Medical assistant role goes beyond technical skills

At Sanford Health, MAs bridge the relationship between patients and providers.

Ashley Merkel, a nurse

A friendly first impression can make all the difference when you’re at the doctor’s office. The right person can calm frazzled nerves, make sure you feel heard and help get you feeling comfortable.

At Sanford Health clinics, that person is often a nurse or — now increasingly — a medical assistant (MA).

The MA role is a growing career opportunity for people looking to get into health care.

“I got into health care because of the great physicians, nurses and other staff that took care of my grandparents when they were in the hospital. I love interacting with patients, and it makes me proud when a patient says you made them feel comfortable while they were in the clinic. ... The MA role has a wide variety of duties we’re trained to do, with both patients and physicians. Being an MA is a rewarding job!” Ashleigh Brandt, CMA at a pulmonary medicine clinic

Bridging relationships

Also called a registered medical assistant (RMA) or certified medical assistant (CMA), an MA helps support the flow of patients in an ambulatory setting, which is anywhere patients aren’t admitted for care. They bridge the relationship between patients and their nurses and providers, making sure there is a clear, open line of communication between everyone.

“When I came to Sanford Health, I had a nurse mentor me, and she really took me in to give me the best perspective of what I could be, and I continue to strive to be the best I can be. I love the fast pace, high energy, positivity and teamwork of my job. … To be an MA, you have to be compassionate, organized and good with people of all ages. Listening is a key role — patients want to know they are being heard.” Ashley Merkel, CMA at an orthopedic and sports medicine clinic

Training in a variety of skills

MAs are trained to do a variety of tasks in a clinic, such as:

  • Taking patients’ vital signs
  • Reviewing medications, allergies, family history and personal health history with patients
  • Administering medications, drawing blood, giving injections and prepping for procedures
  • Providing detailed information to providers why the patient is being seen, and reporting the patient’s signs or symptoms
  • Collaborating with the health care team to provide the best outcomes for patients
  • Assisting providers in orders for patients, and communicating them back to the patients
  • Fulfilling administrative and clerical aspects of patient care, such as scheduling appointments or procedures and working with insurance companies for pre-authorizations

After completing  a recognized medical assisting program, MAs also must be certified or registered through a nationally approved certification program. Certification shows that the medical assistant possesses the skills and knowledge needed to be successful and provide high-quality care.

“If you are looking for diversity in a career, being an MA is a great opportunity since you get trained in so many different areas. When I was considering my schooling, I considered nursing, lab tech and X-ray tech. As a medical assistant, I get the opportunity to do all those things. … I got into health care because I love helping people. I love interacting with our patients and getting to know them.” Kayla Ollila, CMA at a family medicine clinic

Making sure the patient feels heard

What patients frequently remember most about their interactions with MAs, though, isn’t their technical skills — it’s their people skills.

Many times, an MA is the first person you interact with during a clinic visit, as you are escorted from a waiting area to a patient room. Those first few minutes can be critical in setting the tone for your experience.

Answering questions, listening to concerns and getting you comfortable in what can sometimes be a scary situation are all part of how MAs informally treat patients with the compassion and understanding Sanford Health advocates for in all care settings.

“As a medical assistant, I am trained to work both the front and back medical office — it’s a rewarding job, where you get the best of both worlds. I basically do anything I can to improve the relationship between my patients and doctors. … Once, I was working with a patient who had been in and out of hospitals over the last few weeks. The patient told me she hadn’t been feeling very well, experiencing lightheadedness and dizziness. The nurse I was working with and I decided to get an EKG on the patient. It showed she had a complete heart blockage. She was sent to the ER and received a pacemaker that afternoon.” Adrienne Shimkus, CMA at a cardiology clinic

MAs also regularly see patients at the end of their visit, another key time to make sure you understood everything that happened, and what your next steps are.

Being the first and last person a patient sees is a crucial role that MAs are proud to have as part of the care team.

“As an RMA/CMA, I make sure I am helping the whole patient, whether that’s making appointments or giving vaccines. We want to make sure when the patient leaves, they feel good about the care they received. … One patient I was with in 2004 had just gotten a mammogram that showed a mass in her left breast. She was so scared, and tears were running down her face. I sat for 20 minutes just listening to her vent her anger and frustration. When she was done she grabbed my hand and thanked me for listening. I actually felt I hadn’t done enough for her, but she was thanking me for just sitting there and listening to her. It was that moment that made me realize I was in the right field.” Danielle Haskins, RMA/CMA at a family medicine clinic

Join our team as a medical assistant

If you are interested in becoming an MA with Sanford Health, sponsorships are available to assist with the cost of tuition, books, equipment and other expenses associated with the completion of an MA program at an accredited school.

Learn more about the Sanford Health sponsorship program.

View current medical assistant job openings.

Posted In Imaging, Nursing and Nursing Support, People & Culture, Sanford Stories, Scholarships and Sponsorships, Workplace Health