Medical assistants have to perform a variety of cross-functional duties across both clinical and administrative realms. As such, the scope of skills these superhumans require is immensely large. To help you understand better, we have outlined 7 must have skills for a successful medical assistant career. These key competencies for the medical assistant skills checklist range from clinical and administrative to interpersonal and office related qualities.
MAs are encouraged to undergo valuable training post their schools via accredited medical assistant programs, including 1 to 2 years of diploma, certificate, or associate courses, which are able to imbibe in this range of skills and also gain the know-how required in each of these areas. There are other aspiring MAs who pick learning on the job as the preferred method of acquiring these essential medical assistant qualities. Irrespective of which way you go, manifesting these extremely crucial competencies and developing the medical assistant resume skills are necessary to make a mark in this career stream.
Different employers can ask for various skill sets in job descriptions, so always read them with much care and caution. Let us start with outlining the most popularly sought out medical assistant skills to give you more clarity of what is required:
1. Popular Medical Assistant Skills
Even though the crucial skills required of medical assistants are incredibly varied, certain ones have known to become as wildly popular amongst the job market. Yes, while at your job, or for interviews with prospective employers, discharging the specialized qualities of a medical assistant, such as ‘analytical skills’, ‘attention to details’, ‘interpersonal skills’, and ‘technical skills’, are of paramount importance.
According to BLS, these 4 major qualities are sought out of all MAs at every step due to the scope of work at hand.
- Analytical Skills: For instance, as a working medical assistant in a hospital or a clinic, you would have to understand medical charts. You have to show the ability to analyze and follow the correct diagnosis by analyzing patient histories and previous case studies, along with the interpretation of the test results and coding of medical records to generate bills. These functions together require you to showcase excellent analytical capabilities right from the outset.
- Detail Oriented: For all sorts of medical assistance duties, the professionals need to function with much care and attention to detail – precisely measuring the vital signs of patients, cautious recording of patient information, carefully drawing blood, accurately collecting samples for lab diagnostics, etc. Any errors and misses can be catastrophic for the patient and the MA’s career. Hence the detail-oriented quality is of utmost significance. Even for administrative duties such as filing insurance claims, medical assistants need to showcase absolute attention to details.
- Interpersonal Skills: The third most popular quality, interpersonal skills, is what forms the backbone of all MA-patient interactions. Remember, you would be assisting the distressed patients in making them feel comfortable and trying to calm them down professionally. You would also be helping the doctors and supervisors by discussing important patient information and coordinating with different levels of the medical team. All these crucial medical assistant duties need you to have super interpersonal qualities at every step.
- Technical Skills: Lastly, technical skills, of course, are integral to any healthcare profession. From proper handling of clinical instruments (blood pressure machines) to carry out functions that require a sound technical knowledge (such as EKGs), the MAs must imperatively possess the technological know-how and skills for many such tasks.
From attending to appointment calls, coordinating with other departments, and checking schedules of doctors, MAs manifest a great deal of these skill sets regularly at the office. For a more comprehensive idea, here is a list of the top 10 medical assistant skills that employers are seeking:
The data above has been gathered from an analysis of 75,334 medical assistant job postings (June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015). It was found that ‘patient care’ (topmost on the table) was the number one popular skill being sought of MAs. The skills are arranged in their order of popularity thereafter, with Medical Terminology being the 10th most popular MA skill on demand.
Medical assistants must also be well aware of the state laws and regulations that apply to their practice. Some important add-on skills that become essential for all MAs are:
- Apt Communication: Professional, open, genuine, honest, and effective interactions. MAs need to apply the specialized communication processes and techniques to form these bonds. It is a unique communicative manner specific to an MA job profile that they must master.
- MA Professional Conduct: At all times, medical assistants must understand their professional code of conduct and master the skill of presenting themselves in an ideal way (sometimes, even in crunch situations).
- Data Reporting: One key function area for all MAs is to record valuable patient info. As an MA, you would need to excel at accurate reporting of such vital data. For collecting, analyzing, organizing, and presenting the information most effectively, you would need to master medical assistant reporting and charting skills.
- Basic MA Skills: Don’t go by the word ‘basic’. Even though right at the grassroots level, these ‘basic’ skills form the foundation of all major MA responsibilities.
2. Clinical Skills for Medical Assistants
By ‘clinical skills’, we imply all those medical competencies used in clinically assisting patients and doctors. These many times need much technical know-how. Although the general public sometimes imagines MAs as only running around corridors with clipboards and showing people around the establishment, medical assistants do have actual, extremely significant clinical responsibilities to discharge. These need specialized skill sets and knowledge, which we have enlisted here to present a clear picture:
- Administering of Medicines: The MAs must have the necessary skills to render medications to the patients they are entrusted with as per the instructions of their supervising physician/doctor.
- Correctly Administering Injections: Vaccinations are an integral aspect of the healthcare profession, so is administering injections for varied reasons as and when required. You must possess the skill of administering intradermal, intramuscular, and subcutaneous injections in the smoothest way causing as little pain as possible.
- Venipuncture and Drawing Blood: One of the key functions of MAs is that of drawing blood. You must be skilled in locating a superficial vein on the patient and then access that point with a needle. You should also be able to handle and draw the blood into the vacutainer. Complications make this seemingly simple task a complex one to master, requiring specific clinical competencies in the area. For instance, if your patient is nervous and moving around, is dehydrated, elderly, or obese, locating and accessing their apt veins can be a tricky task. Thus, drawing blood needs much clinical expertise, a steady hand, and a calm mind.
You should also be skilled enough to carry out the function amongst distinct patient groups, like drawing blood from babies, young patients (in their teens), and adults. Be clinically skilled to verify patients and donors (where applicable) before going ahead with the blood collection process. You must be proficient at the technique of venipuncture in general. Most importantly, you must know how to administer venipunctures via perfectly aseptic processes. As an MA, you would be expected to collect blood samples aptly via the capillary puncture. You must also be able to use centrifuge methods.
- Accurate Vital Signs Measurement: From taking the patient’s temperature and recording pulse rates to measuring the blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels, these vital signs of patients are essential data points that enable the medical professionals to figure out the status of the patient’s health at a given time. With the advancement in technology (electronic thermometers and the like), measuring these vital signs have become increasingly easier. However, as a medical assistant, you must still be acquainted with the traditional vital sign measurement procedures, such as manually checking for the blood pressure of a patient. Remember, machines can malfunction and not be available at emergency locations, and false readings can often be rendered by these technically automated devices. However, with your skills in place, you will tell the difference and re-assess for 100% accurate results.
- Basic Life Support (BLS) and CPR Skills: MAs should be well-skilled to tackle clinical emergencies. Thus, they mandatorily require to document Basic life support and CPR capabilities. You should be trained to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation to arrest life-threatening situations. A deep-rooted understanding of all the fundamental BLS and CPR concepts is required with the skill to relieve the child or adult out of the tough spot well within time.
- EKGs Competencies: MAs must possess the skills to perform Electrocardiograms correctly. EKGs and ECGs measure the electric impulses of the heart. You must be able to assess how well the patient’s heart muscles are operating via accurate EKG techniques. It is crucial as any mistake here will render a false reading.
- Examination and Treatment Room Preparations: MAs are entrusted with the responsibility of prepping up clinical examination and procedural rooms. The skills to organize and sterilize these chambers are required of all medical assistants.
- Collecting Lab Specimens for Diagnosis and Phlebotomy: Lab specimens are collected by MAs. You must have the skill to carry out this integral function on time while adhering to federal and state regulations. Also, you must be able to conduct necessary lab tests and prepare laboratory specimens.
- Safety Processes and Infection Control Skills: In the medical world, all healthcare professionals must be trained across infection control procedures. It should be well within the skills of the MA to ensure all safety measures are adhered to while performing clinical duties.
- Upholding the Quality Control Standards: Quality control in medical establishments incorporates ensuring the safety of patients and working professionals in the facility. MAs must confirm that the industry standards regarding best practices and quality of clinical services are followed. It requires clinical quality planning, quality assurance skills, and clinical quality control competencies for the whole team, including medical assistants.
- Collecting Urine Samples: Urine samples are required by labs to carry out an analysis of the patient’s health conditions. MAs are needed to school patients about the same and ensure the correct collection of these specimens for testing. As an MA, you are also required to perform a basic urinalysis, chemistry testing, and glucose testing.
- Instrument Sterilization Skills: There is a new clinical instrument for every different procedure or diagnosis in healthcare facilities. Irrespective of the setting you’re employed across, you would need to be skilled at immaculate sterilization processes and techniques to ensure all these instruments being used are completely safe for the patients at large.
- Procedures Assisting Skills: While at work, you will witness many patients coming in for basic procedures. While the doctor is carrying out these clinical processes (e.g., removing a mole, cleaning out the ear wax, attending to a cyst, etc.), you would need to assist them through these procedures efficiently.
- Surgical Procedures: You assist surgical procedures under all the conditions of conscious sedation and local/general anesthesia. Minor surgical demands and urgent medical interventions are also managed by MAs when permitted.
- Basic Wound Care: One of the critical skills required from medical assistants is attending to wounds and cuts of incoming patients. This includes the skills to apply dressings adeptly and to be able to remove sutures. More so, a good application of dressing with utmost precision and cleanliness is essential, as patients’ wounds are open before the dressing, and any mistakes can spread the infection.
- Prescription Refills: Patients do require refills of prescribed medications and treatments many times. As an MA, under the direct supervision of the physician, you can permit for routine prescription refills. You must also be skilled to accurately document these refills in the respective medical charts to have the data in place.
3. Medical Assistant Administrative Skills
Not only clinical but admin-related tasks form day to day duties of medical assistants. Some specialize in only medical administrative functions and skills. Let us explore some of these critical admin-centric competencies that medical assistants require before entering the real healthcare world:
- Medical Insurance Handling Skills: You must have a sound knowledge of how medical insurances work and showcase the skills to advocate with respective insurance companies on behalf of your patients. You must be skilled enough to help them claim the insurance money and process the forms, along with being geared to reconcile co-payments.
- Managing Hospital Admissions and Lab Inquiries: When the patients shall come into your establishment seeking treatment, you must have the skill to arrange for these new admissions and organize the allocation of rooms. Similarly, people come in for lab testing and diagnosis. MAs need to manage these laboratory services to ensure all incoming business is coordinated and completed.
- Updating All Patient Records: After patient examinations, whatever new insights you gather about the patient’s health must be enlisted in their records. Similarly, after a diagnostic test, the test results should be updated into the medical records.
- Supplier Identification and Decisions: As a medical assistant, you must also look after inventory and purchases. Competencies for picking the best suppliers based on price and quality is imperative for MAs.
- Inventory Management and Stocking: Medical supplies should always be in stock to avoid gross inconsistencies in treatment and severe delays. Thus, MAs must possess the skills of inventory management. They must maintain records of all medical supplies regularly in an accurate way. They also need to be well versed with skills in purchases and negotiation. You must have the know-how of ordering pharmacy refill requests and how to attain prior authorizations for medical inventories at your establishment. Tracking expiry dates of all stocked up medicines and disposing of what should not be used also form their duty.
- Medical Records and Organizing Medical Histories: MAs should showcase essential skills for collecting, recording, and maintaining data in the facility’s database. They must know how to keep the patient data secure and confidential, safeguard the medical records in place, update patient demographics, and more. They must be able to manage the retrieval of data from the medical histories as and when required. A special mention here has to be given to Electronic Health Records. With technological advancement, it is imperative for MAs to have EHR skills too.
- Scheduling and Appointment Settings: From handling sophisticated appointment scheduling software to attending phone inquiries and coordinating the timetables of the physicians and establishment’s services, medical assistants must organize the scheduling functions efficiently.
- Telephonic Skills: You would be attending to a lot of phone inquiries from patients as part of your MA duties. You should answer these incoming calls promptly, giving out appropriate messages. You would also be coordinating between different departments of the facility and hence should be adept at coordinating on the phone with varied medical personnel, superiors, and colleagues.
- Managing Clinical Staff: As an MA, you must also have staff management skills. You may be asked to direct office/clinical staff of the center, train them and instruct them to manage the place effectively. You might also assist in the hiring processes.
- Medical Coding: MAs also must possess skills to understand and analyze clinical statements and assign standard codes to the same after that, i.e., manifest useful medical coding capabilities and knowledge.
4. Medical Office Assistant Skills
Even medical establishments have offices and office tasks. Yes, from computational competencies to back-office organization skills, medical assistants must be well versed across these office-related capabilities as well.
- Front Desk Skills: Excellence in reception tasks is an integral MA office competency in great demand. You must be able to keep the front-desk orderly and greet patients on their arrival with a warm yet professional demeanor. Front-desk admin skills include interpreting the language of the incoming patients and health education tasks. Some tasks include checking-in patients at the front desk swiftly and organizing their schedules while at the center, along with registering the patient entry info as required.
- Customer Service Skills: Here, your patients are your customers, and each function should be centered around them. Thus, excellent customer-service competencies are of key focus for most employers. Professional and approachable communication techniques with your customers is a great soft skill to master. These skills have to be put to use at every interaction with your customer – while scheduling appointments, showing them to the doctor’s chamber, helping them with the bills, schooling them about post-service care, and more.
- Software Skills: You should be aware and skilled in using key software as and when required for rendering the necessary medical functions. These can include working effectively with specific phone systems, PCs, or Macs. They must be able to manage medical record systems/software that are unique to each healthcare organization.
- Billing and Bookkeeping: Sufficient accounting and financial acumen are necessary for MAs. It is because medical assistants at some time or the other would need to take care of the billing procedures for the medical services facilitated by their center. Maintaining the financial books of the healthcare organization is also a specialized skill that MAs must master and be trained at.
- Computer Literacy: You must have adequate skills and experience with using computers and basic software as all medical establishments are turning or have turned digital today. You should be able to troubleshoot any system issues that may arise.
- Writing Skills: As an MA, you will be drafting essential official emails. Many correspondences have to be done in the written format. Sometimes, you may also assist in preparing and editing research reports and literature. You would have to use excellent written communication skills to draft test reports and medical records as well.
- Microsoft Office Skills: You must be well-versed with Excel, Word, and Powerpoint software, as postulated by many employers in the job descriptions outlined. These basic computational skills are needed for many admin-related functions.
- Phone Triage: Phone triage skills involve assessing the urgency of care required by the patients over the phone. Yes, MAs must be skilled to determine what kind of care and attention is needed for the particular patient by talking to them on the phone.
- Back Office Skills: All those functions that are not client-facing but are crucial to the smooth functioning of the medical facility are included in the back-office category. Managing settlements and clearances, maintaining all records of the clinic/office/hospital, and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and all other office duties, all require key back-office skills from medical assistants.
- Test Case Skills: Necessary test case automation skills, if manifested by MAs, can boost their profiles immensely. For instance, skills and know-how of Ranorex to analyze and make sense of data-driven tests. It is not a mandatory skill to possess but can give you a competitive edge amongst other applicants.
- Skills for Data Entry: Initial data entry functions are rendered by medical assistants for all patients. As MAs, you would be filling in and completing forms and all sorts of official correspondences. Transcription can also be one of your duties. Extensive data entry skills are imperative. You should even know how to publish and organize data using MS PowerPoint, Publisher, etc.
5. Patient Care Skills for Medical Assistants
At the outset, please observe that patient care is the number one (topmost) skill quoted on resumes of most MAs. The 12.5% of Clinical Medical Assistant resumes postulated ‘Patient Care’ as a top skill. This special quality is indeed in very high demand in the MA job market. Thus, you can only imagine how sought out and relevant this particular trait is. Let us see what kind of patient skills would you need as a medical assistant:
- Patient Education: You have to be skilled enough to explain in detail all instructions relating to treatment procedures, dos and don’ts, medicinal instructions, and the like to your patients.
- Breaking Down Medical Jargon to Understandable Words: Medical terminology is indeed quite distinct. While you must be aware of this complex medical dictionary, you must be skilled enough to explain all this clinical information to the patients in an understandable non-technical language.
- Dealing with Tough Patients: You may have to handle difficult personalities at times, and you must be well-skilled for the same. As an MA, this is a part of your job, and you cannot adversely react under such crunch situations. Apt skills shall enable you to convince and ease out even the most strenuous of these patient types. Remaining calm with distressing patients is a pivotal skill to master for all medical assistants.
- Patient Interview Skills: You must record key patient data on admission and even otherwise amidst their treatment and diagnosis. For instance, tracking their medical histories, interviewing them about their past ailments, medical experiences, and prescriptions. You may have to find out about any genetic disorders that run in their families etc. You may have to discuss specific personal situations. This essential patient care function requires adept interviewing skills to ask the correct questions in a non-invasive, professional demeanor.
- Preparing Patients for Examination: While assisting your doctors, you must ensure the patients are entirely prepared for what’s to come. Many examination processes, such as x-rays, require you to have a stipulated amount of water. You should have the skills to assist the patients making them meet these requisites. Also, they should be made aware by you of what to expect in the examination room and what would be required of them.
- Receiving Patients: Welcoming old and new patients with empathy and warmth is a crucial skill to master for all medical assistants. If your patients can trust you, they learn to trust the medical establishment as well, without doubts and thinking.
- Triaging Patients: Deciding which patients should go in first to see the doctor or which one’s need to get tests done most urgently, MAs need to make these decisions swiftly and accurately. Thus, you must possess the skills to analyze urgent needs and triage patients fairly and effectively.
- Patient Care in Ambulatory Environments: MAs do work in emergency ambulatory settings too. It is imperative for an aspiring medical assistant to learn how to take proper care of patients in these ambulatory environments. The techniques and functions do differ in specific parameters, and you must ace patient care and interaction skills under these circumstances also.
- Patient Confidentiality: As part of all your interactions with patients, you will be privy to much personal and valuable data. You must possess excellent patient confidentiality maintenance skills, and at no time should this be compromised upon.
6. Medical Assistant Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills are of great significance as you have to form outstanding working bonds with patients and colleagues in medical assisting. Medical spheres involve working in diverse teams. Coordination and helping each other out is what a MA job is all about irrespective of the type of setting they’re employed in. Also, your traits and nature go a long way in determining how well you would fare as an MA.
- Active Listening: MAs must be great listeners. Your patients need you to be approachable and hear them out. Active listening skills are also crucial for you to grasp what your supervisor is expecting of you in the very first go.
- Adaptability: When working with such different kinds of individuals, you need to have the skills to deal with each person differently. An adaptable, tailored approach is required.
- Collaboration: Medical procedures and treatments involve active collaboration from an entire team of healthcare personnel. Individually, you will not be able to achieve a thing. Hence, the skill to create beneficial partnerships with your colleagues is of paramount concern.
- Foreign Languages: Language skills can add value to your resume. In addition to English, if you’re well-versed with other foreign dialects and linguistics such as French, you may be able to cater to particular sets of customers and partners.
- Manual Dexterity: Excellent hand-eye coordination skills are quite impressive to prospective employers in this field. As an MA, you would be dealing with delicate apparatus and medical equipment. For such tasks and more, manual dexterity becomes imperative.
- Organizational Skills: For organizing the storage rooms, placement of equipment in the examination chambers, timetables and appointments, triage of lab tests, and much more, the organization skills of medical assistants must be on point. From medical duties to admin-related duties, each task needs this particular competency.
- Outlining Limitations: As an MA, you must be analytical and always work with a practical mindset. You must recognize and accept the limitations in place. Understanding these lackings can help you plan better and seek help when needed.
- Teamwork: Perhaps the most important interpersonal skill to master, you must possess and manifest essential team-building and working skills. You should have the competencies to coordinate well with your teammates to bring primary clinical functions to fruition smoothly.
- Commitment to Accuracy: As discussed before, accuracy just cannot be compromised on. Your skills should include absolute attention to detail to ensure error-free clinical interventions and diagnosis.
7. Medical Assistants’ Life Skills
Certain soft skills are imperative when it comes to medical assistants. Employers value MAs who take these life skills seriously. We have discussed these important skill sets one by one below:
- Self-control: The medical world is almost synonymous with emotional turmoil. There are too many pressure points that induce emotionally challenging situations. Thus, it is incredibly essential for MAs to have self-control competencies in place. Remember, your patients may be going through a breakdown and may not be at their best behaviors. Under such circumstances, you must exercise self-control and maintain your calm. MAs are not allowed to work on impulses.
- Self-esteem: As an MA, your self-belief is immensely beneficial in the field. If you are confident about your abilities to discharge your duties most effectively, you shall feel good about yourself and be able to serve your patients in the best possible way.
- Decision-making Skills: Does the patient need immediate medical intervention? Should you allow a prescription refill? Which test is more critical to be administered first? These and many such situations which require you to exercise analytical and robust decision-making competencies. You must be skilled in evaluating the pros and cons in an unbiased fashion. You must be able to determine the right solution forward.
- Problem Solving: While working as a medical assistant, many different kinds of problems may arise from time to time. In general, your team or patient might face a pertinent sudden issue. The key here is for you to remain objective as an MA. You must have the skills to evaluate the problem at hand, using logic and critical reasoning. You should list out the bottlenecks, highlight opportunities, and work with other talented colleagues to solve these issues together.
- Stress Management: Stress is a part of every workplace. However, for healthcare professionals, the level of stress can be a bit too dramatic. You, at any point, cannot break under the strenuous environment and must possess apt stress management skills.
- Adaptability: During your tenure, you must discharge a varied set of tasks, quite distinct from each other on every new day. Emergencies also arise in demanding spontaneous actions. You must be skilled to grow, learn, adapt to the situational demands, and have the skills to change with the environment around you flexibly.
- Empathy: In the healthcare industry, you will be dealing directly with people suffering from stark ailments. They might be in pain or mental trauma or just a trying phase in their life. Thus, an empathetic mindset is hugely crucial here. You should be able to connect with your patients and experience what they’re going through by imagining yourselves in their shoes.
- Prioritization: One of the key medical assistant qualities is triage, i.e., to set the right order of progression for things. Urgent medical conditions require immediate attention and cannot be delayed. Senior citizens or pregnant women should not be made to wait for long periods. You should know to prioritize the tasks at hand to ensure emergency medical situations are dealt with without any major risks and mishaps.
- Multi-tasking: Scheduling timetables on one side while recording patient histories on the other, MAs have to juggle various tasks simultaneously on an everyday basis. Thus, MAs must manifest multi-tasking skills at any given time.
You can read here (GUIDE) – Pros and Cons of Being a Medical Assistant
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.