20 Essential Skills Every Medical Assistant Should Have

There are numerous medical assistant skills required for a successful career, including clinical and administrative duties.

In this article, we’ll discuss 20 of the most important skills needed to be a successful medical assistant.

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Clinical SkillsAdministrativeSoft SkillsCE Skills
1. Infection Control11. Telephone & Computer skills15. Active listening19. Continuing Education
2. Diagnostic Testing12. Managing electronic medical records16. Empathy and compassion20. Professionalism
3. Patient Care13. Scheduling appointments17. Dealing with difficult patients and co-workers
4. Taking Vital Signs14. Time Management18. Insurance Processing and Billing
5. Basic Wound Care
6. Performing Electrocardiogram (EKG)
7. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) First Aid
8. Phlebotomy
9. Medical Terminology
10. Medication Management

Medical Assistant Skills: Clinical

1. Infection Control

There are a few aspects to look at when considering infection control as a medical assistant.

  • Initial infection evaluation (Medical assistants take the temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate).
  • Placing infected patients away from other patients and employees.
  • Triaging highly infectious patients.
  • Sanitizing medical equipment used on the patient.
  • Decontaminating high infection zones.
  • Ensuring infection control protocols are in place throughout the facility.
  • Making sure everyone has access to the procedures (signs and documentation).

Most think that these procedures are common knowledge and are simply done. Unfortunately, the medical world is extremely fast-paced.

Getting patients in and out to free up space for emergencies is a priority. But this doesn’t mean medical assistants’ standard of care or infection control procedures goes away.

MAs need to remain on top of infection control no matter how busy the practice gets. They are the first line of defense against an infection outbreak – something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

2. Diagnostic Testing

Med assistants may be responsible for the diagnostic testing before and after patients see the doctor. Usually, the medical assistant will take baseline tests (vital signs) including blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature before the doctor’s appointment so that the doctor has them on hand during the consultation.

Here is what a medical assistant might do in terms of diagnostic testing:

  • Further diagnostic testing including urine/stool samples, bloodwork, and EKGs
  • Ensuring that sample-taking procedures are a top priority as this may affect the accuracy of the results.
  • Checking that the samples are free of any external contaminants.
  • Showing patients how to perform diagnostic testing at home (glucose).
  • Maintaining strict decontamination procedures in all testing environments.

As you can see, a medical assistant is an all-rounder, they do the testing and ensure everything is in place for correct results.

3. Patient Care

A medical assistant deals with patients throughout the day. Whether it’s for minor procedures or more extensive medical conditions. Medical assistants are likely the first point of call, so they need to be ready.

The thing is, any job in the medical field requires some degree of patient care. The patients a medical assistant meets might likely be nervous or have a lot of questions. It’s their job to answer these to the best of their ability.

A medical assistant will also be in between the point of the doctor and the patient, answering both simultaneously.

Medical assistants need to be focused and able to multitask with ease. This generally comes from experience as they learn to navigate the fast-past nature of a medical facility.

The way a medical assistant speaks with and treats patients is a vital part of overall care. They should have empathy while also maintaining professionalism to divulge medical information in a way the patient can understand.

4. Taking Vital Signs

Before the patient sees a healthcare professional, medical assistants are usually responsible for taking vital signs. These include:

  • Respiratory rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Temperature

Vital signs are basic medical procedures that play an important role in diagnostics. A medical assistant needs to know what is normal and how to perform the test efficiently and effectively.

Part of vital signs is understanding the medical equipment. Medical assistants need to know how to operate their tools and the normal range to report anything significant to the doctor. Vital signs can also help triage patients, if something is way off, a patient goes to the front of the queue.

5. Basic Wound Care

Many patients come into a healthcare facility with minor wounds that need addressing. The same goes for dressings after basic medical procedures. Medical assisting requires an understanding of removing existing dressings, dressing the wound, and redressing if necessary.

The role of infection control also comes into play here. A medical assistant needs to know what products to use to prevent infections. This differs based on the type of wound they’re dealing with.

If a medical assistant remains in a specific practice there is a high chance that the same types of wound care are required. However, medical assistants also need to prepare for that one in 1,000 that needs more extensive wound care. That’s where further education can help significantly.

6. Performing Electrocardiogram (EKG)

EKGs are the recording of heart rhythm. They are tests used to rule out heart inflammation and heart attacks and monitor pacemaker performance.

Medical assistants usually do EKGs and pass on the results to the doctor. Here medical assistants need to know what the normal range is and what to do if something is abnormal.

In medical assisting an understanding of the basics of the EKG machine and how to administer the test is necessary.

7. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) First Aid

Knowing CPR is one of those things you hope you never have to use, but when you do, you’ll be glad you did the training.

Working in a medical facility requires most employees to have at least some degree of CPR training. When a highly stressful situation arises and there isn’t time to think about the steps and what to do, a medical assistant should know what to do, how to maneuver the patient, and who to call in an emergency.

8. Phlebotomy

Also known as drawing blood, a medical assistant needs to know how to safely perform blood draws from patients. Remember in medical assisting there are a variety of patients and each requires a specific type of patient care. A child is not the same as an adult.

A medical assistant should know the type of needle and correct tubes for the tests required. If they work in a busy practice this will likely be a daily occurrence. So keeping up with training to make the patient as comfortable as possible is important.

Again, infection prevention and ensuring the testing environment is suitable is vital here.

9. Medical Terminology

A medical assistant forms part of a greater medical team. There will be lots of medical terminologies thrown around that a medical assistant needs to know to perform their role correctly.

They’ll likely hear things like:

  • BP
  • HR
  • MVA.
  • Stat
  • Labs
  • IV

These are some common terms, but there are hundreds. Medical assistants will learn most medical terminology during their training and studies. They will come up in the CCMA exam, so it is something to be aware of.

10. Medication Management

Did you know that between 7,000-9,000, US citizens die each year because of medication errors?

To prevent this, medical assistants must receive the right training in medication management. A medical assistant should have all the necessary information including medication name, dosage, duration, and schedule to ensure they provide the right care.

Medical assistants may need to provide in-facility medications through an IV or injection. They need to know the basics of common medications and have access to medication indices to ensure patients are getting what they need.

It’s also important for medical assistants to regularly manage medications by checking where they’re kept, the expiry date, and how team members access the medication. There should be VERY clear labels and warnings in the medication section.

An experienced medical assistant can also look at the prescription and weigh it against what the patient is already taking.

Dispensing medication is a big part of patient care and when a medical assistant is in the same role for long periods it is very easy to become complacent. That’s one of the main reasons for medication errors. That’s why medication management training is highly recommended throughout a medical career.

Medical Assistant Skills: Administrative

11. Telephone & Computer skills

The world of medicine has changed, keeping a physical paper trail isn’t a common thing in modern medical facilities. Most of the administrative tasks are done on a computer. This includes patient records, scheduling appointments, and communication.

As a medical assistant, there’s a need for basic computer skills to navigate the administrative tasks of a healthcare facility.

However, one thing that will likely never change is answering phones. Patients often call with questions or to request appointments. So, a medical assistant should have the correct phone etiquette, and know who to transfer calls to in specific situations.

12. Managing electronic medical records

Electronic patient records are fast taking over the traditional paper patient medical history. A medical assistant should know how to record patient histories in the correct format.

Luckily, most electronic medical software is easy to use with sections provided for all the necessary information.

13. Scheduling appointments

Some medical facilities allow for scheduling appointments online. This can be super convenient in the grander scheme of things.

However, technology does go wrong, so a MA should know how to manually schedule patient appointments and keep up with facility scheduling.

14. Time Management

A good medical assistant knows how to manage their own time and that of their medical team. As they get comfortable in their role they’ll pick up on the pace and time management skills required for their specific workplace, but it’s usually very fast.

This means, keeping up with the doctors’ and nurses’ schedules, while still maintaining personal tasks. If a job is reliant on other coworkers’ schedules there is a lot of intertwined time for a medical assistant to navigate around.

A medical assistant needs to remain flexible while also keeping up with strict time-sensitive aspects like testing and appointments.

Medical Assistant Skills: Soft

15. Active listening

Medical assistants need to listen! Not just hear what the patient is saying, but actively listen. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about someone’s health from what they’re telling you. One small mention could be what’s needed for a diagnosis.

16. Empathy and compassion

A healthcare career is challenging. Medical assistants need to have compassion and empathy for their patients while navigating their roles as healthcare providers. The number one is the patient’s health, the niceties come second.

However, that isn’t to say that lowering standards for bedside manners is acceptable. Navigating the empathy needed in patient care and providing medical assistants is one of the more challenging parts of the job.

17. Dealing with difficult patients and co-workers

Unfortunately, in any line of work, you will come across difficult people, there is no way around it. You can, however, steer your way around difficult patients and coworkers in a way that is respectful and professional.

The big thing here for medical assistants is to try not to be too sensitive. Sometimes patients are not feeling well which can escalate their emotions very quickly. Again it’s a balance of understanding their needs but also not allowing disrespectful or unprofessional behavior.

18. Insurance Processing and Billing

If a medical assistant works in a smaller healthcare facility they may need to submit medical billing to patients and insurance companies. Medical assistants should keep on top of their facility’s billing procedures if they ever need to step in.

Medical Assistant Skills: Continuing Education and Professionalism

18. Continuing Education

As a medical assistant, it’s important to continue education throughout your career. The medical field is not stagnant and as things change you need to know how this affects your job responsibilities.

That’s why medical assistants need to retake the CCMA exam every two years. While on-the-job training is very helpful, medical assisting programs can help you ace your exam with all the up-to-date information on medical assisting requirements.

Plus, continuing your education could also mean a better position within the medical field. We recommend looking into extra certifications in the following:

  • Medical coding
  • Phlebotomy
  • EKG
  • Administrative skills

Physician assistants may be required to show certifications, particularly for medical coding and administrative skills, as their job requirements will likely be broader.

20. Professionalism

Maintaining professionalism in healthcare is extremely important. Remember, you’re dealing with a real human being, it’s not a case study. Your patient will interact with you and have real medical issues.

So, while providing good medical care is a top priority, you also need to maintain your professionalism in the workplace. You can do this by:

  • Maintaining confidentiality: Ensure all your patient’s information is secure and only divulged to the necessary parties.
  • Dressing appropriately (tidy uniform, minimal jewelry, hair out of your face, appropriate footwear).
  • Understanding ethical issues: If there is a complaint, don’t get defensive. Listen to what the patient or your superior is saying. Once you have the information look at whether it impeaches ethical issues and how you can prevent this in the future.
  • Keep opinions to yourself: Your opinion on a patient doesn’t matter. It is up to the doctor to make a decision. A medical assistant should never be heard discussing a patient’s private information or lifestyle, it goes against all medical ethical standards.

Wrap Up

As you can see there are multiple medical assistant skills needed to be a successful healthcare assistant. There’s the clinical side that includes testing and medical care, the assistant skills for administrative tasks, and lastly the soft skills, including listening and having empathy.

It’s important to recap these medical assistant skills as often as possible through education and experience. It shows employers you’re a well-rounded employee with the skills needed to further your career.


Do I need to be certified to be a medical assistant?

It depends on where you’re looking for work. Most states don’t require a specific certification, but being certified will increase your chance of a higher-paying job and a higher-ranking role.

How do I list my skills on my medical assistant resume?

It’s best to have a skills list under categories on your medical assistant resume. For example, clinical skills, soft skills, administrative skills, on-the-job training, and clinical experience.

Do I have to show administrative skills on my medical assistant resume?

It can’t hurt. Patient examinations will likely take up most of your time, but showing administrative abilities along with clinical skills on your medical assistant resume makes you a much better candidate.

What do medical assistant skills employers look for?

It depends on the job but generally, it won’t hurt to have experience in recording medical histories, making patient appointments, doing clinical tasks, ability to administer medications, and preparing treatment rooms.