What Being a Medical Assistant is All About
Read a medical assistant’s perspective on the career field.
Over 5 years in the field
What sparked your interest medical assisting?
I saw a TV commercial about medical assisting that caught my eye. At the time, I was a single mother and I needed to find a way to make a decent living in order to support my daughter. It was the quickest and best way to get out of poverty.
I went to Maric College and took their certificate program in medical assisting which was about 10 months long. I was a horrible student in high school, but in college, I got good grades; I did really well. It was hard work, but because I was paying for school and because I was so motivated to learn, it was very satisfying.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love what I do; I enjoy the versatility of medical assisting. I can contribute to the way the office operates. I especially like working directly with patients. Working with patients who absolutely adore me definitely motivates me to provide excellent care. I’ve worked with some elderly women who told me that they preferred my blood draws over others because I’m so gentle. Blood draws can be very painful, and they gave me great feedback.
When I worked for a doctor whose specialty was hepatology, I did medication side effect management with patients who were discouraged because the medication they were taking was making them feel sick. They needed someone to understand and listen to them. They felt they could talk to me more easily than the doctor sometimes. I had the time to make them feel comfortable. I had a patient cry when I left that job, she said,
“I want to hear the results from you.” As a medical assistant it’s easy to build relationships with the patients.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
I’m often the one to deal with upset patients. I have to remain calm and hear them out. Let them decompress. Help problem-solve. If they had trouble parking, I’ll give them parking vouchers. If they’re complaining that they had to wait a long time to see the doctor, I’ll make sure they get the first appointment of the day next time.
Also, sometimes doctors and nurses can be set in their ways. If they don’t want to listen to feedback and change how an office operates, it can be challenging.
Any misconceptions about the career?
Patients often think medical assistants are nurses. I have to make it clear to patients that I’m not a nurse. We have different licensing. A medical provider such as a doctor or nurse must order everything I do. When I call a patient with test results I’ll say, “I’m calling with your results. The doctor says…”
What is your advice for people interested in the field?
If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, talk to a medical assistant and ask a lot of questions. Shadow someone for the day. Make sure you go to an accredited school and be careful that you have transferable credits. It’s important to become a certified medical assistant. Some medical assistant schools train their students to take the exam while in school.
When you get out of school, it’s best to get your feet wet in a family practice or internal medicine practice. You’ll lose your skills if you don’t get hands-on experience. It’s important to be well rounded. As a medical assistant you learn everyday. You learn from your patients as well as your co-workers.
The first time one of my patients died, I was crushed. You have to be prepared to deal with losses. But in an outpatient practice your experience with patients isn’t as concentrated as it is in a hospital. You see your patients once a week, once a month or twice a year.
What type of personality is a good fit for the job?
You must be a good listener. You need be a caring, empathetic person. Non-judgmental. It helps to be outgoing since you’re working with people all day long. But you have to gauge the patient’s personality and match their mood. Sometimes if I get the sense that they’re talkative and outgoing, then I ‘m chattier. If someone is really sick, then I’m quiet and calm, and I just take care of them.
Being highly organized is really important. You have to be a good multi-tasker, that’s crucial to the job. Also you have to be professional. Sometimes medical assistants are too casual. Seniors don’t appreciate it. You have to be respectful.
Any closing thoughts?
It’s definitely a rewarding job. There is room for growth. If you decide to move up, you can go to school to become a nurse or a physician assistant. You’ll have an advantage over people who are going straight into nursing from high school. Or you can move into a management or supervisory role.