You are curious about medical assisting (MA) and have heard some promising things about this growing field. But before you feel confident about going for this degree, you want to know the steps it takes to get there.
The obvious first step is to earn your MA degree. After that, you may go on to take a medical assisting certification exam. And then … that’s it, right? You’ll be ready to start your first MA job?
Actually, let’s back up a little first. Before certification, and while earning your degree, you’ll complete a medical assistant internship, which can also be known as an externship. Whether getting hands-on experience before you’re certified excites, scares or just plain annoys you, it’s important you know what the internship experience is like before making any decisions.
The MA internship: the basics
An internship is like a new job – both are a little scary on the first day, when you have no idea what’s going to happen. Knowing the experience of others can be helpful. We reached out to two people at Rasmussen College to get a good idea of what the experience is like both from those that help facilitate it and those who have recently experienced it.
When do MA internships take place?
Before you even start a degree program it’s important to know about the timing of the internship. Internships generally happen near the end of your coursework, after you’ve spent plenty of time in the classroom. At Rasmussen College, internships happen year-round because students are on different schedules, says Melissa Johnson, Rasmussen College MA program coordinator.
How do students prepare for the internship experience?
How will you know you’re prepared to tackle an internship? Easy – your coursework will help you. At Rasmussen College, Johnson says “PATH” is important in the classroom. PATH stands for professionalism, attitude, time-management, and hygiene. Students have to grade themselves every week on these four areas to mentally prepare themselves. The goal is that the classroom experience will mimic the clinical environment so that students are not only comfortable with their skills, but are professionally prepared as well.
Teachers are an important part of internship prep, too. Soon-to-be graduate Danielle Maggiolo said that her teachers really worked to help her be ready for the clinic experience.
How does internship placement work?
Students can be placed in any clinic that Rasmussen College has an affiliation agreement with, including specialty clinics, Johnson says. However, where a student is placed is not just left to chance. A quarter before the internship, students will fill out a form indicating their internship preferences.
“I became really close with my teachers,” says Maggiolo. “I felt like they knew what I needed. I was placed in a midwife clinic, which was one of my top three choices and within the geographical area where I was looking.”
How much responsibility are students given during their MA internship?
The responsibilities students are given depends on the clinic. Students will likely shadow other MAs, observing their work. Johnson says the MA-in-training will be probably be given responsibilities such as rooming a patient, answering phones or perhaps even drawing blood under supervision.
Maggiolo started with shadowing and then moved on to rooming patients, blood-draw and administrative work.
“With the responsibility I was given, I felt like I was part of the staff and that I was learning exactly what I needed to learn without being treated like I was just a student,” she says.
How do students balance an MA internship and classes?
Students will need to complete all of their core courses before they are eligible for the internship. The internship is a 240-hour of commitment along with a capstone course, and although it’s not easy, Johnson says most students find a way to balance everything.
“If you’re dedicated, you can do it,” agrees Maggiolo, mother of two. During her internship, she was also working a 20-hour-a-week job and still thrived. “I even got A’s in my courses that quarter! If I can do it, anybody can do it."
Will an internship result in a job offer?
Though there are no guarantees, Johnson says that if the student has done well in their internship and the clinic has an opening, students often will be offered a position. If there is no opening at that specific clinic, the supervisor will often help the student get a job at another clinic.
“I was offered as a job a week before I was done,” Maggiolo says. “I think if you put all your effort into it, keep a positive attitude and show them that this is what you really want, getting a job is attainable.”
Is MA the right career for you?
As you can see, a lot goes into a medical assistant internship, from timing and schedule juggling to the actual duties you’ll have at the clinic. If you’re interested in becoming an MA, an MA internship will certainly get you on the right path.
Now that you have had a peek into what a medical assistant internship looks like, you may be ready and excited to jump right into your education. But there’s also a chance you still have some lingering questions. If you need a better idea of what it takes to be an MA, read up on the skills you’ll need to succeed and feel confident in the career.
Medical Assistant Externship – Why Do I Need It?
Medical assistant (MA) students train to work in a variety of health care settings including clinics, hospitals and physician practices. Medical assistant training programs are available at trade schools, colleges and universities across the country. These programs provide students with the knowledge they need to develop the skills necessary to work successfully as a medical assistant. They include courses pertaining to patient care, medications, and office administration. Toward the end of their programs, many medical assistant training programs require students to participate in a medical assistant externship.
How can externship help me?
An externship, also known as job shadowing, provides students with opportunity to work closely with an experienced person working in their chosen field. A MA externship allows medical assisting students the chance to work with medical assistants already established in the field. It provides them with the chance to work directly with patients, doctors and other health care providers. MA externships are typically set up through the school and can last up to an entire semester. Some programs set up the externships with a variety of health care establishments. This gives students the chance to gain experience in multiple health care settings, including physician practices, clinics and hospitals. It also allows students to see the different specialties in which a MA can choose. Medical assistants have the chance to specialize in areas such as optometry, obstetrics, pediatrics and podiatry.
What would I do during the externship ?
A medical assistant externship is an important part of the training students go through in order to work as a successful medical assistant. It provides them with the opportunity to use what they learned during the training program in real life situations. A MA externship allows students to practice and develop the skills necessary to work in the medical assisting industry.
During an externship, a MA student provides patient care, performs treatments, educates patients and assists the doctor with procedures. They apply the knowledge they learn when assessing patients. They get the chance to explain about medications or treatments that the patient is to perform at home. They have the ability to practice demonstrating equipment the patient needs to care for them at home.
The MA externship allows students to gain the clinical experience of caring for patients and running the office. They get to greet patients and collect patient information including demographics and insurance provider information. MA students are shown during their externship how to coordinate a patient’s care with other health care provider. This occurs when the patient needs an appointment with a specialist, therapy sessions and diagnostic testing. All of the experience gained during a medical assistant externship is helpful when applying and interviewing for jobs because the time spent during an externship counts as experience.
You get to work with an experienced medical assistant:
Medical assistant externships act as a transitional time, allowing individuals to go from students to practicing MA. They learn how to apply what they were taught and practiced during school. The experienced MA a student is assigned to shadow will spend a few days orienting the student to the office. They will explain how the office is run and provide systematic instructions how to perform the duties required of them at that facility. After the student becomes more comfortable in the health care setting, the experienced MA will begin having the student perform the tasks and duties in which they are responsible.
The experienced MA will observe the student while performing the duties and provide constructive criticism and tips for performing certain tasks. Students have the chance to ask questions and focus more on their weaknesses during this time. The transition from students to actual medical assistants allows them to enter the workforce competently because they have the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to work as a MA in the field. An externship provides the opportunity to gain experience actually working as a medical assistant. The MA externship allows students to perfect their techniques for performing assessments, treatments and administering medications.
You get evaluated!
Evaluations are an important part of the medical assistant externship portion of the training program. Typically, the experienced medical assistant whom the student is shadowing is the one who completes their evaluation. Some programs have the experienced MA and the physician under which the MA worked both fill out evaluations. These evaluations often occur halfway through and at the end of the externship. They are used to determine the abilities of each student has to work competently as a MA in the field. Constructive criticisms are listed on the evaluations. Also included are the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Some programs may have evaluations completed after each externship, if multiple health care settings are used. Some programs may use the evaluations to determine a students grade if the externship is counted as an actual course as part of the MA training program.
Article Written by Rachel Dennis
Rachel Dennis works as both a professional writer and health care provider. She has been a licensed health care provider since 1998, with work experience as a medical assistant, certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician. She has been writing since 1994 and has been published both on-line and in print.