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What Skills Should a Medical Assistant Have?

Medical assistants aren’t born, they’re made. From technical expertise to social savvy, their skillset is developed through experience, hard work and comprehensive training. The type of training you’ll get at a vocational school. Programs cultivate practical and soft skills through a blend of classroom learning, peer interaction, and real-world externships.

These are among the most valuable skills for medical assistants:

Multitasking Skills

Medical assistants have a long list of clinical and clerical responsibilities that require multi-tasking without losing focus. Pivoting from task to task is part of the job.

A busy flu season, for example, means you’ll take more phone calls from the sick and worried. However, you still can’t forget about the blood samples to ship, the instruments to sterilize and the call-backs to make.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is the ability to assess data and come to rational conclusions. When your to-do list is longer than your shift, it helps you set priorities. Most tasks in medicine are time-sensitive and urgent to the people involved. So, medical assistants use their clinical expertise and critical thinking skills to ensure the most important are done first.

Attending to a patient with chest pain, for example, takes priority over filing, even if you’re behind. Critical thinking skills will help you organize your day and deliver quality care.

Collaborative

Healthcare is collaborative, no individual can meet a patient’s needs on their own. However, how medical assistants approach their responsibilities has an impact on the entire team. A sense of camaraderie and the willingness to support others builds trust and improves productivity.

Helping the billing department clear a backlog of invoices, for example, takes time, but it’s an investment in the practice as a whole. When the team succeeds, so do you.

Computer Skills

Computers and electronic devices are a part of everything medical assistants do from updating health records to taking EKGs. It’s important to embrace the technology.

Being familiar with hardware, software, and office equipment puts you one step ahead when advancements are introduced. Knowing how to set up a webcam and telehealth platform, for example, were invaluable skills during the pandemic. Tech-savvy medical assistants help practices respond better to patient needs by keeping their skills sharp.

Open-mindedness

The healthcare field is person-centered, meaning workers must set aside their feelings and worldviews in favor of what patients want. It’s not always easy.

In healthcare, the patient is in the driver’s seat, so medical assistants should be open-minded and ready to serve.

Time Management Skills

Downtime is rare for medical assistants because the appointment schedule is structured. Still, there’s a lot to do between visits.

In the moments between arrivals, medical assistants sanitize exam rooms and pull records for the next exam. Making the most of every moment prevents busy days from becoming stressful or overwhelming.

Customer Service Skills

Clients are more than patients, they’re also customers. How they’re welcomed is as important as how they’re treated. Surveys consistently show that poor service, not bad care, is why patients abandon practices. As team representatives, medical assistants promote confidence in their practice by bringing out the welcome wagon.

What do customers expect? Atop their want list is a short wait, a comfortable environment and timely communication. Medical assistants can’t always control wait time, but they can make clients feel valued by keeping them engaged and informed of delays.

Communication Skills

Medical assistants handle communication between patients, doctors, and insurers. A significant responsibility, there are both practical and personal dimensions to consider.

Proper spelling, good grammar and a solid grasp of medical terminology ensure clear and accurate messages. Improperly coding dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, instead of dysphasia, a language disorder, on an insurance form may delay referrals and reimbursement.

But there’s also an emotional aspect to communication, the sensitivity and compassion with which we approach others. Medical assistants interact with clients, colleagues, vendors, and managers, so how they express themselves must be flexible. An older client or a supervisor, for example, may be offended by familiarity, such as calling them by their first name without permission, while an adolescent will bristle if you don’t.

The best communication is a blend of therapeutic techniques, common sense, and emotional intelligence. The first you’ll learn in vocational school, the latter you’ll develop with practice.

Problem-Solving Skills

Medical assistants are leaders. Proactive, they troubleshoot issues before they become problems. When managing the schedule, for example, they call patients in advance to notify them if the doctor is behind. Expressing your apologies while giving them an option to reschedule eliminates waiting room drama and relieves stress on providers.

Similarly, if stock is running low on wound care supplies because items were back-ordered, medical assistants don’t let patients go without. Instead, they work with doctors and vendors to find appropriate substitutions.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to share the feelings of others by adopting their frame of reference. Easier said than done, it’s as much a skill as a quality.

One popular experiment that helps students develop empathy for the visually impaired is to make them perform tasks with oil-covered glasses on. By simulating the effects of cataracts, people with perfect vision can experience what the blind are going through.

As a medical assistant, experiences like this help you identify ways to help patients, such as enlarging the print on instructions or repeating directions verbally so that they don’t have to depend on their visual acuity. The longer you work, the more empathetic you’ll become.

Compassion

Compassion is the concern for others’ misery. Described as practical empathy, it’s the drive to relieve suffering in all of its forms. Can you learn to be compassionate? You can. Knowledge is the key.

What some mistake for a lack of sympathy from others is usually a knowledge deficit. As the old saying goes, it’s difficult to care about what others are going through if you don’t understand the problem.

Education helps. Once you know, for example, that cancer causes pain, it’s easier to empathize with patients because we’ve all experienced discomfort. And once you can empathize, compassion flows naturally.

Working as a medical assistant, you’ll increasingly recognize how being ill affects the lives of others, so you can take steps to alleviate the effects. Arranging for a wheelchair for a patient who can’t walk far, for example, is a simple demonstration of compassion.

How Do You Become a Medical Assistant?

Becoming a medical assistant is as easy as enrolling in a vocational school program. Just bring your enthusiasm, and they’ll do the rest. Programs are thorough but focused, so you’re out of the classroom and into the field faster. Full-time students graduate certification-ready in as little as ten months.

Final Thoughts

This is a long list of skills, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you have some but not others. Skills can be learned, and qualities developed. If you see yourself on this list but worry that you’re not medical assistant material, take the leap. A vocational school program will build on your strengths, identify your weakness, and give you a clear path forward to success.

Want to Learn More?

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice. The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in an actual medical environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Contact us today to find out more on how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.