Working in healthcare is rewarding. Being there for those in need and making a difference in their lives is something we all value, we want to contribute to wellness in our communities. But roles in medicine are physically, emotionally and spiritually challenging, so having the right aptitudes and attitudes is helpful for success. If you’re considering becoming a medical assistant, let’s review the skills you’ll need and the one special quality upon which they’re built.
What Are Important Skills to Have as a Medical Assistant and Why?
Anyone can be a medical assistant with the right training. The better question is, do you have the right skills to be happy and successful in the field? A medical assistant needs:
Skill #1: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the ability to analyze facts and come to logical conclusions. It’s how a medical assistant knows the patient having chest pain needs attention before the person with the sniffles. In a medical setting, things can evolve quickly, the ability to think critically is a skill medical assistants need to evaluate complex situations and prioritize patient needs.
Skill #2: A Strong Work Ethic
Healthcare is fast-paced. Medical assistants rarely have the emergency or on-call responsibilities of doctors and nurses, but as clinical support specialists, their job is just as vital, and when they don’t come to work, it shows.
Employers need staff who are committed to being at work on time and staying focused. Emergencies happen, but when teams work short-handed, patient care suffers, and everyone feels the strain. Reliability and a strong work ethic are among the most valued qualities in a medical assistant.
Skill #3: Active Listening
Active listening is the art of focusing on a conversation, so you understand what’s being said between the lines. It requires limiting distractions, being attentive, clarifying statements, evaluating body language and offering feedback, so you hear what patients or colleagues mean and not just what they say.
Nothing is more important in healthcare than making patients feel like they’re the center of attention. Active listening builds trust, inspires confidence and establishes the rapport necessary for a therapeutic relationship.
Skill #4: Communication
Medical assistants serve as liaisons between doctors and patients and among staff. Every part of their job requires direct or indirect communication. They’re patients’ go-to resource for clinical information, and they manage most office communication, from taking messages for the doctor to explaining test results. In addition to being good listeners, medical assistants should be confident expressing themselves verbally and in writing, including the use of electronic communication, such as email and text.
Excellent grammar and spelling skills are essential for accurate data entry. For example, the terms “dysphasia,” a language disorder, and “dysphagia,” difficulty swallowing, are pronounced the same despite different meanings. A spelling error when updating records could result in a disastrous medical mistake.
Medical assistants also bridge the communication gap between the front and back offices and the clinical team. Trained in both administrative and clinical responsibilities, they see gaps in knowledge among team members related to expertise and can fill them before they lead to misunderstandings. A front office assistant may not understand, for example, how the data they enter at check-in affects the clinical team. Medical assistants see processes from both sides and can be consensus builders. It’s a critical role.
Skill #5: Comfort with Technology
Healthcare is an advanced field and medical assistants work daily with a broad range of technology. Almost all of the documentation is computerized. From entering data into electronic health records to filing insurance claims, most of a medical assistant’s tasks are computerized so confidence with computers is a must.
Diagnostic equipment, including EKG machines and chemistry analyzers, are computer-based. Even blood pressure devices are now digital and require some degree of technological know-how to use.
Skill #6: Organization
Medical assistants juggle a mountain of clinical and administrative responsibilities, it’s challenging but manageable with good organizational skills and the ability to shift gears when priorities change. Busy days in a hospital or private practice always hold surprises but being prepared for them minimizes their impact and keeps the job from becoming overwhelming.
Skill #7: Customer Service
Patients cite customer service issues as a top concern when seeing their doctor, they pay for services and want to work with attentive professionals who will meet their expectations.
As ambassadors of first impressions, medical assistants play an important role in managing customer satisfaction by setting the stage for a positive experience. A warm greeting and welcoming smile inspire a patient’s confidence in their care. Being aloof or disengaged makes them feel like an afterthought.
Treating patients with the professionalism they deserve enhances the doctor-patient relationship. It’s essential for quality care and the practice’s bottom line.
Skill #8: Discretion
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, regulates how patients’ private medical data is shared, defining who can access information and for what purpose. Unless it’s a medical emergency, private health details can never be shared without the patient’s informed consent. Violations may result in hefty financial penalties for employers and job loss for staff. Since a medical assistant’s job requires handling sensitive personal data, discretion is crucial.
Skill #9: Team Spirit
Healthcare is a team sport. Each member has a specific role, but everyone brings something of value to the table whether it’s a skill or a unique insight. Colleagues work closely with each other in trying situations requiring mutual support, so it’s essential for medical assistants to cultivate sound interpersonal relationships with their peers.
It’s not always easy among different personalities and communication styles, but the payoff is worth the effort. Patients benefit when everyone works together, and the workplace is less stressful for everyone.
Skill #10: Empathy
Empathy is a passive emotional response to someone’s situation, imaging yourself in their place so you can better understand their behavior and needs. For example, when a coworker calls out sick for the third day in a row, knowing it’s because they’ve just lost a loved one brings perceptive and understanding to the situation. Empathy is the foundation of compassion.
What Should Be a Medical Assistant’s Strongest Skill?
A medical assistant’s strongest skill should be compassion. More than the sympathy we feel for those who struggle, compassion is the willingness to take action to meet others’ needs and ease their pain. It’s empathy in motion.
Medical assistants work with physically and emotionally vulnerable people who rely on them for support in difficult circumstances. Rationally speaking, it’s what they get paid to do, but without compassion, actions are devoid of emotional meaning, there’s no joy or satisfaction in sharing the suffering of others if you can’t relate to it. True compassion is a rare, shared response from which both the giver and receiver benefit.
Compassion is something we practice daily, for example, when we open a door for someone carrying heavy bags because we know from personal experience that it’s helpful. Or when we take up the slack at work for a colleague whose parent is sick because we recognize their need.
It’s a medical assistant’s role to serve patients and support peers, and the only way to know what they need is to see events through their eyes. A sick patient’s surly behavior could be related to physical discomfort, something that can be eased with medication. Or it could be that they’re missing a child’s wedding because they’re too sick to attend, a problem you can’t solve but can help alleviate with understanding and compassion.
Beneath every diagnosis can lie fear, anxiety and pain. Everyone has a story that illness puts on hold, and it’s a medical assistant’s job to get to know it. Compassion is the basis of everything they do.
Can Compassion Be Learned?
Some people are inherently compassionate, and it’s no surprise that they’re often drawn to the medical field. But it’s difficult to have compassion without empathy, and without knowledge of healthcare, it’s tough to be empathetic.
For example, if you’ve never had an injection and don’t know it can be painful, you’ll struggle to understand a child’s fear of needles. Knowledge is the foundation for compassion in healthcare. The more you learn in a vocational school medical assisting program, the easier it becomes to be compassionate.
How Can Medical Assistants Become More Compassionate?
Compassion is a skill that can be taught and cultivated through experience. Research shows that once someone understands others’ problems, they can better empathize and respond compassionately. As with most skills, however, practice makes perfect, so repetition is the key.
In school, you’ll learn about compassion from seasoned instructors and build on those skills working with patients during off-site clinical experiences. After graduation, each day on the job as a medical assistant brings more opportunities to learn and build relationships with patients that inspire compassionate behavior. Over time, your brain will adapt to newer, more complex ways of thinking, and the response becomes automatic.
Medical assistants benefit from having a wide range of diverse skills, so don’t be intimidated if you don’t have them all. No one does, we’re all works in progress. Vocational school training will help you optimize the abilities you have and develop new skills, experience and enthusiasm do the rest.
Ready to start a new job with a medical assistant diploma? Gwinnett Colleges & Institute offers medical assisting courses to gain essential skills and training. The core curriculum focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back office medical assisting skills. These medical assisting courses will be the first step in starting a rewarding career.
Contact us to learn more about how you can become a medical assistant today.