in the industry that they will pass  

Flexible formats: From hybrid to online and traditional delivery of the program’s content, you can choose the one that meets your needs. There are also options to attend full-time, part-time or on weekends as your schedule allows.  

Hands-on experience: Some of the best ways to prepare for success in the profession is through hands-on learning. If you learn best by doing, choose a program that is heavy on practical activities. Some of these opportunities include service-learning opportunities, extended externships, job-shadowing, and simulation labs.  

Financially viable: There are many ways to fund your education if you don’t have the money upfront. First start by searching for the most affordable programs. Narrow these down to the ones that are eligible for financial aid. Research funding options for health care jobs in your area to see what’s available. Scholarships, loans, interest-free payment plans, and grants can also help to cut costs.  

Fringe benefits: What do you want most from the medical assistant program? Is is job placement, career services, additional certification for related areas such as phlebotomy, and networking opportunities? Compare the special offerings provided by a few programs and make a decision based on what appeals to you most.  

Obtain Medical Assistant Certification  

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) 

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential is a product of the American Association of Medical Assistants awarded to candidates who complete accredited training, pass the certification exam, and meet all other requirements for certification. 

The CMA certification exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that will test your knowledge of pharmacology, safety and infection control, legal and ethical issues, communication, and much more. 

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

Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) 

The American Medical Technologists (AMT) awards the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential to persons who meet the eligibility criteria and pass the RMA exam. The RMA credential is also accepted by healthcare employers across the nation. RMAs have the abilities, knowledge, and commitment to quality care. 

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. 


  • Must have worked as a medical assistant educator for a minimum of five years, and have previously completed a course in a healthcare related discipline. 

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. 

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) 

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) is another nationally recognized certifying organization for medical assistants. Candidates who successfully meet all the requirements will receive the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential. Candidates for certification may fulfill the requirements for certification via work experience or practical training. 

To take the CCMA credentialing exam, you must: 

  • Possess a high school diploma/GED equivalent AND 
  • Have completed a medical assistant training program (within the last 5 years) OR 
  • Have one year of supervised medical assisting experience, in the last 3 years 

The exam is administered either at your school, a PSI testing center near you, or through live remote proctoring at the location of your choice. 

For online CCMA exams, NHA will officially post your certification results to your account page within two days of scoring your test. 

Iowa Medical Assistants FAQs  

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

Medical assistants are not required to be licensed or certified by the State of Iowa. There are no special privileges for nationally certified medical assistants under Iowa law.  

What duties are medical assistants allowed to perform?  

The physician may assign duties to a medical assistant according to his professional judgment of the medical assistant’s capabilities. Clinical duties must be performed with a physician or nurse on site. Following are some of the duties that may be performed by a medical assistant:  

  • Measure vitals  
  • Wound care  
  • Change dressings  
  • Update patient records  
  • Administer medications  
  • Collect blood samples  

Iowa’s medical assistants must not:  

  • Perform surgical procedures 
  • Prescribe medication 
  • Administer anaesthesia  

Contact the Iowa Society of Medical Assistants 



CAAHEP & ABHES Accredited Medical Assisting Programs Iowa 

Calmar, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Northeast Iowa Community College
1625 IA-150,
Calmar, IA 52132, United States

Cedar Rapids, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Kirkwood Community College
6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW,
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404

Council Bluffs, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Iowa Western Community College
2700 College Rd.
Council Bluffs, IA 51503

Des Moines, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Des Moines Area Community College
144 7th St,
Des Moines, IA 50314
1 800-362-2127

Emmetsburg, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Iowa Lakes Community College
3200 College Dr,
Emmetsburg, IA 50536

Fort Dodge, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Iowa Central Community College
One Triton Cir,
Fort Dodge, IA 50501
1 800-362-2793

Iowa City, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive
Iowa City, IA 52242

Muscatine, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Muscatine Community College
152 Colorado St.
Muscatine, IA 52761

Sioux City, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Western Iowa Tech Community College
4647 Stone Avenue
Sioux City, Iowa 51106

Waterloo, IA Medical Assistant Programs:
Hawkeye Community College
1501 East Orange Road
P.O. Box 8015
Waterloo, IA 50704-8015