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Skills for a Successful Medical Assistant

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medical assistant taking notes while doctor sees patient
Home » Blog » Medical Assisting Skills
emily polner

Written and reported by:
Mimi Polner
Contributing Writer

Medical assistants play a vital role in healthcare settings, with many handling both clinical and administrative tasks. As with any role, honing a certain set of skills can help you meet—and even exceed—expectations.

In this Article

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Medical assistants have many responsibilities and duties. As their title implies, they help physicians perform medical procedures. But there’s a lot more to the job. Medical assistants also:

  • Greet patients and help them check in
  • Take patients to their exam room to check their vitals and review their health histories
  • Perform blood work
  • Administer medications and vaccinations 
  • Schedule follow-up appointments
  • Sanitize and restock exam rooms once an appointment is over 
  • Call in prescription refills 
  • Update patient charts
  • Call patients to remind them of upcoming appointments 

No matter where medical assistants work, they likely will use the following core skills. All of them are transferable, so if you decide to pursue other careers in healthcare in the future, you’ll already have a solid foundation.

1. Communication

As a medical assistant, you’ll be the point of contact among many parties, including doctors, patients, patients’ families, insurance companies, and other medical staff. You’ll need to communicate clearly with doctors during and after patient treatments to provide the best possible care.

You’ll also need to make patients feel welcome and at ease, from the moment they call your office to schedule a visit until the moment you perform a medical procedure. Being as clear as possible in communications can help ensure everyone has an optimal experience. 

2. Organization

As a medical assistant, you’ll likely have many roles. At any given time, you could be juggling caring for patients, answering phones, and handling bookkeeping. Staying organized is crucial to doing your work well.

“Being organized as a medical assistant is a top priority,” says Terri Sayers, CMAA, CCMA, and medical office manager at Woofter Family Medicine in Clarksburg, West Virginia. “You must maintain organization not only for yourself but for the doctor you work with as well. Some ways to stay organized are printing out the schedules the day before to know what you need to do. Make sure inventory is always stocked in your rooms and that you’re not running out of anything.”

3. Time Management

Effectively managing your time is important not only for your workflow but also for your entire team. For example, getting behind on patient visits could throw off appointments later in the day. As a medical assistant, you’ll be responsible for completing many tasks, from patient scheduling to providing basic care and updating records. That means you’ll need to leave the right amount of time for each.

“The best tip for time management is to use a calendar,” says Patty Licurs, president of the American Association of Medical Assistants. “Sometimes, medical assistants won’t have time to go by a strict schedule due to rising emergencies or it being a busy day. I recommend to medical assistants to make time during the week to catch up on the tasks that cannot be completed during those days.” 

4. Attention to Detail

Being detail-oriented means paying attention to all of the particulars and finer points of a task. This skill is essential for dealing with patient records. As a medical assistant, you’ll be adding patient data to electronic health records (EHRs) and talking to others about this information. All of this data must be accurate so patients receive the best possible care.

Similarly, you may need to enter medical billing codes so that insurance companies are properly billed. Each code must be typed accurately to avoid any missed payments or confusion.

5. Knowledge of Basic Medical Procedures

It’s crucial that you know how to safely and correctly perform medical procedures to deliver quality care.

Medical assistants typically:

  • Collect lab specimens
  • Administer medication
  • Take vital signs
  • Draw blood
  • Give vaccinations
  • Change wound dressings
  • Assist physicians with exams

6. Administrative Skills

Depending on where you work, administrative skills—like answering phones and email, scheduling appointments, and bookkeeping—could be a big part of your role as a medical assistant.

You should be comfortable talking with patients, doctors, and other healthcare providers over the phone, email, and even text messages and be able to record the outcome of each conversation in an organized fashion.

You also may need to keep records of patient appointments, follow-up visits, referrals, and treatment plans. Additionally, you may need to handle office correspondence, such as bills and packages. 

“Of all allied health professionals, medical assistants are the most versatile because of their ability to perform clinical and administrative duties,” says Licurs. An increasing number of medical assistants are working under the authority of an LPN (licensed nurse practitioner) and physician assistants. These licensed providers appreciate the versatility and abilities of medical assistants.”

7. Computer Medical Technology Skills 

Technology is inherently intertwined with a medical assistant’s administrative and clinical duties, so it’s important to be familiar with the different types of healthcare software.

On the clinical side, you may be expected to use technology to run lab tests.

On the administrative side, medical assistants may be expected to:

  • Set patient appointments with scheduling software
  • Use video platforms for virtual appointments
  • Manage patient records with spreadsheets and word processors
  • Use medical billing and coding software to submit insurance claims

Since computer software is always advancing, being flexible and willing to learn and adapt to new systems is also a key part of this role.

The Education You’ll Need to Go with These Skills

If you have these skills or are willing to develop them for this type of role, you’ll need to enroll in an accredited education program for medical assistants. Certificate, associate degree, and bachelor’s degree programs are available, and they can be completed in person, online, or in a mix of both formats.

Although earning a certification—which is different from a certificate—isn’t required to land a medical assistant role, many employers prefer job candidates with a credential. That’s because certification demonstrates knowledge and expertise in a field.

“Credentialed medical assistants on staff ensure the best quality patient-centered healthcare,” says Licurs.

The median salary for medical assistants in the U.S. is $38,270, with the top 10% earning over $51,710 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you want to work in healthcare and land a job relatively quickly, medical assisting may be right for you.

“The field seems to be trending in a good direction,” says Sayers. “Medical assistants are in very high demand in doctors’ offices.”

patty licurs

With professional insight from:
Patty Licurs, CMA (AAMA), CPC
President of the American Association of Medical Assistants

terri sayers

Terri Sayers, CMAA, CCMA
Medical Office Manager at Woofter Family Medicine