There is no doubt that medical assistants perform a wide range of tasks that are essential to the smooth and successful operation of a medical clinic. This blog post provides some of the job skills that medical assistants must have to succeed in their careers.
If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, consider enrolling in Florida Career College’s Medical Assistant Program. The program can be completed, and you can earn your diploma in as little as 10 months.
By definition, medical assistants work alongside physicians within multiple types of healthcare settings – private practices, outpatient clinics, hospitals, and other medical facilities – for the benefit and optimization of patient services and care. In doing so, medical assistants are cross-trained to perform both administrative and clinical tasks.
Administratively, a typical medical assistant’s day may include front-office tasks like answering phones, scheduling patient appointments, updating medical records, filing, arranging labs and referrals, and general clerical work. Clinically, medical assistants may also escort patients to exam rooms, take vitals, assist doctors during examinations, perform on-site lab tests, and educate patients about treatments, medications, and course of care.
As you can see, medical assistants are required to juggle a lot of different tasks while serving a variety of roles as they support nearly every member of a clinic’s staff (i.e., physicians, nurses, office managers, billing professionals, lab staff, and patients).
To successfully fulfill such a broad range of duties, of course, requires a wide set of job skills. This blog post outlines many of the important job skills that an individual needs to learn, develop, practice, and perfect to become successful in a medical assisting career.
Essential Career Skills That Medical Assistants Should Have
Becoming an effective medical assistant requires that you possess a substantial toolbox of skills and abilities that you utilize on a daily basis. Such skills allow medical assistants to take on roles that can be broken down into two categories: administrative roles and clinical roles.
Below, we describe some of the top skills required from each category, along with a description as to how they relate to the medical field.
Anyone who’s visited a doctor knows how busy a medical office can be. Helping schedule tasks and coordinate patient visits, physician availability, billing needs/claims follow-ups, and so on is one way medical assistants contribute to helping a medical office run more smoothly.
2. Appointment setting
Part of this scheduling and coordination includes setting patient appointments. This includes those who call in for appointments as well as those whose course of care requires follow-up appointments. Physicians often rely on medical assistants to ensure appointment times are filled and properly paced.
3. Electronic medical records
Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are official patient records that have been recorded and organized using a highly secure digital system. These systems provide quicker and more seamless access to patient information, health history, physician notes, test results, and so on. Medical assistants must learn to use these EMR systems and correctly and accurately record information within these electronic medical records.
4. Medical coding
Specialized coding is used to communicate patient conditions, treatments, tests, and so on to insurance companies through claim submissions. Having some knowledge of medical coding not only helps medical assistants with claim submissions and follow-up, but it also helps them read, record, and interpret medical records when needed.
5. Computer literacy
We live in a digital world, and this includes the fields of medicine and healthcare. Patient records are largely digitized, as are processes for scheduling tests, communicating with specialists, filing insurance claims, marketing specialized services, and pretty much all other aspects of operating a clinic. Therefore, it behooves all medical assistants to be comfortable working via computers, tablets, and so on.
6. Telephone skills
Even in the digital age, the good ol’ telephone is still one of the most-used communication tools in healthcare. Therefore, being comfortable and skilled at vocally communicating via telephone remains a skill all medical assistants must have.
From scheduling, checking patients in, and preparing them for their appointments, to implementing tests and recording vitals, the best medical assistants can juggle many tasks in a relatively short period of time. However, to do this successfully requires the ability to multitask or deal with more than one task (physically and/or mentally) at a given time. This often improves through mastering skills and gaining experience.
Along with multitasking, the best medical assistants are able to organize their time as well as the various tasks they perform throughout the day. What does this mean? Well, it’s simply a way of doing and thinking about things systematically, creating the ability to arrange things based on priority, function, and need. While everyone approaches organization differently, it’s a quality that can continually be improved on both an individual and team level.
1. Vital signs measurement
Often, medical assistants are tasked with taking and recording vital signs to prepare patients to see their physicians. This includes recording such measurements as body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiration rate, blood oxygen levels, and so on.
Many clinics require their medical assistants to be trained in giving injections, or “shots,” to patients. This includes injecting scheduled, physician-prescribed drugs, vaccinations, etc.
3. Helping physicians with examinations
There are many things medical assistants do that assist doctors with patient examinations, from preparing the exam room to preparing the patient (physically, mentally, and emotionally) for the exam itself. During an actual examination, medical assistants may help physicians by handing them instruments and supplies, helping with proper patient positioning, recording notes, collecting specimens, administering simple tests, giving injections, and providing follow-up information/education.
4. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
As a healthcare professional, it’s important medical assistants are prepared to respond should a medical emergency occur, such as when a person’s heart stops beating. Therefore, learning how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR, is a skill all medical assistants should know.
5. Electrocardiogram (EKG)
An EKG is a test that monitors and records the electrical signals in a person’s heart. They’re performed in clinics and hospitals, sometimes by medical assistants, to detect issues such as abnormal heart rhythms, the existence of blocked or narrowed arteries in the heart, the previous occurrence of a heart attack, or whether pacemakers are working properly.
Often referred to simply as “drawing blood,” phlebotomy is the process of using a needle to puncture a vein in order to remove a sample of a person’s blood. Medical assistants learn the basics of phlebotomy, so they are able to take patient blood samples for testing and lab work.
7. Patient preparation
When you go to the doctor’s office, the physician isn’t typically the person who welcomes you and takes you back to the exam room. This is often performed by a medical assistant, who is also tasked with preparing you for the exam by recording medical histories, checking vitals, asking the patient to disrobe (if necessary), and alerting the physician when the patient is ready.
8. Basic Life Support
To become a medical assistant or to qualify for many medical assistant careers, candidates must take training in Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers, a course developed by the American Heart Association (AHA). The course teaches CPR and, according to the AHA website, “trains medical assistants to promptly recognize several life-threatening emergencies, give high-quality chest compressions, deliver appropriate ventilations, and provide early use of the AED (automated external defibrillator).”
9. Medical terminology
Communication is critical when working on a medical team. To be an effective communicator requires that medical assistants can “talk the talk” when working alongside physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and others. Understanding and using common medical terminology is part of ensuring a high level of communication and understanding within the team. Medical assistants will typically learn lots of medical terms during school and hands-on training, then expand their medical vocabulary through additional training and work experience.
1. Good Communication
Again, whether it’s through the use of medical terminology, through proper digital record-keeping, or simply speaking with a patient over the phone, excellent communication is a critical part of healthcare success and safety.
2. Problem-Solving Skills
Medical assistants will likely face something new every day throughout all their daily tasks. Therefore, they must be able to think fast on their feet, properly assess new situations, and act intelligently and confidently in accordance with their training. Medical assistants must also know when to ask for help.
Empathy is the ability to see situations through the patients’ points of view, a critical skill that can make you a better, more effective medical assistant. Not only does having empathy help improve communications with patients, but it can help medical assistants (and others) build a level of trust that may help calm patients and help them open up about their experiences.
4. Team Work
Front-office staff, administrators, billers, nurses, doctors, medical assistants, and others … all work together in the service of patients and their health and medical needs. Being part of this team requires that you fully understand your role and how the skills, abilities, and services you offer can benefit and strengthen the team dynamic. Being able to work within your role while supporting your “teammates” is essential in becoming an effective medical assistant.
5. Office Skills
Medical assisting is both a clinical career as well as an office job. So, while the medical skills you learn through education and training will no doubt become invaluable as you evolve within your career, developing office skills will be just as essential. This may include answering phones, scheduling appointments, filing, opening/sorting mail, checking in patients, updating charts, etc.
6. Knowledge of basic medical procedures
Knowing about basic medical procedures, both performed within and outside your clinic, helps medical assistants better communicate with both the medical team and the patient (i.e., when taking/recording medical histories or when scheduling patient referrals). Having a basic understanding of procedures also helps in preparing patients for their exams and in assisting physicians with said treatments/procedures.
7. Is Being a Medical Assistant Hard?
Like any new career, working as a medical assistant can be difficult at first, especially when you’re just out of school and inexperienced in the field. The difficulty of the job, in other words, is often in direct relation to the amount of career training and experience you have under your belt. If you have not been well-trained and have little to no on-the-job experience, your medical assisting career will likely be more difficult than if you’ve developed confidence and real-world experience in a respected program at an accredited school like Florida Career College.
That said, and while you may find a comfortable groove within the position over time, being a medical assistant will always have difficult moments. Every day offers the potential for new challenges, and it will not always be easy to meet these challenges without feeling overmatched. It’s during these moments when trusting your skills, your experience, and your team are critical. With solid coordination and teamwork throughout the clinic, many challenges may become learning experiences that make your career both educational and rewarding.
How to Obtain These Skills If You Don’t Already Have Them?
Depending on which state you live in (state regulations and requirements vary), there are two main ways of becoming a medical assistant:
- On-the-Job Training with a Physician: Most states do not require medical assistants to attend a school or graduate from a specific program, so long as a physician is willing to take them under their wings and train them on the job.
- Complete a Medical Assistant Training Program: As time and bandwidth are a valuable commodity in the healthcare world, on-the-job training can be rare. Most join the medical assisting field by enrolling in and graduating from a medical assistant training program at an accredited school, college or university.
Reputable medical assistant programs, like the Medical Assistant Technician program at Florida Career College (FCC), typically include a mix of classroom education, hands-on lab training, and on-the-job experience development through externships. Florida Career College students graduate from the program career-ready with the knowledge and skills they need to earn an entry-level medical assistant position.
For more information about Florida Career College and our Medical Assistant Diploma Program, simply contact our admissions team, and an assigned representative will help determine your personal application needs. Everyone’s background is different, and it is our goal to help ensure qualified students are granted the opportunity to strive to their personal career goals.