Clinical skills include working directly with patients, taking vitals, and collecting samples. Administrative skills include office work such as scheduling appointments and organizing paperwork.
Because they deal with all kinds of people in different types of situations, medical assistants need to be responsible, empathetic, and professional. Both patients and physicians need to be able to trust their medical assistants to be honest, ethical, and advocate for their patients.
This article looks at the clinical, administrative, and soft skills required to be a medical assistant.
Medical Assistant Skills List
Here is a general list of skills needed to work as a medical assistant:
- Knowing how to measure vital signs
- Performing CPR
- Listening with empathy
- Having good customer service skills
- Thinking critically
- Understanding medical assistant terminology
- Handling billing
- Answering phone calls
- Scheduling appointments
- Administering medications
- Giving injections (Note that if medical assistants can give injections varies by state)
- Applying dressings
- Drawing blood (phlebotomy)
- Collecting urine samples
- Removing sutures
- Performing EKGs
- Preparing examination rooms
- Interviewing patients before appointments
- Relaying patient and physician questions
- Keeping supplies stocked and organized
Clinical Skills Required to Be a Medical Assistant
Clinical skills are the skills you need to take care of patients while they are in the examination or procedure room. Having good clinical skills keeps your patient safe and comfortable. Lacking these skills has the potential to cause physical harm to the patient.
Here are some clinical skills you need as a medical assistant:
- Taking vitals. Vital signs include a patient's heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. You will need to know what normal vital signs are and when to report them to the doctor. Physicians base some of their treatments and diagnosis on vital signs, so it is important to measure them accurately.
- Performing CPR. While you may not ever have to perform CPR, it is important that you know how to use basic life support in case of an emergency. Most employers will require you to complete a CPR class before beginning work.
- Removing sutures. Removing stitches is a pretty simple procedure, but it can cause pain or infection if done incorrectly. You will need to know how to remove the sutures and tell the doctor about anything that looks bad around the wound site.
- Applying dressings. Some wounds or scrapes will require a little more than a standard bandaid. Special training may be needed to apply some kinds of dressings. Special care must be taken to keep wounds clean and free of infection.
- Drawing blood. Blood tests can look for infection, cancers, kidney problems, diabetes, and many other things. Medical assistants need to know how to draw blood safely and efficiently. Patients appreciate it when their medical assistant can collect enough blood on the first try. You may consider taking a phlebotomy course before starting your work as a medical assistant.
- Collecting urine or stool samples. While not the most glamorous part of the job, collecting urine and stool samples gives the physician valuable information about how to best care for their patient. Urine and stool can be used to diagnose many different problems.
- Performing EKGs. EKGs are recordings of heart rhythms and can show things like heart attacks or heart inflammation. Performing an EKG requires special training.
Administrative Skills Required to Be a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants will spend a lot of time performing administrative tasks for their employers. Every clinic will work a little bit differently, and it is important to have a good understanding of your job's computer systems. Medical administrative assistants especially need these skills.
Here are some administrative skills you need as a medical assistant:
- Scheduling appointments. Doctors offices and clinics can get extremely busy, and some people have to schedule appointments months in advance. Keeping appointments organized is necessary to help everyone get the care they need.
- Recording visit notes. You’ll need to understand your office's computer system and how to record vital signs and patient notes so that physicians can see accurate, well-organized information.
- Sending billing reminders. As a medical assistant, you may have to make phone calls about people missing payments or help them set up payment plans. You might also help patients get financial aid if they need it.
- Contacting insurance companies. Medical assistants are often in charge of calling insurance companies for information about payments and prior authorization. Knowledge about medical billing and coding is very helpful to have for this part of the job.
- Organizing the office. Keeping both the front office and the supplies organized is part of medical assistants’ responsibilities. Keeping the office or clinic clean and organized will make things easier for you and the doctors, and give you more time to care for patients.
Soft Skills Required to Be a Medical Assistant
Soft skills are the kinds of skills that seem non-specific and unmeasurable. Some are considered personality traits, but all can be learned and improved with practice. These skills require more than memorization to master. They must be practiced frequently.
Here are some soft skills you need as a medical assistant:
- Good communication. When working in healthcare, you need to have great communication skills. This prevents errors from miscommunication and keeps patients safe. Medical assistants need to make sure that the physician understands patient concerns and that the patients understand the physician's instructions.
- Adaptability. Medical assistants usually work in a fast-paced environment where things can change quickly. You’ll need to be able to move between tasks quickly and handle unexpected events without getting overwhelmed.
- Empathetic listening. As a medical assistant, you’ll be taking care of people who might not feel well, be afraid of the doctor's office, or be nervous about a diagnosis. You’ll need to be a good listener to help your patients feel safe enough to express their concerns and ask for help.
- Critical thinking. In any healthcare setting, medical assistants need to know when a patient needs help urgently, or when something doesn’t seem right. Medical assistants are usually the first people who see patients, and they need to be able to notify the physician if they notice subtle problems.
- Patience. Many people get very stressed or anxious at the doctor's office. Especially when making phone calls about medical bills or complaints, you’ll need to be patient and able to control your emotions well.
- Work ethic. Being a medical assistant is rewarding, but it is often hard work. Be ready to work hard doing both clinical and administrative tasks. Clinics and offices have to see a lot of patients each day, and medical assistants have to keep up with their work in order to stay on schedule.
- Compassion. Possibly the most important skill you’ll need to have is compassion. Taking care of patients each day means you have to do your best to help them. In order to give 100% to your job, you’ll need to be a compassionate and caring person.
How to Develop Skills as a Medical Assistant
Every medical assistant has his or her strengths and weaknesses, but each skill that you need for the job can be learned and improved over time.
Training programs are a sure way to learn most of the skills you need for medical assisting. Medical assisting programs are specifically created to help people learn clinical, administrative, and soft skills for becoming a medical assistant.
Medical assisting programs can be completed online or in person. There are certificate programs available that can be completed more quickly and medical assistant degree programs that last up to two years.
Stepful has an online medical assistant program that takes only four months to complete and comes with a 100% job-placement guarantee.
When you finish your training program, you can take a certification exam to become a certified medical assistant. This certification shows future employers that you have training and knowledge to safely care for patients in a doctors office.
>> Read More: Medical Assistant Certifications
A medical assistant externship is an opportunity to see what a medical assistant does and how they interact with doctors and patients. If you decide to do an externship, pay close attention to everything your leader does and try to ask lots of questions.
Many people learn better by doing tasks rather than reading about them or watching them. Use externship hours to get some guided practice using your medical assisting skills.
Getting extra certifications will make you more valuable as a medical assistant. While they are not required, extra certifications open up opportunities for higher pay and advancement in the field.
Medical assistants can benefit from being certified in phlebotomy, EKG, and medical coding. These certifications are inexpensive and can be completed quickly.
You can continue your education either formally or informally. The internet and platforms like YouTube make it easy to stay current on the latest healthcare advancements and knowledge. Ask your employer about opportunities for learning, or interview other medical assistants to learn from their experiences.