Laura received a call from a man complaining of lethargy and shortness of breath, who said he just did not feel like himself. She suggested taking vitals just to be safe, and the man came into the clinic. He then proceeded to be extremely difficult, working on his laptop and refusing to cooperate as Laura ran orthostatics (where vitals are taken on a patient while sitting, while standing and while lying down). All three results came out different, which was unusual.
Laura convinced the supervising physician to allow an EKG, and it was discovered the man had a serious heart condition that was on the verge of threatening his life. Because Laura’s vitals and EKG allowed the problem to be recognized, steps were able to be taken. But things could have easily gone differently.
Laura is a clinical medical assistant working at a specialty clinic. Her day is not always that dramatic — like many MAs, she performs both clinical and administrative functions, both working directly with patients and handling other tasks such as scheduling and coordinating. She spends most of her time working alongside doctors, helping patients prepare for procedures, and making sure the clinic is always ready to handle the next case. Laura shared her medical assisting experience with MedicalAssistants.net, to walk us through a day as a medical assistant.
The “Typical Day”
“I generally start by prepping charts,” she said during an email interview. “This is to figure out if I need any forms to be signed, any special wound care dressing to have ready, injections, etc.” The clinic also needs to be prepped, including stocking rooms and taking inventory, as well as sterilizing equipment and surfaces.
This preparation is to make sure everything is ready to go when patients, such as the man with the heart condition, arrive needing assistance. This ensures they can be attended to quickly, efficiently and safely.
“Every patient has vitals taken — blood pressure, weight, pulse, temperature etc. Confirm any allergies and medications the patient is on,” she said. “After that I get the patient ready; if a wound, expose the area. If an exam, gown them. Doctors are notified if anything looks abnormal on vitals.”
That last part is important: If a patient arrives with abnormal vitals or other warning signs, it is up to the medical assistant to notice and inform the doctor quickly. “This actually saves lives … I’ve had a few in my lifetime,” Laura said.
The Administrative Flipside
The administrative side of the role also plays a part in a medical assistant’s day. Part of the medical assistant’s job description is to make sure the doctors have everything they need, whether it’s help coordinating the next steps for the patient, finishing any extra paperwork, or handling phone calls.
“While the doctor is in the room I tend to tasks like prior authorization, billing, phone triage, appointments, referrals, filing and prescriptions,” Laura said. “And I keep a warm cup of coffee ready for the doctor.”
Laura’s job duties vary throughout the day, but since she is in a specialty division her work tends to revolve around very sick patients who need close care. Part of her job is to continually track the progress of patients on home IV drips. At least twice a month she has to have a patient rushed to the emergency room. It is a role with a certain amount of responsibility.
Getting to the Top Rung
Not all MAs will have this type of experience on the job, Laura said. “You have to earn the doctor’s trust to get to this level.” Many MAs will be checking vitals, making phone calls and performing mostly lower-risk tasks until they have become more established. But, Laura says, “there are some MAs out there who will need to know what to expect when dealing with specialty divisions.”
Regardless of whether a medical assistant is giving an injection, observing vitals for anything unusual, or simply scheduling appointments behind a desk, their roles are as important as any doctor or nurse when it comes to getting patients the care they need. When a simple act such as making a timely check-up call can impact a patient’s life, everyone in the clinic is a potential safety net. “We don’t want to risk anyone falling through the cracks,” Laura said.
As for the man with the heart condition, after five bypass surgeries, he came back to apologize to Laura for being difficult, and to thank her for her help.