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I am the administrator of an allied health program in a small community college. In your opinion, what are the most important components that should be included in a medical assistant training program to prepare job seekers for current and future job markets?

Question: I am the administrator of an allied health program in a small community college. In your opinion, what are the most important components that should be included in a medical assistant training program to prepare job seekers for current and future job markets?

Answer: The biggest deficiency I see in some MAs is an entrepreneurial spirit. Physicians love MAs who can room a patient and, based on their diagnosis, prepare the exam room for the physician - getting out the Pap kit, the bandages, whatever is needed so the physician wastes less time. Many MAs seem unwilling to think through that process.

An expertise in work flow management - perhaps a unit on lean management or Kaizen or other methods for streamlining work - would be information welcome in most offices. Consider Elizabeth Woodcock’s book “Managing Patient Flow” as a text.

I’d also introduce MAs to as many physicians as possible, and encourage them to work out problems together. MAs should respect physicians but they should also have the confidence to learn from them, interact with them and bring up their concerns in the right way. I think some MAs end up feeling so cowed by the physician that they never really develop a working relationship.

Another thought is to introduce MAs to the basic economic facts of medical practice today. The January 2007 issue of Physicians Practice shows how much physicians get paid for common services. Talk with your MA about overhead and reimbursement. Talk with your MA about how many patients physicians are seeing every day. Explain the billing and reimbursement process. The broader context might help.

One final idea: Give students basic training in some common EMR products, such as Centricity, e-Mds, and Allscripts. As more physicians get EMRs, they’ll need staff who are not completely baffled by the technology.

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