If you’re thinking about becoming a medical assistant, you might be wondering if you are well suited for this profession. Here’s a look at the types of skills and abilities required to work successfully as a medical assistant, as well as some tips about what kinds of personalities are most suited to this type of work.
Medical Assistant Skills You Need
While you will learn the more specific skills required of a medical assistant when you undergo training, there are some general medical skills that will help you both with training and seeing patients. Some of these overlap with mental and physical skills.
First, you should be able to memorize fairly well, since you will have to know things like:
- names of human anatomy elements (bones, muscles, major blood vessels, etc.)
- cardiac arrhythmias and components of a heart beat
- common medical terms
- common drug names (for taking patient histories)
- medical chart abbreviations
- the order of blood tests drawn (so the tubes are filled in the correct order)
- CPR steps
While there are laminated cards available to help you remember much of this information, you can’t look at them in every scenario—the most frequent things you encounter should be put to memory.
Second, it helps to be able to view a patient holistically, even if you’re only seeing him or her for a specific reason, like an orthopedic visit or a pulmonary function test.
What does holistically mean? It means seeing the whole patient, not just the body parts related to your practice or the patient’s chief complaint. It also means not just seeing the physical side of the patient but addressing the mind and spirit too.
Being able to see various illnesses and medical issues in a larger context can sometimes help explain puzzling problems or prevent catastrophic ones. For example, if a patient comes to you because of a broken arm due to a fall, you may discover that the fall happened because the patient has been having repeated dizzy spells. When you mention this to the physician, the physician may order a stress test or a carotid ultrasound.
Or, perhaps the patient’s medications need adjusting, so they don’t cause lightheadedness. You might notice a medication with syncope (dizziness) as a side effect and call that to the physician’s attention.
Finally, it’s also advantageous to be able to have just the right touch with patients (this borders on physical dexterity). You don’t want to be manhandling your patients, which will feel rough and uncaring to them, but you don’t want to be tickling them either.
When giving an intramuscular vaccination or taping a wound, you need to sense just the right pressure to use. If you’ve ever had a salon shampoo from someone who was a little too zealous or a pedicure from someone who made you laugh like a baby having its feet rubbed, you know what this means. If an elderly person always reaches for your arm or you can get an anxious toddler to sit down and be calm, you probably have this skill.
Physical Abilities You Need
Being a medical assistant can require varying degrees of physical fitness and dexterity. In many medical assistant jobs, you will have to be on your feet throughout most of the day, and you will be walking a lot too—between exam rooms and back and forth to the lab or reception area (for example, if you work in a clinic).
If you wind up working in a hospital, you will likely cover even more ground if you have to travel between different departments or accompany patients to and from areas.
An administrative medical assistant position, however, is more sedentary, and you will probably spend most of your time within an office or reception area. In small practices, you may function as both a clinical and administrative medical assistant, in which case you will divide your time between patient areas and the staff portion of the clinic. Unless you will be confined to a small space virtually all of the time, you should have the ability to walk quickly and stand on your feet for hours at a time.
Depending on what type of practice you join, you may also have to occasionally help lift patients, such as from a wheelchair to an exam table or between hospital beds. You might also be supporting patients during therapy or helping them dress and undress. This requires exertion beyond walking and standing.
In addition to needing reasonable strength for most jobs, you will also need manual dexterity. Drawing blood, applying EKG electrodes, or giving injections requires steady hands and good finger mobility. You should be able to work within a very small area in these instances, so the patient does not experience pain and the best possible results are achieved.
Mental Skills You Need
As mentioned above, there is a reasonable amount of memorization involved in working as a medical assistant, so you should be able to remember things easily or know how to use tricks like mnemonics to help you. You should be able to recall information easily, even when multitasking, a common demand on medical assistants.
You should also be able to think on your feet as a medical assistant. Patients can go from standing to fainting in an instant, and you’re sure to encounter screaming babies and grouchy geriatric patients who prod you to think quickly about how to administer care in spite of their mood.
Maybe you need to give a toddler some stickers of their own while you put EEG electrodes on them, or perhaps you will need to participate in a “code blue” cardiac arrest, where a dozen people are shouting and equipment is flying. Do you like timed puzzles, trivia, or games like chess? This could make you a good candidate for medical assisting training.
Personality You Should Have
In general, it’s good to be a thorough, organized person when working as a medical assistant. You will keep track of vital information, and a mistake could make someone ill or even cost a patient’s life. You will have medical information to chart, papers to file, and perhaps appointments to schedule, so staying on top of the day will make you a valuable asset to any practice.
You also want to be warm and caring, the kind of person friends turn to when they’ve had a bad day. You will encounter people at their physical and emotional worst, and they will look to you for comfort and encouragement. Do you naturally smile a lot and try to find the best in every situation? These are great characteristics for a medical assistant.
Even if you’re not very outspoken or even a little shy, you still need to be confident to work as a medical assistant. Your patients can’t doubt that you are giving them the proper care, and the health care providers you work for will also want to see that you are sure of what you’re doing.
Imagine you’re the patient in a code blue situation. Would you want someone leaning over you with defibrillator electrodes, saying “Well I think we should shock the patient?” No, you want someone who is calm and confident, someone who can work through the resuscitation algorithms in the face of chaos.
Speaking of calmness, medical assistants should be good under pressure too. While you will probably have many days of pleasant normalcy as a medical assistant, you will also have times when nothing goes according to plan. You may have to squeeze in extra patients during flu season or deal with a mass casualty situation in the ER. Doctors can be temperamental as well as patients. This is when you call on your training and your inner unflappability, so you can do your job as if nothing was wrong.
Dedication to Profession
Above and beyond your medical skills, mental makeup, and personality, you need to be dedicated to providing the best care possible as a medical assistant. There will be days that try your patience, days where you are beyond fatigued at the end, and days where you witness sadness or despair. You will have to be completely committed to your job as a medical assistant to stick with it in these times and show up at work the next day with a smile on your face.
Dedication to the medical assisting profession will also help you improve your training, both to provide better care for your patients and to be eligible for promotions or more income. It can be hard to juggle your on-the-job duties with additional classes, like Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), but being devoted to your career will give you the extra energy you need to pull it off.
You may also be asked to take on a double shift or cover for someone who is out sick, and your unwavering resolution to your vocation is the key to making it through with aplomb.
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