Medical assistants are typically jacks-of-all-trades. Trained in both clinical and clerical office procedures, they fill in the gaps between the health and business sides of medicine. In today’s large private practices, however, there are also opportunities to specialize in administrative or clinical areas exclusively. For those with an aptitude for science and a love of patient care, being a clinical medical assistant can be a dream come true.
What is a Clinical Medical Assistant?
All medical assistants, by definition, are cross-trained to handle a wide range of duties, but instead of making appointments and filling out insurance forms, clinical medical assistants focus solely on clinical tasks that require skill. Their understanding of the administrative procedures that correlate with clinical tasks only enhances their value to the team.
Where do Clinical Medical Assistants Work?
Clinical medical assistants can work in hospitals, clinics and urgent care centers, but more than 57% percent work in doctor’s offices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Modern practices are expanding, offering a broad range of services from routine diagnostic tests to minor surgical procedures to meet the changing needs of a growing population. It saves clients a trip to the hospital and lowers the cost of care, but it requires a well-trained clinical staff to make it happen, and medical assistants are at the heart of it.
What Does a Clinical Medical Assistant Do?
Depending on the size and type of practice, a clinical medical assistant’s responsibilities may include preparing exam rooms, updating medical records, taking vital signs, assisting the doctor, phlebotomy, administering medications and immunizations, and patient education.
Preparing Examination Rooms
Clinical medical assistants know which supplies are most often used during exams, and they keep rooms well-stocked, so doctors have everything they need on hand. They make rooms comfortable for patients and their families, and they sanitize equipment before each visit to prevent the spread of infection.
Updating Medical Records
A patient’s medical records should contain all of the information necessary for healthcare providers to make sound treatment decisions. By reviewing medication and allergy lists before every exam, clinical medical assistants ensure records remain up to date while identifying inaccuracies and areas of concern for the physician to address. Catching errors early prevents costly medical mistakes.
Taking Vital Signs
Vital signs are essential measures of patients’ health. A clinical medical assistant takes them at each visit because trends in height, weight, blood pressure and heart rate can signal serious problems. Doctors also use vital signs to monitor the effects of treatment and calculate dosages for high-risk medications.
Assisting with Procedures
Minor surgical procedures can take more than two hands to complete. Clinical medical assistants are ready to help by handing the doctor instruments and collecting biological samples for testing. They also assist with post-procedure follow-up by removing sutures or staples and applying light dressings when necessary.
One way large practices are improving patient convenience is by offering on-site laboratory services. But phlebotomy, taking blood samples from a vein with a needle, requires technical expertise. Clinical medical assistants are trained not only to take samples but also to process them and submit them for analysis. In offices with in-house labs, they may also perform select tests and maintain laboratory equipment.
Administering Medications and Immunizations
Administering medications and vaccinations is one way clinical medical assistants support the nursing staff in a physician’s office, allowing them to concentrate on more complex issues. While giving shots seems easy, it’s a relatively complex procedure that includes educating the patient and obtaining consent. Technical know-how is required, as is the basic understanding of pharmacology.
Clients need guidance before, during and after appointments with their physician. With both medical know-how and technical skills, clinical medical assistants are the perfect staff persons to talk to clients about what to expect from their visit. From assisting with gathering specimens to explaining procedures, they help patients stay informed so they can better participate in their care.
Skills for Success for a Clinical Medical Assistant
Medical assistant training programs cover all of the technical skills necessary for success in the workplace but having the right blend of both practical and people skills is a plus for those choosing a clinical role. The list of skills a clinical medical assistant needs for success include compassion, communication, problem solving, and team spirit.
Compassion is more than sensitivity toward the suffering of others, it’s the drive to help. At its core, it is what medicine is all about, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in the technical aspects of healthcare and forget that people are more than the sum of their physical complaints. Only through compassion can clinical medical assistants work hand in hand with patients to support them through challenges and help them meet their goals.
Clinical medical assistants serve as liaisons between patients and their doctors, so their demeanor and the professionalism with which they represent the practice can either open or close the doors of communication. Medical assistants working directly with patients should feel comfortable and confident engaging in conversation and building rapport. It’s the foundation of trust.
A doctor’s office is a fast-paced environment, and the unpredictable happens every day; that’s the nature of healthcare. Clinical medical assistants know that, so they approach small problems proactively and look for solutions to prevent them from escalating. It requires observation, critical thinking and the willingness to ask questions.
Nothing is more important in healthcare than teamwork. In a doctor’s office, everyone has a specific job to do, but supporting one another is essential for the sake of patients. Working as a team in a large office can be challenging at times because people have different personalities and priorities. Team spirit requires putting aside personal differences to work toward a common goal. It takes effort and mutual respect to build healthy and productive interpersonal relationships in the workplace.
Careers in healthcare have many things in common. They’re exciting, meaningful and personally fulfilling, but some aren’t particularly flexible. One of the best parts about being a medical assistant is the ability to choose a focus that makes the most out of one’s talents and preferences. Anyone who enjoys providing the best in hands-on patient care will thrive as a clinical medical assistant.
Did learning about what a clinical medical assistant is interest you? Interested in working with colleagues that want to help their patients stay healthy? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical assisting field? PCI Health Training Center’s Medical Assistant program prepares the graduate to work as an entry-level Medical Assistant. Within this general career category there are several specialty areas, including Medical Administrative Office Assistant, Clinic Assistant, Clinic Tech, Medical Office Manager, Phlebotomist and Physical Therapy Aide in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital out-patient clinic. Contact PCI Health Training Center for more information on how to become a medical assistant and start a rewarding career today.
**PCI firmly upholds its policy of nondiscrimination. Inquiries regarding policy may be directed to TitleIXCoordinator@pcihealth.com.
For more information about our graduation rates and other important information, please visit our website at www.pcihealth.edu/consumer-information.