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Preparing for the Surge in Onboarding Medical Assistants

April 7, 2023
April 7, 2023

This blog is taken from a recent HealthStream webinar entitled “Preparing for the Surge in Onboarding Medical Assistants.” The webinar was moderated by Allison Keys, Campaign Manager, Pre and Post-Acute, Surgical, Child-Maternal and featured Andrea Zalewski, Program Manager, Clinical Programs, Pre and Post-Acute and Surgical.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be a 29% increase in medical assistant jobs from 2016 to 2026, making it one of the fastest growing jobs in the country. “They could also represent an effective, affordable and safe way to expand your shrinking and costly clinical workforce,” said Zalewski. The pandemic exacerbated existing issues related to staffing and it continues to be a top priority for healthcare leaders. Solutions that address staffing issues are at the top of every healthcare leader’s list of priorities.  


Medical Assistants Play a Vital Role in Healthcare

Medical Assistants have long played a role in healthcare with both front and back-office roles in medical office practices. Zalewski shared that the majority of Medical Assistants practice in physician offices (58%). The next largest group (27%) practice in clinics and other outpatient facilities and currently just 15% practice at acute care facilities.

While the role of Medical Assistants may expand as they move into more acute care settings, their job responsibilities currently fall into three main categories:


  • They provide physician support. While they do not traditionally replace or support nurses, they do complete orders under physician supervision, performing both clinical and administrative tasks for physicians.
  • They maintain and perform key competencies including both clinical and soft skills that include maintaining patient safety, and privacy and respecting cultural diversity. They may also make updates to the patient record.
  • Medical assistants may also act as a patient liaison by scheduling appointments and triaging patients for appointments.


Medical Assistants Can Solve Some Healthcare Woes

The uptick in Medical Assistant hiring has its roots in some current healthcare industry trends. The first and perhaps the most profound are the current financial issues facing many healthcare organizations. As the country emerged from the pandemic, many hospitals faced deeply negative margins. Those negative margins, when combined with unprecedented inflation, increasing payroll costs and growing turnover costs, have resulted in increasing pressure on healthcare organizations. The average hourly rate for a medical assistant is $17.88 compared to a rate of $37.31 for a registered nurse or $58.43 for a physician assistant. This comparison makes it easy to see that the use of medical assistants in routine medical environments can result in significant decreases in labor costs. 

Staffing represents a significant concern for nearly every healthcare leader. Turnover remains high and a recent poll by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that medical practice leaders say that 59% of employees left for better pay and benefits in 2021. “These statistics support an industry need to backfill and upskill with non-licensed clinical resources using advances in technology under the supervision of a licensed practitioner,” said Zalewski.


Use Evidence-Based Training to Reduce Turnover

While Medical Assistants may not be the most highly-paid member of the clinical team, the cost of medical assistant turnover is still estimated to be about $14,200.00 per medical assistant. Given that training costs are estimated to be about $8,400.00 of that number, it becomes clear that healthcare organizations need a solution that will effectively onboard incoming Medical Assistants and provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge needed to provide safe, effective patient care and become a high-performing member of the team. Investing in education can help improve retention for your organization’s medical assistants and start them on their healthcare career path.


Supporting Career Advancement with Training

Zalewski shared that most states do not require medical assistants to complete any kind of formal training. An orientation program can provide the starting point for a solid foundation of common knowledge for an organization’s Medical Assistants. On-the-job training for Medical Assistants is likely to be uneven at best given the fast pace of most healthcare facilities and is unlikely to provide a solid foundation for new Medical Assistants, particularly if they begin their jobs with no frame of reference for their job duties.


Medical Assistant Orientation – Clinical Skills and a Roadmap to Advancement 

HealthStream’s Medical Assistant Orientation solution was developed in cooperation with MedStar SiTEL. MedStar SiTEL provided all of the clinical content and the program was launched in 2019 to address the growing need for standardized training for Medical Assistants.

Zalewski described the solution as using an interactive, real-world approach that learners will find both engaging and educational. Medical Assistant Orientation includes six modules that cover:


  • Introduction - Medical Assistant basics such as scope of practice and infection control
  • Vitals, EKGs and Emergencies – Patient intake, pain scale, EKG, blood pressure and heart rate
  • Strep and PSE – Strep test culture collection and near miss PSE
  • Respiratory Vitals/Bag Valve Mask – Vitals, respiratory and heart rate, oxygen saturation and bag valve mask usage
  • PPD, Urine Tests and Visual Acuity – Medications and labels, visual acuity, urine dip tests
  • Medication Safety – Infant wellness checkup, head, weight and length measurements, vaccine storage and handling