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Finding the Best Medical Assisting Externship
How to Find the Right Medical Assisting Externship for You
As you’re finishing up with the didactic portion of your medical assistant training, you might be wondering what’s next. You know that you’ll need to study for and pass one of the major medical assisting exams such as the American Association of Medical Assistants’ (AAMA) Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam if you want to become certified. But is there anything else you can do to improve your odds of landing a job straight out of school? While you know that you’ve learned a lot as part of your educational program — and while passing an exam such as the CMA will demonstrate that — you also know that practical on the job experience is important. If only there were some way to put the skills you’ve learned in the classroom into practice in a real job setting.
Actually, there is! It’s called a medical assisting externship, and it has the power to form a bridge between what you’ve learned in a classroom setting and what you’ll actually be expected to do on the job in a medical assisting position.
A lot of medical assistant educational programs include an externship as part of the overall program structure. Sometimes it’s mandatory, and other times it’s optional. Some schools will match you directly with a single position, while others will give you the ability to choose between several available posts. And, some schools will simply facilitate an externship, but will otherwise take a hands-off approach when it comes to finding positions and matching you with them.
Ultimately, it’s a good idea to take the time on your own to understand as much as you can about what medical assisting externship positions are, how they work, and how to choose the best externship site. To make things easier for you, we’ve put together this informative blog post. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about your externship as a medical assistant, including:
- What medical externships are
- How they can help you
- What to expect as part of your externship
- Additional benefits of medical assisting externships
- How to choose the right position for you
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
What Is a Medical Assisting Externship?
A common question we get from students is quite simply: “what is a medical assisting externship?” It’s understandable why you might be a little unsure of what exactly an externship is, as the terminology can be a little unfamiliar. But don’t worry! It’s not as complicated as you might think.
Simply put, a medical assisting externship is a chance for you to take on a position in a medical setting of some kind and put your newly developed skills into practice. You’ll take everything that you’ve learned in the classroom and have a chance to actually perform various tasks in a clinical and clerical setting on the job.
Medical externships are usually unpaid positions, but they do give you an important opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s standard for externship positions to last anywhere from six weeks to twelve weeks, although this can vary somewhat depending on your educational program and the needs or wants of the medical practice providing the externship opportunity. There can also be state laws and regulations which can place limitations on the length and conditions surrounding externships.
Remember, externships are a major opportunity! You’ll go from having a theoretical understanding of what you’ve encountered in school to actually feeling confident about how to perform various tasks and carry out your duties in a clinical setting. That’s a big deal, and something to be proud of.
How Can a Medical Assisting Externship Help Me?
When it comes to engaging in an externship opportunity, there are a lot of ways in which the position can benefit you.
First of all, having the opportunity to shadow another professional in your field will enable you to work closely with that person and learn from them. The person you shadow will have been working in the field for some time, which means that they’ll have accumulated quite a bit of experience when it comes to working with patients and other professionals.
Given the length of time that most externships last, you’ll have the ability to develop a relationship with the person you’re shadowing and working with. This means that you’ll be able to ask them questions and get their views and opinions on how to work with patients, handle situations with coworkers, and so on.
In some circumstances, your program might give you the opportunity to work in more than one position or with more than one professional. This can be ideal, as it means that you’ll have a chance to experience a wide range of health care settings from hospitals to private practices. The more exposure you’re able to get to a variety of health care environments, the better you’ll be able to determine which type of environment is the best fit for you when it comes time to look for a full-time job. You may discover that a specific specialty is particularly fascinating to you, or that one health care setting is more exciting than another.
One of the biggest benefits associated with your medical assisting externship is the fact that it holds the potential to lead to a full-time job in the future. It’s not uncommon for students to receive a job offer from the same site where they’ve performed their externship. This can make for an ideal scenario, as you’ll have already had a chance to determine whether that particular working environment is compatible with your wants and needs as a medical professional.
If you don’t receive a job offer from the medical practice where you’ve performed your externship, you can still use them as a reference on your resume when applying to other jobs. This reference can be invaluable when it comes to landing a full-time position somewhere, especially when you’ve only just graduated from school. As you likely won’t have any other full-time experience in a medical setting, a solid reference from the person who supervised you during your externship can be crucial in finding your first job.
What Should I Expect as Part of My Medical Assisting Externship?
Every scenario is different. Hospitals, private practices, and specialist offices can be quite diverse, and it’s hard to say exactly what you should expect from your externship in advance. However, there are a few generalizations that we can make.
Recall that the purpose of an externship is to provide you with real life, on the job training as a medical assistant. This means that you can expect to directly engage in the tasks that are most commonly associated with being a full-time medical assistant. These can include things like providing patients with certain types of care (within your scope of practice), conducting patient intake, educating patients on various instructions that are to be followed after their visit, and helping the physician with performing certain tasks as needed.
You’ll get the chance to answer common questions that patients have, and you’ll also get to see what it’s like to work with patients who are nervous or uncomfortable regarding their visit to the doctor. Addressing patient concerns, reassuring patients, and generally ensuring that they’re as comfortable as possible can make for an important part of your job as a medical assistant. This is a skill that can only be developed on the job (as no amount of classroom time can ultimately teach these kinds of interpersonal skills), and you’re virtually guaranteed to have the opportunity to practice this skill regardless of which sort of setting you’re working in.
Don’t forget that you can always ask questions about what you should expect. It’s a good idea to check in with the person who will be supervising you and/or the person in charge of the externship program. Feel free to pick their brains about what you should expect from the opportunity, as well as what their expectations of you will be. The clearer you are in advance of what the experience will be like and what is expected of you, the better you’ll be able to perform in your role — and the more you’ll get out of the opportunity.
Are There Additional Benefits to an Externship?
Above, we mentioned that one of the best things about your externship involves your ability to shadow another person and learn from them directly.
In this same vein, one of the additional benefits of your medical assistant externship is the fact that you’ll receive evaluations based on your performance, generally midway through your externship and at the end of it.
On the surface, this can sound a little scary. It’s normal to feel at least a bit nervous about getting your evaluation. What if you do something wrong? Will the person in charge of your externship program be satisfied with your performance?
Relax! The purpose of these evaluations is to provide you with constructive criticism. It’s common practice for both the experienced medical assistant that you worked with and the supervising physician to fill out an evaluation for you. In these evaluations, you’ll receive feedback on both your strengths and weaknesses on the job. It’s sometimes the case that your school program will use these evaluations as a determining factor in your overall grade, although this isn’t always true. If you’re concerned about whether the evaluations will have an impact on your grade, be sure to check with your particular educational program.
How Do I Choose the Right Externship Position and Site?
A common question amongst medical assisting students is: how do I find the right externship position for me?
In some cases, your educational program will choose your training site for you. When this happens, you won’t have to worry about finding a site and evaluating it on your own beforehand.
In other instances, though, you’ll need to find your own site for performing your externship. One way to do this is to use local job fairs and professional associations, as they’ll sometimes maintain a directory of available positions and openings for medical assistants in training. When in doubt, check with your school. Even if your school doesn’t match you up with a training spot directly, they’ll likely be able to give you tips for finding good opportunities in your area.
It’s important to treat the process of finding and evaluating a potential externships just as seriously as you would a job search. Remember that there may be an interview involved, and it’s important to be as professional as possible throughout the whole process. One of the best ways to prepare for a job interview is to actually participate in a “practice interview.” Have a friend ask you some common job interview questions, and take the opportunity to formulate some of your answers ahead of time. You’ll feel much more confident going into the real thing if you’ve taken the time to practice beforehand.
Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant
At the end of the day, one of the most important things when it comes to your medical assisting externship is to approach it with a positive attitude. You’re there to learn, and the more open you are to the experience, the more you’ll take away from it.
Remember, though, that completing your externship isn’t the only thing you’ll need to think about when it comes to getting your first job as a medical assistant. It’s also important to pass one of the medical assisting exams out there, such as the AMT RMA exam. Studying for these kinds of standardized tests can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure about what approach to take. Fortunately, though, ScopeNotes™ is here to help! We offer affordably priced and highly effective practice tests and review content, and our students regularly pass the CMA, RMA, NCMA, and CCMA tests with flying colors! To learn more about our pricing and availability, click here.