Topics on this page:
- Finding an internship
- What’s the best place to do a medical assisting internship?
- What will you learn during your medical assisting internship
- Professional considerations
- Reference letters
Whether it leads to a diploma or an associate degree, every medical assisting curriculum includes an internship in an ambulatory health care setting. Internships may also be called practicums.
You are preparing for employment in a highly demanding field. Part of learning how to function as a professional involves spending time in a learning environment that models the demands that will be placed upon you as a professional. In addition to administrative and clinical skills, your internship will also teach you the time management and people skills that are such an important part of working in a health care delivery environment.
In most cases, medical assisting internships aren’t structured as laboratory classes. They don’t take place concurrently with coursework. They are scheduled to begin after your classroom experience is complete.
Medical assisting internships generally last between two and six weeks, depending upon the institution where you are receiving your training. You will be supervised throughout the experience, even as you gain competence in your duties. You will not receive paid compensation for the time you spend interning.
At the end of your internship, you should be able to demonstrate administrative and clinical competencies, such as patient charting, making patient appointments, taking vital signs and blood draws.
Most campus-based medical assisting programs, whether in vocational/technical schools or at junior or community colleges, include internships as part of their curricula. Clinical instructors have fostered relationships with local ambulatory care providers, and will select an internship at one of these places for you based on your qualifications, and what your instructor sees as your learning needs. Your instructors will choose the clinical placement for you that will provide consistent learning experiences, but at the same time expose you to the widest variety of different types of health care experiences.
Online medical assisting educational programs, however, may expect you to find your own internship. Even in cases where the online educational provider does provide assistance with internship placement, it may be wiser for you to be proactive here. After all, online education placement coordinators may not have up-to-date information about the best venues for you to complete your required competencies.
Your education placement coordinator is still the best place to start, however. Ask him or her for a list of local physicians’ offices and other health care providers where they have placed interns in the past. Contact family members and friends who work in the health field to see if they can make recommendations too. Networking is a great tool, here.
You can also contact the ambulatory health care settings in your community directly. Find out their names through a health care referral agency. Call these health care facilities to find out which places actually employ medical assistants. These are the places that are most likely to offer you an internship. In the absence of an onsite clinical instructor, you will most likely be working under the supervision of medical assistants who are currently employed there.
Once your application for an internship is accepted, your school and the agency where you will be interning will collaborate on an internship agreement. You will be responsible for signing this agreement, and for fulfilling its contractual obligations. You will be required to order and pay for a criminal background check. You may also be required to pass a drug check. Background checks and drug tests both cost approximately $50.
Medical assistants are generalists whose skills match the needs of the health care environment where they work. Choose the clinical setting for your internship that best meets your long-term career goals in terms of where you may want to work.
Hospitals, urgent care centers and physicians’ offices: In these three settings, medical assistants perform both clinical and administrative duties. Administrative hospital tasks may include greeting patients, answering phones and updating patient charts. Clinical tasks may include cleaning examination rooms, taking vital signs, helping patients get ready for examinations and assisting physicians during patient examinations.
Emergency rooms: In emergency rooms, medical assistants – often referred to as emergency room technicians – will act as a receptionist, helping to register patients as they arrive. Medical assistants in emergency rooms play a role in triage, must recognize life-threatening situations and let the appropriate staff know. Medical assistants will play an important role in maintaining supplies and cleaning examination rooms. They will provide patient care and procedures under the direct supervision of registered nurses.
As a medical assistant intern, you’ll work under the supervision of a permanent staff member in a variety of different capacities:
Administrative: You may be responsible for basic receptionist duties, like answering phones, scheduling appointments and taking messages for physicians and nurses. You may also be introduced to insurance verification, bill payment and the purchase of supplies. As most of these tasks are performed online these days, you will need basic computer competencies.
You may also be in charge of cleaning and stocking examination rooms and lab areas. There are various government regulations that pertain to cleaning lab areas, which you will have to learn.
Clinical: One of your major tasks as a medical assistant intern will be preparing patients for examinations. You may be required to collect blood and urine specimens, and in some cases, you will administer injectable medications. You will need to know how to obtain and record temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiration rate, and to explain the procedures the physician will be performing.
You will not be paid during your clinical internship. In all other ways, however, your medical assistant internship is exactly like a regular job. You will be expected to work either 32 or 40 hours a week, depending upon the way your internship placement schedules employees, and you must arrive on time. You will be expected to wear professional clothing, which in your case will mean scrubs and comfortable, close-topped shoes. Most places will require you to own your own stethoscope.
If you are ill or must miss a day for some other reason, make sure to contact your internship location as soon as possible. They are counting you as one of their staff, and will need to find a replacement for you if you can’t come in. It hardly needs to be said that you should never call in sick if you’re not really ill. Your internship will provide you with your first professional experience as a medical assistant, so it’s critical to make a good impression.
Many medical assistant interns are offered jobs at the end of their placements. Even if a job is not forthcoming, if you have done a good job, your supervisors will be happy to write you a reference letter that will be instrumental in getting a job at another place.
A reference letter is more than just a piece of paper, of course. It signifies that the professionals who worked with you throughout your internship think highly enough of your motivation and your skills to put their own professional reputations on the line and vouch for your abilities.
Never use someone as a reference unless you’ve discussed it with that person beforehand. Try to put yourself in that person’s situation: Have they had positive or negative experiences with you? A reference letter must be truthful, so if you think a potential reference will write something negative, it is better not to ask them. Frame your request to give yourself an idea of what they will write. “Do you feel you know my work well enough to write me a good recommendation letter?” is a much stronger question than “Can you write me a recommendation letter?”
Some agencies have reference policies as part of their procedures and protocols. If your agency has a preexisting policy, familiarize yourself with it before you ask.
Be sure to leave copies of your resume with your internship supervisor or the office manager at the end of your clinical experience. If you made a good impression during your internship, they will be happy to help you find a great job opportunity when they hear of one.