Mary Newsad is a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) who has worked for Exempla Healthcare in the Denver metropolitan area for the past six years. The 28-year-old is one of many floating medical assistants -- meaning she's worked in about 40 different clinics during her time with Exempla.
CareerColleges.com spoke at length with Newsad to learn more about her professional experience as a medical assistant and to see what advice she has for anyone interested in the profession.
Q. What made you want to become a medical assistant?
A. I was interested in health care and wasn't sure if I wanted to go into nursing. Being a medical assistant was a quick program, and I was able to get my feet wet in the medical field and decide if I wanted to go on to nursing.
Q. What is a typical workday like?
A. Family practices and general practices are very busy -- sometimes you can see over 100 patients per day. There are days where I am constantly on my feet running around, taking care of patients, and doing procedures. Aside from breaks I don't sit down much. It is constant work, and when you are not taking care of patients you are answering phone calls, doing faxing and stuff like that. Specialty offices are a little more low-key, and you may do more administrative stuff.
Q. What is your favorite part about your job?
A. It is a tie between helping people and taking care of people, which I love, and learning about how miraculous the human body is.
Q. What do you like least about this career?
A. The salary, and the fact that sometimes you are working with lots of different people -- and some are more difficult to work with than others.
Q. What medical procedures have you assisted in?
A. Circumcisions, colposcopies, LEEPs (loop electrosurgical excision procedures) and just regular physical exams. I have also drained an abscess on a patient.
Q. Do you get to learn any exciting skills from doctors and nurses as a medical assistant?
A. Mostly I learn at the family practice clinics; at primary care clinics I don't really do too many new things. Sometimes the doctors like to teach. If you have a good relationship with them, they will show and teach you things that are within your scope of practice. Most of what you learn is just for your general knowledge, but some practices will have you help with different procedures, like circumcisions and colposcopies. You get to help mostly by handing out instruments and setting up for the procedure.
Q. Does medical assisting require a lot of memorization?
A. No, not really. It is mostly just learning a set of skills and then you do them over and over again. However, in school you have to learn different medical terms and remember what they are, and what the ranges are for vital signs like blood pressure and pulse. Once you get into the field, there is not a ton of memorization.
Q. What kind of hours do you work, and how are those scheduled? Also, how are weekends and holidays handled?
A. I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday. It's different for medical assistants who work in urgent care (facilities). Those are open just like a hospital -- on Christmas and Thanksgiving, they are open. Other medical assistants work three 12-hour shifts or take turns rotating on Saturdays.
Q. What are some benefits you enjoy at work?
A. If you work for a corporation full-time, you get medical benefits. I get medical, dental and retirement, which is really nice. As far as benefits from the job, it is definitely a very rewarding feeling being able to help people and have their procedures done a little bit easier. I have learned so many different things and grown so much in my knowledge of health and how physicians diagnose.
Q. How have you grown in your role from previous years?
A. I definitely have become more confident. It is really hard at first, because people are relying on you, and they can sense when you are a little unsure. Caring for patients and making sure they get the best care possible is a big responsibility. I have learned so much from working with all the different doctors that I now feel confident in what I am doing and can portray that confidence to them.
Q. What are some typical certifications medical assistants hold?
A. In the state of Colorado, there are two ways to become certified. You can be either a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), and it just depends on what organization you take the test through. I took my test through the American Association of Medical Assistants, so I'm a CMA. I also got certified in urine drug screening. You also can get your limited scope (certification), where you can shoot basic X-rays; you get paid a little more for that.
Q. Do you think it's worth it to become certified?
A. A lot of medical assistants are not certified, but if they get hired on and have experience it doesn't matter much. However, it is definitely better if you are certified.
Q. What formal training did you receive before beginning your career?
A. I have an associate degree in science with a certificate in medical assisting that I got through a community college. You don't have to have an associate degree; you can go to a trade school and just get certified. I chose to get an associate degree, and I transferred and finished my education at night to get my bachelor's degree in liberal arts.
Q. What kind of advice would you give a new student going through a medical assistant program?
A. Pick an associate degree and get a certificate at a community college. You can get federal loans and grants there, and it is more reputable. You also won't have as big of debt as you would at a trade school. Also, definitely do an externship at a family or internal medicine practice rather than at a specialty clinic.
When you get out of school, try to get into an organization, because sometimes private practices can't offer health benefits or insurance. Getting certified also is a good thing to do.
Q. What is the interview process like for aspiring medical assistants?
A. Most companies have you interview at least once. You also have to pass a skills test to make sure you are proficient. After you complete your training and an externship, a lot of times you can get hired on at the place you did your externship if you did a good job and there is an opening.
Q. How can you move up and get promoted as a medical assistant?
A. You can move up to lead medical assistant where you are supervising others, or you can move to a management position and manage a clinic. Clinics like that because you have a background in the clinical side, and can step in and help out if needed. A lot of us do go back to school for nursing or to become a physician's assistant. That is really the only way to advance and get little bit better salary and more responsibility.
Q. What kind of work experience is most valuable as a medical assistant?
A. Working in primary care is definitely valuable -- we are the gatekeepers there. Working for specialty clinics is important, too, because you see so many different things, but primary care is the best place to do an externship, because you learn everything. From there, working at different specialties is very important because there are so many people with diabetes, thyroid problems and heart conditions. Women's care is also a very valuable specialty to work in.
Q. Finally, what do you know now that you wish you knew starting out in your career as a medical assistant?
A. If you are single and don't have a family to support, you earn a somewhat decent salary. It is very hard work mentally and physically. I do wish I would have done nursing because you do get compensated better for that, and there is more opportunity to move up and do different things.
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 CareerColleges.com or any other organization.