MIDWEST TECHNICAL INSTITUTE — EAST PEORIA
280 High Point Lane
East Peoria, IL 61611
MON–FRI: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM
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280 High Point Lane
East Peoria, IL 61611
MON–FRI: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Joining us on this episode is Emma aper, the Medical assistant program director for Midwest Technical Institute.
Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College have six locations in Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi. They are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Lee Doubleday: Hello and welcome to our third episode of our Medical Assistant Careers series on Imagine America Radio, where we focus specifically on the medical assisting careers. Joining us today is Emma Aper, medical assisting program director of Midwest Technical Institute in Springfield, Illinois. Today we would like to discuss medical assistant careers as it pertains to COVID-19. As a leading provider of education in medical assisting, we couldn’t think of anybody better to call than Emma Aper with Midwest Technical Institute. Let’s start by telling our listeners exactly what a medical assistant is. Emma, can you briefly explain what a medical assistant does?
Emma Aper: Yeah. So medical assistants are responsible for a lot of tasks in outpatient clinics. It could be a doctor’s office, a specialty clinic, anything like that—just really anything outpatient. You think of urgent cares, your primary doctor’s office, a specialty like plastics, cardiology, pulmonology—anything like that. So, no matter what kind of clinic it is, medical assistants—they interact with patients from as early as before their visit—scheduling the appointment, taking a phone call to decide if the patient needs a visit or if it could be something handled over the phone. So that would be where their role would start for a patient. And then it would go all the way until—through the visit and then potentially for follow-up.
So, the medical assistant will handle tasks in the clinic. They can do anything from EKGs, vital signs when the patient first gets there, chief complaint, asking a ton of questions for the doctor just to prepare the patient to be seen. And then, if the doctor were to order anything—like I said, EKGs, labs, any type of education—the medical assistant would take care of that as well. And then, after the visit, whether it’s a follow-up visit, a follow-up phone call, or anything like that—post-surgical—they do a little bit of everything. So, the medical assistants are really, really, really key part of a medical office. So, they’re going to work with almost anybody on the health care team. They can work one-on-one with doctors. They could work one-on-one with mid-levels. They could work one-on-one with nurses as well. They could be in charge of all of the tasks for the day. So, they are so well-rounded and great for clinics because they really can be utilized in any aspect of the clinic, so.
Lee: Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of the biggest thing I hear you saying is that they’re well-rounded because they sort of have to have their hands in everything. They talk to everybody at the office—that includes the patients. It sounds like they talk to the doctors and nurses, do a lot of the scheduling—and I know, in many cases, actually draw blood as phlebotomists.
Emma: Yeah. I’ve even had graduates from here—well, they’ll be working back and taking care of patients back in the patient care area. And then they’ll get pulled to the front desk to do some type of administrative duties or be on the phone, and then they’ll get pulled to lab later that day to do some type of specimen collection. So, they are really, like you said, well-rounded. Honestly, that’s the best way—they really do get such a variety of skill sets. So yeah, that’s just a pretty basic—
Lee: Okay. Now let’s talk a little bit about the daily life of medical assistant and how much this has changed due to COVID-19. As we all know, medical assistants are considered an essential career. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing as the largest changes from the medical assistant career prior to COVID-19, versus what you’re seeing is demanded on them now?
Emma: Sure. I think there always has been a strategic need for medical assistants. But I really think, throughout COVID, that that has been highlighted, honestly, with the—there’s a lot of places that are short-staffed, whether it was for a hiring freeze or because people weren’t able to go for personal reasons because of COVID or something like that. But for some reason, it feels like medical assistants have kind of just been called to fill those holes. It’s very strategic, when you think about the cost of the health care—and that versus an RN. So, it really is a strategic need. And I feel like, the clinics feel like—they’re starting to realize more and more of the holes that medical assistants can fill. So that is probably the biggest thing I’ve seen is just the need for medical assistants. Like I said earlier, having such a broad range of things that they’re able to do allows them to fill holes everywhere. So, if they were hired to fill that medical assistant role, like I said, they could help out in lab, they could help with administrative duties and stuff like that. So, I think the role has just been utilized so strategically through COVID.
Lee: Yeah. You bring up an interesting point. I know that a lot of students may choose to go into medical assisting to see if they like the medical field—if it’s a good career path for them before choosing to maybe go into an RN program or a vocational nursing program. And so, it sounds like what you’re saying is that now is kind of the best time to become a medical assistant because chances are, you’re going to be thrown into sort of a quasi-nursing role as it is. Well, you will at least be asked to do things that you may not now—because of COVID-19—may not have been asked to do before. So, this would be a real eye-opening experience for you if you will either know whether or not you belong in this field or not, yeah, and if you like it. So that’s an interesting point.
Emma: Yeah. Like I said, they get a taste of seriously everything. So it really is a good first step to getting into health care, if that’s something you feel like you’re interested in—taking that step and getting a little bit of experience in every aspect, and then if you wanted to kind of take off and go further with it—whether you wanted to be on the business side of things or the nursing side of things—you would already have that basis of education and experience that you would need for those roles too, so.
Lee: Now, at Imagine America we’ve always thought of medical assistants as essential—and in fact, they’ve always been and they still are today. For a career medical assistant, do you need to be—as I understand it, you need to be certified. Am I right?
Emma: Yeah. For the most part, yes.
Lee: Okay. Now, what is that certification, and how do medical assistants become certified? And also, a separate question, is the demand so great right now that people are getting hired while the certification exam is extended?
Emma: Yeah. As far as certifications, there are a few different tests that you could take, but typically you do have to complete formal education and have a diploma to prove for that—unless you had a lot of work experience doing medical assistant things, but that’s not super common. So, once you completed a program, like MTI, you would be eligible to take a certification exam. A couple of common ones for us are the AMA and NCCT. Most health care systems are going to require certification. However, throughout COVID, I have seen where they’ll hire prior to certification and then they’ll pay for the certification and work with them to be certified, but that’s not super common. As far as not being certified though, there are some roles that medical assistants can get without being certified. It’d probably be more like a specialty clinic or something like that, but, overall, the certification is—it’s going to be required by most clinics.
Lee: Yeah, I mean, if I were considering going into the medical assisting field, I think that I would want to get a formal education, especially now because you want to leave as many doors open as possible. And if you’re going to be put into a situation where they really need as much assistance as possible, you don’t want to be hamstrung by not having the right certification to be able to jump into that role with two feet. And so, it sounds to me like a formal education along with that certification by—I think you said NCCT, which is a partner of ours, and we really like those guys. But that sounds to me like the best way to go. But we may have some individuals contemplating this career choice due to the demand and the compelling need to help their community, which is, I think, an undertone that I hear from medical assistants is just their drive to help people. But what would you say are some characteristics of someone who makes a great medical assistant?
Emma: Well, I think, like you said, being dedicated to helping others is so important because that’s what they would be doing every day, whether it was over the phone, in person, once the patient leaves, or—just having that desire is really important. Another thing is just loving the trade, honestly. There’s so much knowledge in health care. There’s so much room for growth. So, I feel like someone that’s excited about their trade, this is where they need to be because, like we talked about earlier, there are so many different steps and so many different directions to go in health care. So, I feel like someone who’s really looking for opportunity would be a great medical assistant. Another thing is, someone that likes to work on a team because being in health care, you have such great support around you. And there’s so many different people that you’re working with every day and people training you and getting you through. If this is a new career for you, yeah—I think someone that likes to work on a team, that would be a good characteristic to have as well.
Lee: Yeah, I mean, and I’m kind of bringing this back to stuff that we had mentioned earlier. But if you are joining a team that needs you to do a number of different tasks, it sounds like you’d be working with all different types of people at that practice, including patients. And so, you have to be somebody that can communicate well and get along with team members, and obviously be knowledgeable and have a desire to help people, sort of gets you in that career field. Okay, now let’s say I’m someone who’s interested in studying medical assisting. What are a few things that I should be looking for in a school that provides this program? Should it be accreditation? Maybe not just the institutional accreditation, maybe program accreditation. The length of program, the teachers, is there relationship with employers, which I know is a really big reason why people decide to go to career schools in the first place. But what is sort of like a checklist you would use if you were looking to attend a school with a medical assisting program?
Emma: Of course, accreditation—prior to asking a lot of questions about, “What do I have at the end of this? Is it a diploma? Will I have the opportunity to get a certification?” Other things to consider are length of the program. Does somebody want to be in school for two, four years—or are they looking for something that’s less than a year? What does a day look like for a student in the classroom? I think it’s important to consider—potentially it’s an online opportunity. Potentially it’s in the classroom. Potentially you go to lab and get those hands-on skills every single day. How does the program prepare you to get out into the field? So, do they offer an externship program? And what does that opportunity look like? And then also preparing for the certification exam at the end. What will this program do for me to pass a certification exam and be ready for a job? Maybe I’m so scared to do an interview. Will they work with me to improve my interview skills? Will they work with me to be ready for the job that I want in the end? So those are all things to consider.
Lee: Yeah, it sounds like you hit all the touch points that somebody would be interested in learning more about, which is first, accreditation, second, length of program. You want to make sure that you have a program that’s going to allow you to get into the career field as quickly as possible, which I think is common among people who decide to go to career and technical education. They do that because they want to start in the industry as soon as they can, and our schools are really good at providing quality content in a condensed amount of time. And the third thing I heard you say is flexibility. Does the program offer hours that I can attend or either—some sort of hybrid model? Are they available, not just in class time but also to help me after class with interview prep and career services? So, these are all interesting points, and I’m glad that you mentioned them.
This is sort of the end of our podcast episode here. And what I’m hearing is that medical assistant careers are obviously essential in the workforce and there’s a huge need for medical assistants, now more than usual because of COVID-19. And COVID has put an increased responsibility on the modern-day medical assistant. Many medical practices now look to medical assistants for additional help because of their education. They’re so well-versed in a number of different areas. They’re at a role now that gives them the ability not only to help patients, but to help the medical practice run more efficiently in this time of need. And as I understand it, medical assistants are the type of person that—above all else—are getting into this profession to help people. Now, this has been another great episode of the Imagine America Radio on medical assisting and how COVID-19 has impacted the industry. If you’d like more information, please visit our website, which is www.imagine-america.org/podcast. Well, I want to thank Emma for joining us today. Emma, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you today on the podcast.
Emma: Yeah, thank you so much, Lee. It’s been a great interview.