It’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “just a medical assistant” in the medical world. But those words don’t do justice to the many MAs who have completed an education program, passed a rigorous certification exam, and hold more responsibilities than many realize. What’s more, there are plenty of opportunities to advance as an MA. Read the story by Kevin Sloss in which he shares some of his experience and how it helps him plan for career advancement.
By Kevin Sloss, MHA, RMA(AMT), Patient Care Coordinator, Lung Cancer Screening, Cancer Service Line, UChicago Medicine, Chicago.
If you work in healthcare, you likely are aware of the variety of skills a medical assistant brings to a physician practice. But It might surprise you to learn that many patients in a doctor’s office do not realize those friendly, amazing people who guided them to an exam room, took their vitals, asked about the purpose of their visit, assisted with their procedure, administered certain medication and provided them with discharge instructions, can sometimes be minimized as “just an MA!”
And that’s despite the fact that those are only the experiences visible to patients. Behind the scenes, medical assistants are preparing for other visits, sterilizing instruments, checking medication logs, updating charts, ordering supplies, sanitizing rooms between visits, dealing with insurance companies and more.
Remarkably, that’s what “just an MA” does at the most basic skill level!
Unfortunately, some may live true to those diminishing words, when they feel like they are just an MA, but capitalizing on those experiences in the professional arena could be the turning point.
Look at it this way, not only is medical assisting one of the fastest growing professions in healthcare, it’s a great access point into the field, and if you’re credentialed, you can really excel. Many outpatient facilities and hospital settings are now requiring MA’s on staff in order to meet the changing population demographics, which is great news because many new roles are forming for medical assistants.
As medical assistants have become more widely recognized, they hold titles such as Practice Manager, Quality Control Coordinator, Patient Care Coordinator, Analyst, Community Health Worker, Specialist etc. Yes, “just an MA” can have many career advancement opportunities, by working at the height of their training and certification.
Certification Makes the Difference
In my own professional career, I struggled finding a healthcare job, due to my lack of experience and ability to comprehend certain aspects of care that neither my bachelors or master's degrees in healthcare fully prepared me for. However, after completing a rigorous 11-month MA program and achieving certification through American Medical Technologists, doors opened that had been closed for quite some time since completing undergrad.
Education, Experience and Envisioning
One of the first ways to gain career opportunities as an MA is to become certified. There are various routes to certification, including an education route for those who completed a qualifying MA program and a work experience route for those who have gained their MA knowledge by working in the industry.
I became certified through the education route, but one thing I didn’t understand at the time is that there are opportunities for medical assistants to advance once they achieve certification. Many times, “just certification” is what it takes to have the opportunity to advance to a leadership position.
Advice for Advancement
So how do you start moving ahead in your medical assisting profession? For me, it involves envisioning, planning, communicating and executing. And here’s my cheat sheet:
- Think about what you’d like to accomplish in your healthcare career. I often like to think of specific patient populations I want to work with, and what I can handle. For example, pediatrics is an amazing field, but for me, it seems hard because the patient is a minor, and their family is making the decisions for them, you need to be involving them every step of the way. It just isn’t for me.
- Consider where you want to work. Reading the mission, vision and other metrics of an organization are important as well as reading reviews online from not only employees but patients as well. I find that researching an organization can really help you make the right decision of where you want to be at. Too often, many of us will apply for something from the job description but don’t look at the organization itself.
- (Here’s the big one) Look at other job titles outside of just Medical assistant. For an entry level careerist, this might not apply, but for an experienced professional who’s looking for a new opportunity, check out various job titles and see if you qualify.
- Get a coach or mentor! This person is often a professional in a role that you aspire to be in. I like to use professional networks like the AMT communities to check and see what others are doing and how they got there. If they are open to it, invite them out to coffee, pick their brain and come with a plan. A great way to further that professional relationship, could be asking them to hear your ideas, review your resume and asking to meet up on a quarterly basis. This way it’s not overwhelming for either party, but a manageable way to check in, update each other and build a plan for success.
- Create a vision board! You can take steps one through 4 and put it all on your board. Then choose where you want to go in the next 5 years with your career. There are many ways to do this. The easiest is just to write it out, draw it out, record it, or do it in a tangible way that you can reference and make changes to.
- Believe in yourself. Explore! And don’t stop learning.
Next time you hear the phrase, “just an MA” be sure to remember that medical assistants, especially those certified by AMT, are more than what someone thinks. And when it comes to “just your career”, make sure you are thinking it out at every level. And tap into your AMT community!
Kevin Sloss is a registered medical assistant RMA(AMT) and current Master of Health Administration grad student. His day job is that of patient care coordinator for a cancer service line at a top performing academic medical center in Chicago. He is also newly appointed to the Commission for Accreditation of Allied Health programs, a position in which he represents the MA specialty in a leadership role. As an active member Kevin makes full use of AMT benefits to advance his career by taking AMT CE and actively participates with AMT on social media and our online communities. Outside of work and school and volunteering, Kevin enjoys the varieties of restaurants Chicago has to offer.
You can view Kevin’s profile on the AMT website, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter @savingsloss.