Skills to Succeed as a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants can be all over a medical office. One minute they’re greeting patients and scheduling appointments at the front desk, another they’re in an exam room taking vital signs. In some states, they may be administering injections or medications as directed by physicians.1
Between the medical knowledge a medical assistant needs to help physicians and the social skills they need to deal with a job that is constantly interacting with others, there are many factors that can help a prospective medical assistant succeed. Technical skills can be learned through Clinical Medical Assisting programs and soft skills can be fostered with practice and patience.
If you’re wondering if you have what it takes to become a medical assistant, here are some skills for medical assistants that can help you succeed.
Medical Assistant Job Duties
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants typically handle these tasks:
- Record patient history and personal information
- Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure
- Help physicians with patient examinations
- Give patients injections or medications as directed by physicians and as permitted by state law
- Schedule patient appointments
- Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests
- Enter patient information into written and electronic medical records
In larger practices, medical assistants may specialize as either administrative medical assistants, or clinical medical assistants.
Administrative medical assistants may complete more front-office work. The BLS states that administrative office assistants answer phones, schedule appointments, and complete medical billing or coding.
Clinical medical assistants have different duties that may vary based on the state in which they work. These job duties may include running basic laboratory tests, sterilizing medical instruments, instructing patients about medications or special diets, preparing patients for x-rays, removing stitches, drawing blood or changing dressings.
With these daily job functions, formal instruction may be required to learn how to take vital signs or complete dosage computations, venipuncture, injections, hematology, administration of medication, specimen collection and emergency procedure.
Factors to Consider Before Becoming a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants work in a public-facing capacity. In an O*NET Online survey, 100% of respondents reported constant contact with others. Other notable survey responses include:
- Deal With External Customers — 46% responded “Extremely important.”
- Deal With Unpleasant or Angry People — 35% responded “Every day.”
- Responsible for Others’ Health and Safety — 57% responded “Moderate responsibility.”
- Spend Time Making Repetitive Motions — 45% responded “More than half the time.”
- Frequency of Decision Making — 62% responded “Every day.”
- Consequence of Error — 26% responded “Very serious.”
These responses suggest that some important qualities for medical assistants include communication skills, decision making skills, patience with and acceptance of routine, and conflict resolution.
Medical Assistant Skills
O*NET Online also compiles a list of skills that are important for medical assistants. These skills range from the physical, like coordination, to learned skills like writing and reading comprehension, to soft skills like social perceptiveness or critical thinking.
Active Listening Skills
Medical assistants need to be able to give their full attention to what other people are saying. When taking patient history or even scheduling an appointment, a medical assistant will likely need to take the time to understand the points being made, ask questions where appropriate and not interrupt or jump to conclusions.
As a medical professional, medical assistants should be interested in actively looking for ways to help people. People seek medical care for both preventive and critical conditions, but all patients are seeking help in one way or another.
Judgment and Decision Making
As mentioned above, 62% of surveyed medical assistants reported making decisions every day. Strong decision making skills mean you can consider the relative cost and benefit of an action and choose the most appropriate one. Since medical assistants work in both clinical and administrative capacities, this could mean making choices that affect the business-side of a physician’s office, or something that could involve patient care.
Managing one’s own time and the time of others is an important skill for medical assistants. In the O*NET survey, 42% responded that they face time pressure “once a week or more but not every day.” Without time management skills, medical assistants may not be able to complete all their critical tasks.
Learn More About Medical Assisting
Whether you have these skills in spades or are looking to learn more, San Joaquin Valley College offers both Clinical Medical Assisting and Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting programs to help prepare graduates to work in medical offices and clinics.
SJVC’s programs help students learn the skills required to be a valuable member of the healthcare team. Students will receive advanced training in medical office procedures as well as front- and back-office skills. To learn more about our medical assistant training programs, request more information or read our career guide on How to Become a Medical Assistant in California.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.