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Are you excited to embark on your medical assisting career finally? Your medical assistant externship is what you should be giving most value to. One may ask why, and here we outline the pertinent reasons in detail.

However, do note that getting into the world of medicine means being entrusted with other people’s lives. As such, the amount of responsibility you take is extensive. Moreover, you must be completely prepared and geared with all the required skills before you get your hands in the field. Please observe that the skill-sets, competencies, and capabilities you would need to possess and apply as a medical assistant can be quite varied, complex, technical, and situation-based. Thus, you need to not only acquire theoretical knowledge from the black and white on textbooks but also imbibe the extremely significant practical know-how of applying those skills in real-life settings.

As an MA, you could be placed across a broad spectrum of work-settings such as hospitals, private clinics, ambulatory services, emergency healthcare, senior citizen assistance homes, or medical insurance companies and offices. You can imagine the varied set of tasks you would need to discharge on a day to day basis. It is important to have practiced the most essential duties of a medical assistant as part of your initial training before landing a job.

Here is where the significance of a medical assistant externship props up. Perhaps the most valuable component of your learning phase, we shall discuss here in more detail about why and how externships are a must and most enriching.

What is a Medical Assistant Externship?

Medical assistant externships can be seen as ‘trial’ phases where students get practical medical assisting experiences before they land a real job or even graduate. It provides a snapshot of what’s to come in their future as an MA. You would be able to grasp the day to day expectations from a medical assistant at work about what kind of job duties you would need to discharge in the future and how. Therefore, it is an opportunity to perform an occupational analysis of sorts. It is also prior job surveillance where you can evaluate your strengths and aptitude too.

Externships provide you with the much needed practical insights and experience of working across distinct medical assisting environments. These valuable skills can be applied to actual job placements in the future. Externship experiences are remarkably sought out by future employers and render quite a competitive edge to you. Expect to acquire a comprehensive and complete work-knowledge through this medium.

Externships are usually incorporated in most accredited medical assisting programs across the USA. Schools have associations with key medical facilities and offices where they place you for this opportunity. Externships usually stretch across a semester (at the end of your course) and are voluntary and unpaid. Sometimes, you can also opt for a shorter externship.

Essential proficiency across important MA functions, job awareness, and expertise are the crucial draw outs from the process. Job shadowing is the most critical aspect of MA externships. Expect to work with real doctors, patients, MAs, and acquire first-hand know-how. Many times you also gain some valuable contacts, which eventually help you land jobs post-graduation. Till before your externship, you are trained in controlled settings, in a classroom or a lab, but now you can apply all that you have learned in your program so far to actual real-life medical establishments.

Medical Assistant externships can also be of distinct types. Some of these are:

Why Do You Need it? – Benefits of Doing a Medical Assistant Externship

Medical assistant externships are crucial for any aspiring MA. Why? Well, the experience in itself is incomparable. Real patients, real work settings, and natural MA functions and duties, the hands-on medical experience externships cannot be acquired through any other classroom or online learning.

At your job, you would need to showcase some critical skills since day one, and your externship develops all those essential skills and prepares you for the real world out there. There are many value-adding benefits that an externship opportunity brings to the plate. Let us study some of the such most significant benefits:

  • Learn on the Job

    Learn under the supervision of medical professionals with years of experience and expertise. You can practice in medical settings without the daunting stress of a first clinical job, as seniors provide full guidance and supervision. It is almost like learning directly from a doctor. Enrich your knowledge and hone your skills each moment by active participation and observations in this real-life healthcare environment.

  • Experience Future Workplaces

    As an MA, you have at your disposal a range of varied workplace settings to pick from. Distinct healthcare environments are in place, and you will get to experience at least one of these hands-on. You can figure out the pros and cons and whether this particular type of medical workplace suits you, which kind of healthcare setting you would be most fit at, and where you should apply.

  • Competitive Edge in the Job Market

    Externships set you apart from other candidates when you’re applying for vacancies. When you are sitting for your first medical assistant interviews, your externships may count as valuable experience in the field. Thus, prospective employers are more inclined to trust your medical assisting skills.

  • Imbibe the Ideal Professional Conduct

    You would be interacting with colleagues, medical experts, doctors, and patients regularly at your medical assisting job. For this, there is a particular way to conduct yourself across all such communications. In the medical world, especially while working in hospitals and clinics, you deal with unpredictable and complex situations. It is not possible to cope with these without apt behavioral acumen.

    Only a hands-on experience at an externship can school you across the correct professional conduct for the same. You would learn how to react, what to say and when, how to present yourselves to before patients, and more. This does massively enhance your effectiveness as a medical assistant, as the perfect behavioral conduct is of utmost cruciality in this industry.

  • Network Opportunities

    To begin with, if you’re impressive at your externship placement, the employer might extend to you a permanent position in the same establishment. Even though there is no guarantee for the same, there is one key benefit to capitalize on always, lots of relevant contacts and friends in the field that shall help you build your future in medical assisting.

    Yes, externships provide multiple opportunities to network with colleagues, supervisors, and other healthcare experts. Build connections to continuously hear about new openings and job leads, get one-to-one consulting, real industry insights, and job recommendations via the contacts you get here.

  • Job Shadowing and Mentoring

    You get the opportunity at your externship to observe an experienced medical professional at work. You get to work closely with MAs that are already well established in their careers. Shadowing is an excellent way to grow your skills that will come in handy shortly. Take every opportunity to make full use of mentoring at your disposal. Learn and grasp as much as you can. Ask questions, and seek feedback and guidance. Your supervisors, seniors, and colleagues shall help you grow your abilities in heaps and bounds.

  • Learn About Different Speciality Areas

    Sometimes, you get a chance to not only experience one but multiple healthcare environments as part of your externships. These can range between nursing homes, clinics, private physician’s centers, medical offices, emergency healthcare services, and insurance companies. You get to draw on the features of each setting and see what’s ticking for you. You also learn about the distinct specialization areas you can pursue as MAs. You may pick to specialize in optometry, podiatry, or pediatrics, for instance.

  • Get Evaluated and Valuable Feedback

    In most externships, a performance appraisal of sorts is done. You are evaluated as a potential MA. How competently are you able to discharge the required MA functions is determined. It is done half-way through or at the end of the externship. Notes are attached by your supervisors, identifying your strengths and rooms for improvement. Constructive criticism and valuable feedback help you learn how well you have imbibed the needed skills so far, and where is it that you have to focus more. The whole process enables you to become a better medical assistant overall.

  • You Get to Ask a 1000 Questions

    Yes, you can quench all your curiosity here. Keep asking questions and seek answers to all queries. Get comprehensive know-how of all the whats and whys of an MA at work. You shall be already well versed with many of the medical assistant skills through your prior training, but at your externship, you get to ask some of the less technical questions. For example, how do I make the patient feel comfortable? What to do when their families act out or are nervous? Why are the medical records stored like this, etc.

  • Gain Confidence

    You walk into your externship feeling like a student but walk out feeling like an able healthcare professional. However, dealing with your first real diseased patient can be quite nerve-wracking. When you start your actual job, you cannot act out nervous or unsure. You should be prepared and confident from day one. Self-confidence is an essential factor in any healthcare position, and your externship is where you get to try, practice, and bloom, thereby boosting your self-confidence.

  • Get a Safety Net to Kickstart

    You must have read a zillion MA skills in class. However, when it comes to applying them to the real world for the first time, even basic functions such as measuring oxygen saturation can give you chills. It is immense pressure and baggage of responsibility that can weigh even the most strong-willed students down. But the one safety net that gets you through is your externship.

    You don’t have to be left alone right at the start as you get to work under the direct supervision of experienced professionals before your job in the field. Initially, they shall stick by you and remind you of all the skills you have learned across your training. They make you feel at ease while you first begin to discharge your MA duties in the real world. They are your saviors in the truest sense, ensuring that you’re making no misses or mistakes. Thus, much pressure is released from you.

    Taking responsibility for the lives of people in your hands quite naturally induces a sense of fear. However, once you partake in your externship under the guidance of coveted seniors, you get beyond the pressure and can work with a calm mind.

What do you Learn During the Medical Assistant Externship?

Classroom training is excellent and teaches a lot. It is essential, but can it make you learn everything you need to be a successful medical assistant? Most certainly not. Experience is the key here. You learn via practice across all healthcare professions by working under supervisors, applying all the textual knowledge you have gained in class in real-life medical settings, and acquiring hands-on training across all important MA tasks and functions.

You will watch other established professionals perform the duties that you eventually have to discharge. Thus, quite distinct than just reading about MA lessons from a book, working as a practicing trainee, and experiencing the actual healthcare environment is an entirely different ball game.

As the jobs of MAs are quite varied, expect to learn a multitude of tasks and skills during the externship period. These range between both clinical and administrative learning outcomes. Read on to discover what some of these would be:

  • Ideal Communication Abilities

    As a medical assistant, one of the most crucial aspects of your job is communication. It shall form a considerable part of your day to day work. An assertive, professional persona, and the authority with which you conduct yourself is imperative. You must know the way to make your patients feel comfortable and bring in a sense of empathy and genuineness across all dealings with them, along with the sincerity you show to the senior doctors and surgeons by your conduct.

    A confident communicator often wins the trust of supervisors for further roles of responsibility. These communication skills are not the usual ones we use with friends and family. This particular competency cannot be learned by sitting in a class or a textbook. Only through actual interactions in your medical assistant practicum will you be able to imbibe the ideal communication capabilities.

  • Interpersonal Scope of Work

    You understand how the whole system functions in every sense. You will realize how interconnected the team of healthcare professionals is. Thus, capitalizing on these interpersonal aspects of the MA job is crucial. You will practice working in this set up around a diverse group of individuals. Team interactions shall gear you up for what’s to come.

  • Application of What is Learnt in Class

    Practically use all that you have learned at your MA program to solve real-life situations at your externship. The externship develops all the competencies that you would need at your first medical assistant job with no experience. Apply all the knowledge you have gained while assisting patients.

  • Patient Briefing and Interaction 

    Learn how to explain treatment procedures, medications, etc. to patients and their families. Tell them what is to be taken care of and why. Explain what procedures they need to follow at home. Instruct them on their prescribed medications and methods. Answer their questions and learn how to put them at ease.

  • Equipment Demonstrations

    Learn how to use key medical equipment and gear. Also, practice demonstrating these equipment usages and processes to your patients so that they can conduct the same at their homes when needed.

  • Patient Greeting and Reception Tasks

    Learn how to greet and meet patients and guests at your externship location. Show them around and capitalize on hospitable admin skills. Learn to excel at all the reception tasks while practicing the same.

  • How to Run the Office

    Learn how to manage the medical office. Record inventory and supplies, and coordinate to ensure smooth functioning across departments.

  • Recording Patient Info and Collecting Patient History

    Gain practical knowledge about how to collect relevant information from your patients, like demographics and medical insurance status. Learn to record past ailments, medications prescribed before, issues and family history of diseases, etc. in the most comprehensive way.

  • Coordination Duties

    A patient that comes into your place of externship might need a varied set of specialists to help him/her. Coordinate all the required functions with all the respective medical colleagues, and learn how to schedule appointments with specialists. For example, arrange for therapy and consulting sessions, make sure the required tests are done in time, and the results are shared for diagnosis.

  • Work Closely with an Experienced MA

    Initially, learn how to take systematic instructions and perform the duties of a medical assistant in real life from your supervisor. Gain confidence and start taking responsibility for some tasks.

  • Perfect Your Techniques

    You have gained technical knowledge in classroom environments as well as in labs. However, only at your externship can you practice these techniques under the supervision of highly skilled doctors. This practical training helps you perfect your procedures and processes. These techniques can be those relating to preparing surgery rooms, bookkeeping, and filling insurances, for instance. You can individually figure out how to perform these techniques most effectively via regular practice and insights.

  • Become Better at Patient Assessments

    Assessing patients is one of the top-ranking duties of an MA. An error-free and accurate assessment shall lead to the correct diagnosis and vice-versa. At your externship, you will learn how to further perfect the techniques of checking vital signs. From checking blood pressure to heart rate and oxygen saturation, you will practice how to carry out these diagnostic duties in the most competent way.

  • How to Administer Medications

    Pharmacology is taught across most medical assistant training courses. Nevertheless, when it comes to preparing medications for patients, there is much to be careful about. Externship opportunities ensure that you start under the guidance of the experienced and slowly master this critical function at your own pace.

  • Blood Test Administration Skills

    Learn how to draw blood and practice how blood tests are carried out most aptly. Coordinate with the diagnostic labs and collect specimens for them.

  • Gear up Across a Range of Administrative Skills

    From answering phone calls to responding to emails, from filling in insurance claims on behalf of patients to billing them for the services rendered, stock-keeping to Electronic Health Records, managing appointment scheduling systems, and sourcing of finished supplies, all sorts of admin functions may be touched upon during your externship.

What Challenges can you Expect During MA Externship?

By now, you must be well aware of how relevant a medical assistant externship can be for your future. However, do note that this is a transitional phase and may prop up many challenges that you would need to win over. In this phase, there is so much going on, and you’re trying hard to adjust, adapt and learn as much as possible about your chosen stream of occupation.

The benefits are plenty, but you just got to put it together and move ahead to capitalize on them. Some of the usual challenges that MAs in the USA face as externs are discussed below to ensure you know what to expect and step in fully prepared:

  1. Multitasking

    Medical assisting can be used as a synonym for multitasking since there is just so much of it involved in the job! Everyone knows that medical assistants have to be trained across both clinical tasks as well as administrative functions. They need to acquire a variety of cross-sectional skills to perform a mix of these distinct types of duties on an everyday basis.

    No two days are the same for MAs, and they are often caught appalled as they face situations every day where they need to perform multiple diverse tasks simultaneously. Thus, if you’re a bad multitasker, then you’re in for a ride. Nevertheless, students do learn how to multitask effectively and carry out all that is required of them in a day, ideally. For instance, you can expect to be administering blood tests to patients at one time and bookkeeping at the other. Similarly, You may be preparing the examination room at one go and answering phone calls at the reception the very next moment.

    As an MA extern, you absolutely must learn to multitask. Despite being a challenge, this one skill, when honed, gears you up for your jobs ahead.

  2. Work-Life Balance

    The world of healthcare knows no fixed timings and work shifts. Patients can need emergency help on any given day at any time. Even though MAs can pick to eventually work in strictly 9 to 5 sort of medical offices, during the externship phase, students must be prepared to face a compromised work-life balance. It is because many times, students have to meet add-on school requirements alongside the 200+ hour full-time externships.

    There is a lot to imbibe before getting permanently employed. Thus, expect your schedules to get extremely busy when during your externship. Moreover, you might be posted at an establishment that is open round the clock, which may have you switching between daytime and nighttime shifts, thereby disrupting your routine and personal commitments.

  3. Handling Negative Feedback

    Do you realize that your work is immensely crucial as a medical assistant? One miss and you may be just adversely impacting another human being’s life. In a case such as this, no mistakes are allowed whatsoever. Not only avoiding major mistakes, but being 100% competent and accurate is also required from MAs. To avoid such a scenario, your seniors and supervisors at the externship would keep a close eye and render value-adding insights into your performance from time to time.

    It includes constructive criticism and some negative pointers too. Obtaining the same at work might get discouraging for any novice aspirant. It is common for students to find this evaluation process quite a challenging situation to come to terms with. However, you need to take it on a positive note and use the feedback to improve your skills and turn the tables around. Think how far have you come as far as your skills are concerned, and how can you improve your techniques and further apply new skill-sets.

Search Medical Assistant Programs

Get information on Medical Assistant programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

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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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