Interview with Medical Assistant Department Chair Teresa Williamson

Programs and Schools

Teresa Williamson is a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) and the medical assistant department chair at Everest College in Renton, Wash. Teresa, who lives nearby in Federal Way, has worked as a medical assisting instructor for eight years. Before working as a professor and medical assistant, she completed an accredited medical assisting program that culminated in an associate degree in applied science from Highline College in Des Moines, Wash. After graduating from college she earned her CMA credential from the American Association of Medical Assistants.

Teresa was kind enough to talk with Career Colleges, drawing on her professional and teaching experience to shed some light on what prospective students should expect from a medical assisting program, what they can do to find success in both the classroom and a potential career, and what strategies she uses to teach effectively.

Q. How did you end up teaching this program?

A. I was working in the field and loving my job as a medical assistant, and I was receiving new students who were doing their externships. One student said she thought I was a great teacher and that I should become an instructor. I saw a position open, applied for it, and was hired.

Q. As an instructor, how do you measure the success of a program?

A. Ultimately the success of a program would be [measured by] the amount of students that become employed. Individually, the success of an instructor would be [based on] if they are successfully instructing the curriculum that is provided, and if students are grasping the clinical and administrative skills, along with the soft skills needed to work in delicate situations.

Q. How do you keep up-to-date with the latest changes to medical assisting practices?

A. Ultimately, what is very important [in staying up-to-date] is that I stay connected with the community, such as visiting doctors' offices, and I also have my continuing education units. I have all my instructors do that as well, so that if they invent a new medicine or a new machine we can implement that into our program. It is pretty much keeping in the know with medicine, because it is ever-changing.

Q. Do you have any experience incorporating newer educational technologies into your courses?

A. Recently, when we got our SMART boards, the medical assisting instructors and department chair put in what they thought would be helpful into the new curriculum. One of those things was user-friendly textbooks where every couple of pages a series of questions is asked. We also went through the SMART tech training to create games and things like that on our particular system.

Q. How can students best prepare for the challenges of the program?

A. From my experience and from watching students grow, it pretty much comes down to having their lives in order and having the time to be able to study. Arrive to class on time, be prepared, and have your materials ready to go. Don't miss any days because you can miss valuable information. Even those who have slight learning disabilities can learn the clinical side. They can do blood pressures and assist with procedures, because it's hands-on learning.

Q. From your own experience, what are some fundamental characteristics a student must possess to succeed in a medical assisting program and in the workplace?

A. Integrity is number one. Along with that is a positive attitude, the willingness to learn, dependability, and the desire to have a goal -- with the knowledge that they can achieve that goal.

Students also need to have a great attitude in class and on the job.. It means they are always willing to do what they can to help their coworkers. Being a great student entails accepting constructive criticism, either positive or negative. Most importantly, avoid complaining. And, of course, work ethic is [also] very important, whether it's in academics or the workplace. Flexibility and adaptability can help students deal with ever-changing circumstances.

Q. What types of internship or volunteer work do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?

A. [Students should] go to a regular doctor and ask if they can job shadow at least once a month with a medical assistant and see what it actually entails. It's important for both front office and back office work. They get to see how it all wraps together, and if they can watch someone in their career, they can see what they are looking for.

Q. What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?

A. Every one of them should join the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). It's pretty inexpensive, and it's a lot of networking, plus members get a magazine and regular emails. It is a way to uplift the profession and stay connected with medical assisting. There are other organizations, but here on the West Coast it is pretty much the AAMA.

Q. What advice would you give students who are thinking about going into this field?

A. The first thing is to make sure that they do some career searching and make sure it is what they want to do. Sit in a class for a day and see if you can do this. Oftentimes, people start the program only to find that they can't do the injections or work with blood. It is important that they shadow a class as well to help prepare for the classes or to work in the field.

Q. What real world experience do students get during school? Do they practice on real patients, or on one another?

A. They practice on each other. We have an introduction class, where they get some practice, and if they go on to the regular lab they practice more on each other. They do four different kinds of injections and venipuncture [procedures], and we have different methods they practice using. They do EKGs on each other. They learn how to assist with different procedures such as a pap and colposcopy. Barometry, EKGs -- they pretty much learn anything the doctor does in the office.

Q. Do students have to memorize many medical terms in your courses?

A. Yes, they do. At the foundation are word parts. They learn prefixes, suffixes and root parts. They break down a word like endocrinology, or ophthalmology. They pretty much do terminology every single class module. They put them on flash cards and practice with them. We also might do terminology in a game through our interactive lecture system. Some games involve matching terminology on a board, or doing crossword puzzles, and they also learn terminology in their homework.

Q. Do you recommend any books or blogs to your students to help them learn about medical assisting?

A. We have an incredible learning network that the students can get into. There are movies on it and everything you would ever want to help facilitate or learn. We also have tutoring sessions a couple of times a week. There also is a Facebook page where they can ask questions, and our website that we use as well.

Q. What is your outlook on the future of medical assisting?

A. It is a high-demand profession. I see it becoming a little more strict as far as people being able to choose to be medical assistants. In the state of Washington, they are implementing a new registration process for medical assisting, and one of the requirements is to be certified. You have to pass an accredited medical assisting school program. All the technical schools, whether private or public, are raising standards for their level of training and knowledge. Before it was just an extra feather in your cap if you got certified, but now the state of Washington is requiring it [a Washington certification credential] when students are done with their programs.

Q. How do you teach students how to prepare for the demands of the field?

A. It goes back to work ethic and attitude. We let them know that they have chosen a people-oriented career, and it also is extremely demanding. They are on their feet most of time. It is also about time management -- seeing whether they can manage their time, patients, and doctor's schedule. My favorite thing to do is invite back previous grads [to the school] who have been hired and ones who have not and get the contrast between both [types of] students. The ones that were hired can tell the students why they were hired. We also have guest speakers that show them what it takes in order to get a job.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.