I’m A Trained Medical Assistant. Now What?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about failed job hunting:

I recently graduated from a medical assisting school and shortly after, took a test to become certified. I just turned 40 and most of the jobs I apply for tell me they want at least 1 year experience. I completed 2 externships. One for phlebotomy at a hospital and the second at an Urgent Care. I graduated with honors and a GPA of 3.89. I’m told medical assisting is in high demand but I can’t seem to get my foot in a door. Could my age be the bigger cause?

Signed, Waiting To Work

Dear Waiting To Work:

Stay positive about your career future–you sound as though you are someone who is going to be a valuable addition to a medical practice. You just need the chance! Medical assisting IS in high demand, in that the role is needed in many facilities. But medical assistants are NOT necessarily in demand in every area of the country. There are many more people with M.A. training than there are jobs in most metropolitan areas. One large practice with which I’m familiar had eight assistants and needed one more. They received over six hundred resumes for the one job!

Your age, far from being a detriment, could actually be an asset you can build upon, because hopefully with age has come experience, confidence, flexibility, tolerance, communication skills and commitment. Those are not always present in large quantities with people just out of high school or just getting started with adult life.Many M.A.s are young women and men who have not settled upon every aspect of a career, who may be getting married and moving, or choosing to move around some. In the case of women, there may be pregnancies and either a long leave, or the M.A. quits. Thus, dependability and length of employment is a key issue when considering hiring a medical assistant. Often M.A.s quit because the work is not what they thought. The ads on TV for M.A. training show a smiling young man or woman in a lovely medical facility, with admiring patients and a nice looking doctor who treats them as an equal. The reality is not like that in many cases. Not always, but in some cases–probably too many–nurses and doctors tend to view M.A.s as anonymous assistants, without treating them as though they are part of the team. That’s not always the case, and I know M.A.s who feel very much included in office communications. But often, especially if there are several M.A.s, it is difficult to feel significant within the team.

It will be good for you to be prepared for the possibility of that kind of situation, and decide how you will deal with it. This is where your maturity and commitment will help.Another issue is that when there are multiple M.A.s in an office, there is almost inevitably some conflict, just as there is in any office setting. The most common challenges are these: Conflict between the M.A.s over who is working more or less, conflict about breaks and lunch, conflict about communication styles and personal habits and traits. These are particularly a problem when complaining can be heard by patients, the doctors or others.

Once again, your maturity and desire for employment and career development, will help you avoid these problems.General work issues are: Not keeping track of reports and files properly, being discourteous or abrupt with patients, showing frustration with staff, becoming emotional when corrected by doctors or nurses about a situation, and not keeping up with the schedule. This is another situation in which your life experience can be helpful to you. None of that should imply that M.A.s are not valued and appreciated in most practices. But, if one medical assistant doesn’t work out, there are others available. That may be one reason why you are having problems finding work: I am told by medical managers that there is a lot of movement and turnover in the M.A. field.

Let me suggest this: Office managers are greatly influenced by reference letters. But they are not influenced by reference letters that sound canned and blah. Do you have a relationship with any of your former managers, physicians or nurses, that would allow you to ask them for a more personalized reference letter? If you do, consider writing them a letter or email message in which you tell them you have been advised to make sure that reference letters address the key areas of concern for many medical managers.Ask them to mention in their reference letter their thoughts about your dependability as to punctuality and attendance, your ability to work with others, and your overall commitment to doing your work in the best possible way.

Most people writing a reference letter LIKE to receive suggestions about what needs to be included. In your letter asking for such a reference, you can say something like, “You certainly do not have to use these ideas if you would prefer a different format. I thought they might make it easier for you, as well as helping the letter catch the eye of the reviewer.”If you have a resume, you likely have a statement at the top that tells your employment goals. Make that statement work for you. Instead of the usual, “Seeking work in which I can ….etc.”, say something like, “I am a mature, dependable, experienced and committed medical assistant, with the goal of providing support for a great medical team.” Or something like that. Catch the eye immediately.

Then, in addition to listing your externships or other experience, list what knowledge and skills you gained from them–both technical and professional. If a practice was small, write that you learned to work well in a sometimes cramped environment where effective interpersonal skills were crucial. If a practice was large, write that you learned to communicate effectively with doctors, nurses, other M.A.s and patients, all who had different styles. Find ways to emphasize your maturity and experiences, and your effectiveness in seeing to it that your part of a medical process runs smoothly.

Also include professional development activities. Sign up for newsletters, join organizations such as the American Association of Medical Assistants, list the books you have recently read, to keep up to date. Present yourself as above the norm for applicants. All of those things can be done in the resume as well as in an interview. It may be that there are other issues causing the problem with your job search. Perhaps you can have a knowledgeable person review your resume and even do a mock interview, then critique you. There ARE jobs to be had–the important thing is to be the candidate that is needed, and ensure that the potential employer knows it. Not so easy to do! But I’m confident you can find a way to sell your knowledge, skills and positive traits.Best wishes! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.