Medical assistant (MA) jobs call for an equal amount of theoretical and practical knowledge to find success. Bolster your classroom learning with comprehensive, hands-on training. For this reason, externships are a critical aspect of an MA program. Learn more about what a medical assistant externship is, its benefits and what you can expect with one with this guide.
What Is a Medical Assistant Externship?
An MA externship is an opportunity for students to apply classroom knowledge to a real-world work environment. Externships give students practical, hands-on training before they graduate and enter the workforce. Most accredited MA schools incorporate externships into their programs. Externships for medical assistant students are usually spread throughout the semester. Thus, they often last six to 12 weeks, depending on the school’s arrangement with the employer.
The primary difference between externships and internships is that externships involve unpaid shadowing of an MA professional. An extern observes an MA professional’s daily tasks and responsibilities over an extended period. Comparatively, internships are paid or voluntary positions where the intern performs MA work under supervision.
Why Do You Need It?
Although it’s possible to enter the medical assistant field without an externship, it’s not recommended. A medical assistant externship is valuable for many reasons. As it gives practical experience before entering the workforce, the most significant benefit of a medical assistant externship is helping your resumé stand out to employers during hiring seasons. Externships provide practical experience to balance your textbook learning. This competitive edge can help you land an MA position sooner after graduation.
What Are the Benefits?
Besides a competitive edge and improved career outcomes, externships provide several other benefits. Some other benefits of externships for medical assistant students include:
- Gaining valuable contacts: As medical externships involve shadowing MA professionals, they let you meet people already working in the industry. These contacts are helpful when looking for a job or a change of scenery. Even if the medical facility has no openings where your contact works, those contacts may be able to direct you to another facility. Connections go a long way in the workforce!
- Putting theoretical knowledge into action: Soaking up the expert theoretical classroom knowledge is invaluable for MA students. Yet, such learning can become stale if it isn’t implemented. An externship provides an opportunity to put everything you’ve learned about patient care, lab-based tasks and administrative duties into action. Further, you can discuss what you’re learning in class with an industry professional who can share their insight with you. Such insight may help you perform better in your studies!
- Up-close observation: With a medical externship, you’ll pay close attention to the daily responsibilities of an MA who has worked in the field for years. This shadowing gives you insight into what skills you should focus on to succeed in an MA position. It also allows you the time and space to assess your strengths and aptitude as an MA.
- Skill development: Besides learning essential MA skills, externships also let you develop those skills before entering the workforce. Thus, you can start your MA career with skills you’ve already begun to develop and hone.
- Seeing a snapshot of your future: MA externships provide a snapshot of what you can expect in your future as an MA. Such a snapshot can either confirm your desire to become an MA or let you know if another career choice is better for you before committing yourself.
What to Expect From Your Externship
As mentioned, an externship is not the same as an internship. In general, externships require less of students than internships. Whereas internships require you to perform duties as if you had a full-time position, externships involve significant observation and guidance from MA professionals. MA externships allow you to glean as much information and experience as you can from industry professionals before graduating and setting off on your own. Here is some of what to expect from a medical assistant externship.
What Do You Learn?
During your medical assistant externship, you’ll learn what it takes to perform daily MA duties. While classroom learning involves technical MA skills, externships teach you skills like patient empathy and effective communication with patients of varying personalities and medical needs. You’ll also learn about efficient work practices and other interpersonal aspects of MA positions. As you apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to real-world environments, externships may also clarify what you’re classroom learning.
Medical Assistant Externship Duties
During an MA externship, you’ll perform administrative duties, lab assignments and patient care tasks. Here are some specific responsibilities you will likely fulfill during an MA externship:
- Administer injections and immunizations
- Collect samples for clinical testing
- Coordinate with staff to determine supply needs and place orders
- Discreetly manage sensitive patient information
- Explain procedures, tests and follow-up instructions to patients
- Handle billing and insurance claims
- Log vital signs and medical history reports
- Manage inventories
- Prepare patients for examinations
- Schedule appointments
- Set up medical equipment
- Use electronic health record (EHR) systems
How Many Hours Is an Externship for a Medical Assistant?
The number of hours you’ll need to complete an MA externship depends on your state regulations. Thus, externship hours vary with each MA program. At AIHT, our MA externship program involves 225 hours of shadowing an industry professional.
Where Can You Do Your Externship for Medical Assistants?
Most MA schools offer externships, but not all of them do, so you’ll want to research which schools incorporate externships into their MA program before applying. As an accredited institution, AIHT has clinical affiliations with various healthcare facilities where you can complete your MA externship program.
What Challenges Can You Expect?
You can expect challenges with any internship, externship or college program. It’s no different with an MA externship. Still, those challenges help you develop your skills and find ways of reaching higher levels of success as an MA professional. Some common challenges students encounter during MA externships include:
- Learning to multitask
- Striking an optimal work-life balance
- Receiving constructive criticism and growing from it
- Feeling overwhelmed or out of place, especially at the beginning
Tips for Success
To help you overcome those common challenges, here are some tips for success in an MA externship:
- Research all your options for externships at various healthcare facilities.
- Ask your program supervisor and mentor what will be expected of you during the externship.
- Maintain open lines of communication with your supervising industry professional. Ask them how you’re doing and where you can improve.
- Soak in all the information directed at you and circulating around you. Pay attention to your supervisor’s duties and those of doctors, nurses, technicians and other healthcare staff.
- Be confident. Ask questions to clear up confusion about a specific procedure or task.
- Be as thorough as possible and maintain a positive attitude as you complete your MA externship responsibilities.
- Follow up with your supervisor and the healthcare facility at the end of your externship. Thank them for their help and guidance, and let them know you enjoyed your time there.
Visit Our Medical Assistant Page or Request More Info
If you’re from the Connecticut area and are looking for a medical assistant externship near you, we welcome you to consider AIHT! Our applied health and sciences school has an excellent medical assistant program with many externship options. Visit our medical assistant page or contact us to request more info!