Interview with a Real Life Medical Assistant: Kate O’hare

What are your name and job title?

My name is Kate O’hare, and I am a medical assistant with Scripps Health, cancer care wing.

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Can you describe more about your position?

A medical assistant is, I like to refer to, a jack of all trades for the medical field. It’s someone that has a broad scope and can do multiple things. You get one education but have multiple avenues to choose from when you graduate. It will depend on the facility what your responsibilities are, but one thing is certain that you’ll be performing a lot of different duties throughout the day, be it medical or administrative.

What are some of your responsibilities as a medical assistant?

Here at Scripps Health, I room patients for the doctors. I work in the infusion setting for the cancer center. We are another touchpoint for the patients. As they come in, they meet with the nurse, they meet with the doctor, and we get to see them briefly and get them ready for those folks.

What steps do you take to prepare the patients to see the doctor?

When we get a patient ready, typically, they’re checked in through the electronic medical record. We call them back, get their vitals, blood pressure, height, weight, go over their medications, make sure they’re taking everything correctly, and add anything, change anything that needs to be removed. We will see what their complaints are for that day. Maybe not necessarily what they’re being seen for overall, but what are they feeling like today, and what are some symptoms that they might have that we need to address.

How long have you worked at Scripps Health?

I’ve been here for 9 years. I got a job here right after graduating when I was 20 years old. It was my first job, and I’ve been here ever since. I was really grateful that they took a chance on me because I had no experience, and they took me in one of their own.

What is your work schedule as a medical assistant?

Earlier, it used to be from 8 o’clock to 4:30 in the evening when we used to have 8-hour shifts and no short days. But, now we recently changed it to 9-hour shifts, so we’re able to have that half-day. My current schedule now is from 7 o’clock to 4:30. My short days are on Mondays when I go in at 7:00 till 11:30, and then I’m off to enjoy the rest of my day and do what I got to do.

What inspired you to become a medical assistant and work in healthcare?

For me, personally, my family had a lot of medical issues, so I grew up going to doctor’s offices. I saw those people helping and taking such good care of my family, which inspired me to choose the healthcare industry. I wasn’t sure what I precisely wanted to be, but as I grew up and did my research, I found out that medical assisting is the right profession for me.

What resources did you use to research your career?

After I graduated high school, I looked at whether I should become a CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) or a medical assistant. I reached out to job services seeking guidance on what I should do with my life after high school. They gave me some counsel regarding this topic when I was about 19 years old. They were able to explain how the program works at a local college, called Apollo College at the time, and they have an accelerated program that’s a 10-month program. So the idea that I could be working in less than a year with the education I received really motivated me to move forward with it.

How long was the medical assistant program?

My program was 36 weeks, not including the 4 weeks of externship. The only reason why I did 4 weeks of externship was that I did it full time. You have to do 160 hours of externship, that is 40 hours a week for 4 weeks. To finish it part-time, it would’ve taken longer, which is why I chose to opt for a full-time externship.

Can you describe the training for being a medical assistant?

With medical assisting, the training that you get is focused. As I said, it’s an accelerated program, typically, and they train you for phlebotomy, EKGs, front office, back office, etc. Front office means clerical work, where you might be checking patients in, scheduling them for appointments, and doing some chart prep for them that are being seen the next day. Back office means clinical work, where you’re rooming the patients, taking their blood pressure, and preparing them for the doctor to examine. Collecting all the essential vitals the doctor might need in advance for examination and coordinating with the doctor to ease the whole process are also included in the duties.

Was the medical assistant program considerably challenging to complete?

No, it wasn’t hard in the sense that you are failing or stuff like that. It was more like retaining all the information because, since it’s such a fast-paced program, you do have to cover a lot of chapters. For me, I would only go to school Monday through Thursday, from 5 pm to 9 pm, because I was still working part-time at my job for me to go to school. So, we had to cover, I believe, 3 to 4 chapters a week, and we would get tested every Thursday. That’s the only thing you have to learn how to manage your study, homework, assignments, and be able to take your test and pass. It’s not hard; just learn how to manage your time.

What personality traits or characteristics would lend well to becoming the right candidate for this position?

An essential characteristic of somebody choosing medical assisting is that you need to be a people person. You’re dealing with a variety of patients. Here, we serve an elderly demographic, and just knowing how to deal with that and communicating with them is quite vital. Obviously, many of our patients are hard of hearing, so one needs to know how to be respectful of those kinds of situations. I also think you do have to have some computer skills. Not necessarily be great with technology, but do have to have some basic computer skills.

What are the pros and cons of becoming a medical assistant?

The biggest pro is that there is job security. Medical assistants are high in demand and are required everywhere, in every kind of healthcare facility. So, if you are good at what you do, you will never be out of a job because healthcare is something that never stops, especially in a pandemic. Another pro is that the program length is about a year if you go for the certificate course, which I recommend. It’s short, costs less, and you start earning in a year, it’s ideal. I also like that I work weekdays and have weekends off, which is excellent.

Conclusion

Talking about some cons, many may argue that medical assistants don’t make as much as they work, but that’ll also depend on the state, work experience, etc. It’s almost half of what a nurse makes (so that you can have an idea). I think it’s a great stepping stone, but down the line, after 5 years, you might need to expand your horizons. Sometimes it may feel like it’s not that rewarding. Working on the floor gives you more satisfaction and makes you feel wanted on the job, compared to working in administration along with clinical duties. Also, you have to deal with all kinds of patients, and it might get tricky sometimes. Working with people means you’ll come across individuals who aren’t as accommodating as others, and that becomes okay with time but is quite frustrating in the beginning when you start working as a medical assistant.

At the end of the day, it is a fulfilling job that can take you in many directions in the future. You just need to persevere and smile along!

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Written by : Casey Gardner

Casey Gardner is both a healthcare support professional and an accomplished content creator.  She has been working as a certified health care professional with marketable skills as a physician assistant,  and a qualified medical assistant for last two decades. She has dedicated her nursing career to produce over hundreds of content pieces since 2001, and her work has been published both online as well as offline.

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