Developed in collaboration with
Identifies steps to begin a medical assistant professional development program in your practice
Describes best practices for developing a professional development training curriculum and materials
Explains how to execute and evaluate a medical assistant professional development program
Medical assistants (MAs) play an integral role in achieving practice goals such as increased patient satisfaction, improved quality of care, and cohesive team-based care. Professional development training is a crucial tool to enable MAs to contribute more meaningfully to the practice team. Career development fosters work that is worthwhile to medical assistants and valued by the care team, which can also support and sustain hiring and retention efforts.1
Creating your own MA professional development program will be invaluable to your practice. However, it does not take the place of a certified medical assistant training program accredited by organizations such as the Commission of Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Graduates of these programs are eligible to take the Certified Medical Assistant exam through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
Examples of other organizations that provide certification credentials include:
American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)—Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)—National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
National Healthcareer Association—Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
National Healthcareer Association—Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
American Medical Technologists (AMT)—Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
Poll the Team and Prioritize Training Topics
Select a Program Leader
Assemble the Curriculum and Educational Materials
Execute and Evaluate the Training
Promoting the advancement of knowledge and personal development as individual goals benefits your practice, care team members, and patients.
Gathering the entire practice team, including all MAs, in a face-to-face meeting
Expressing how important professional development is and how it will impact patient care and the practice
Surveying the group either as a live activity or before the meeting with emailed questions
Brainstorming professional development topics (eg, clinical knowledge, gaps in care, workflow breakdowns)
Prioritizing the most important topics for your team and the practice by ranking them and then voting on them
Establishing a weekly or monthly time for training sessions
Examples of training topics include practice improvement, enhanced team-based workflows, chronic disease management, and healthy team goals.
For example, this toolkit offers downloadable training materials covering the following:
Professionalism in the medical assistant role
Diabetes management and prevention
Hypertension, obesity, and hyperlipidemia
You may also want to consider developing materials on topics such as:
Panel or population health management
Patient care registries
Cancer screening criteria
Prediabetes screening and management
Community resources for patients
In-room documentation support
Conducting behavioral health screens
Delivering normal laboratory results
Patient portal communication etiquette
Telehealth technology and support
Screening for cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults
Health equity and disparities in screening and preventive care in diverse populations
Social determinants of health (SDOH) screening
Who on the team should be surveyed to identify training opportunities?
Combining individual practice team members' unique roles and perspectives will help you develop a more comprehensive set of opportunities to discuss and prioritize medical assistant professional development topics. Ideally, everyone on the team, including patients the MAs interact with, should be able to contribute professional development ideas or topics.
Involve MAs, physicians, nurses, front desk staff, and other team members in prioritizing training topics and areas of focus. Ideas can be sourced from a survey, comment box, patient satisfaction questionnaire, or something that comes up organically in a team meeting. Consider involving practice or system leadership too.
How much of a time commitment is the training?
Commit to providing medical assistant professional development sessions monthly for at least 1 year. Each session should be 45 minutes to 1 hour. Before starting the program, prepare to spend time on content development and create space in the schedule for the hour-long lunchtime or pre-clinic sessions. The practice should consider training an investment and compensate MAs accordingly for attendance.
How can providing education to medical assistants improve the experience of patients, physicians, and other team members in our practice?
Shifting some of the physicians' administrative and clinical tasks to well-trained MAs gives physicians more time to concentrate on clinical decision-making during patient visits. For example, if an MA has the training to use advanced rooming protocols when rooming a patient, they might complete the following tasks:
Identify the reason for the visit and help the patient set the visit agenda
Perform medication reconciliation
Screen for conditions based on protocols
Update past medical, family, and social history
Administer immunizations based on standing orders
Pend or order preventive services based on standing orders
Assemble medical equipment, if needed, before the physician enters the exam room.
Applicable scope-of-practice parameters in the practice's physical location (state or territory) will determine the services medical assistants can provide.
Sharing patient care responsibilities enhances professional satisfaction for the entire care team, leading to a more efficient practice and happier patients.
The medical assistant professional development program leader should have strong clinical skills as well as an interest in the training and professional development of others. The leader may be a physician, nurse, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse care coordinator, or MA supervisor. Designate a co-leader or assistant program leader to accomplish your program's goals, particularly if your practice is large or the scope of your training program is broad.
The program leader will work with other practice stakeholders and the MA supervisor to design each session's curriculum and materials. The program leader's responsibilities may include:
Scheduling sessions during dedicated times
Facilitating and leading training sessions
Adapting content and materials to fit your practice's needs
Coordinating with guest presenters
The educational materials you use during the medical assistant professional development sessions should be concise and straightforward. Flashcards that define the topic and contain essential information or an outline of the content that sessions will cover make excellent pre-session learning tools. Handouts, activities, and teaching aids are ideal for the session itself. These materials and tactics will enable the MAs to grasp, retain, and revisit the information covered in the session.
At the end of each session, share tools to help the MAs apply their new knowledge. For example, if the MAs learned about diabetes management, consider practicing with a sample script for conversing with patients about diabetes management or instructions on when to involve the diabetes educator. You may find a patient willing to assist in a training role to have MAs practice their interactions.
You can customize the flashcards below for your training sessions to supplement the curriculum. They cover basic medical terminology and information to help medical assistants reach their full potential.
Should I develop my training materials from scratch, or are there prepackaged materials I can use?
You do not have to create your own training materials for most of the common topics. You can start with the handouts and activities included in this toolkit. Use vetted health education resources, peer-reviewed journal articles, and your specialty's professional society guidelines as additional resources. You can start by reviewing the educational resources and dedicated training materials available from other organizations, such as:
American Association of Medical Assistants
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association
American Cancer Society
Always obtain permission to use and re-print materials created by other organizations.
The AMA STEPS Forward® site includes toolkits that address various topics that may be appropriate for your medical assistant professional development program, including medication adherence, adult vaccinations, social determinants of health (SDOH), health coaching, and panel management. You can also find workflow design and optimization resources grounded in team-based care principles, including toolkits on implementing team-based care, telehealth and team-based care, team huddles, pre-visit planning, expanded rooming and discharge, and team documentation.
Is it important to use pre-session learning tools for each session?
Yes. Try to provide similar tools for each session to develop a consistent framework. These tools enable the medical assistants to acclimate to the training style and feel prepared for each session. The tools should be consistent and scalable as the program grows.
Talk to your medical assistants about the new professional development program, including what they can expect from the sessions and what will be expected of them. The rest of the practice team should also know when the professional development sessions will occur. The sessions should occur during working hours. Compensate medical assistants for their time. Inform all session participants whether they should bring their breakfast or lunch to the session. Start and end on time.
As medical assistant competencies and capabilities evolve, augment roles as appropriate and in compliance with applicable laws. Check in with physicians, medical assistants, and other team members regularly to see if the training is helping the medical assistants gain new competencies and improve their contributions to the practice. Use the collective feedback to continue to improve the professional development series.
Establish specific learning objectives to measure learners' outcomes and the session training's effectiveness. Pre- and post-sessions assessments will help the team and the program leader(s). These brief assessments may also help demonstrate the value of training to leadership.
How should we make sure the training sessions are successful from the medical assistants' perspective?
Regularly check in with the MAs—for example, a week after each session—and ask them for feedback. Do they have any questions? What did they think about the most recent session and the program so far? How are lessons learned from the most recent session fitting in with their work?
To make the sessions, and the training program overall, the most effective they can be, consider the following activities:
Play games or do activities to test and reinforce the teachings at the end of each session.
Administer a brief survey (5 questions or fewer) at the end of each session to ensure the content and format are effective.
Use verbal teach-back style questioning to confirm the impact of the training. If you're using this approach, you might ask, ”What are the 3 most important things you learned about health literacy?”
At the end of the year-long program, follow up to see what sessions resonated most with the medical assistants and how they used what they learned in their daily work. At this point, it might be worth revisiting a popular topic or a topic that requires some additional reinforcement. To avoid survey fatigue, instead hold a focus group, conduct personal interviews, or discuss a recent patient case and how the MAs applied what they've learned. The program leader may also have observations to share.
How should we evaluate the program?
Using data from the pre- and post-session assessments can indicate whether the program positively affects medical assistants' confidence, understanding of clinic workflows, performance in their role, and job satisfaction. These factors are easy to measure and provide valuable insight.
Monitor one new skill or process that MAs should regularly use after each session, such as a new protocol for documenting information in the medical record or a better approach to measuring blood pressure during the rooming process. A practice coach (who could be the person who gave the training or another member of the practice team) or the MA supervisor can shadow the medical assistants to ensure that they understand and are using the new skill or process. These audits allow ongoing coaching and feedback. Your practice may also choose to monitor metrics on your patient satisfaction survey related to MA professionalism and clinical care. Peer evaluations are also informative.
How can we maximize the impact of our program?
Involve an interdisciplinary team when executing the program in your practice. This approach lends credibility to the program and promotes success. Consider linking sessions to other practice activities to improve engagement. For example, if your clinic sees many patients with diabetes, hold training on the importance of preparing patients for diabetic foot exams in advance of National Diabetes Month in November. If your practice sees patients eligible for annual colorectal cancer screening, think about training on this topic in preparation for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March. You may also consider connecting your training topics to statewide or national health initiatives.
Team-based presentations may help your MAs get the most out of the training. Bringing in outside speakers who are experts on various topics, such as a nurse practitioner with hospice experience or having 2 team members co-present on a pilot they've participated in, can be very effective and engaging.
Do we need to pilot the new program, or can we roll it out all at once?
If you have more than 10 medical assistants in the practice, consider piloting the professional development program in 1 or 2 pods or teams within the clinic. Five or 6 MAs would be able to give valuable feedback about the teaching methods and delivery of material in these pilot sessions.
The schedule will depend on how often you decide to hold sessions or the desired number of sessions. For example, you may plan to run the pilot for 4 to 6 sessions or sessions for up to 6 months. Communicate with the other medical assistants and teams in the practice that are not part of the pilot, so they know they will be included in the program's official rollout and when that will occur. It is important to emphasize the importance of medical assistant development with the practice team and to communicate the benefit of improving patient care and enhancing professional satisfaction.
How do we use this training for new hires?
Recording sessions so that they are available on-demand helps train new care team members and is readily accessible to existing team members who need a refresher. The program leader could record the voiceover for the presentation beforehand, or you could film the live training with your team.
Professional development training is a valuable tool to engage and educate your medical assistant team. A group of well-trained medical assistants can enable the practice to adopt a team-based care model, take better care of patients with greater efficiency, and increase satisfaction for patients and all care team members. Making the effort to develop tailored lessons can improve your practice culture, workflow, and team dynamics.
Get medical assistants' input on their training needs
Take into account your medical assistants' interests and needs when developing your curriculum. Lessons personalized for your team will be well received.
Training promotes life-long learning for medical assistants
Life-long learning is a crucial aspect of developing a strong team, similar to the educational commitment that physicians, nurses, and other health care providers make. Medical assistant professional development programs mirror the continuing education that others in your clinic receive.
Journal Articles and Other Publications
Lai AY, Fleuren BPI, Yuan CT, Sullivan EE, McNeill SM. Delivering high-quality primary care requires work that is worthwhile for medical assistants. J Am Board Fam Med. 2023;36(1): 193-199. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2022.220249R1
Chapman SA, Blash LK. New roles for medical assistants in innovative primary care practices. Health Serv Res. 2017;52Suppl 1(Suppl 1):383-406. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.12602
Rokichki-Parashar J, Phadke A, Brown-Johnson C, et al. Transforming interprofessional roles during virtual health care: the evolving role of the medical assistant, in relationship to national health profession competency standards. J Prim Care Community Health. 2021;12:21501327211004285. doi: 10.1177/21501327211004285
Merriman B, Ades T, Seffrin JR. Health literacy in the information age: Communicating cancer information to patients and families. CA: Cancer J Clin. 2002;52(3):130–133. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.52.3.130
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Health literacy universal precautions toolkit, 2nd edition. AHRQ Publication No. 150023-EF. February 2015. Reviewed September 2020. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.ahrq.gov/health-literacy/improve/precautions/toolkit.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health communication playbook. Published 2018. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/clearwriting/docs/health-comm-playbook-508.pdf
The EveryONE Project™. Social determinants of health: guide to social needs screening. 2019. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/patient_care/everyone_project/hops19-physician-guide-sdoh.pdf
Thom DH, Hessler D, Willard-Grace R, et al. Health coaching by medical assistants improves patients' chronic care experience. Am J Manag Care. 2015;21(10):685-691. https://www.ajmc.com/view/health-coaching-by-medical-assistants-improves-patients-chronic-care-experience
Jin J. Screening for cognitive impairment in older adults. JAMA. 2020;323(8):800. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.0583
Videos and Webinars
Health literacy and patient safety: help patients understand (short version). The American Medical Association Foundation. August 27, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgTuD7l7LG8
Health literacy and patient safety: Help patients understand. The American Medical Association Foundation. August 27, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGtTZ_vxjyA
Health literacy: accurate, accessible and actionable health information for all. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed October 3, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2023. www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy
Health literacy professional education and training. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Reviewed September 2022. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.ahrq.gov/health-literacy/professional-training/index.html
Health literacy studies: resources. T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University. Accessed February 14, 2023. www.hsph.harvard.edu/healthliteracy/resources
Health literacy. National Library of Medicine. Updated December 17, 2021. Accessed February 14, 2023. http://nnlm.gov/outreach/consumer/hlthlit.html
Health communication strategies and resources. Centers for Disease Control, National Prevention Information Network. April 15, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://npin.cdc.gov/pages/health-communication-strategies
Kidney basics. National Kidney Foundation. Reviewed February 2, 2017. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://www.kidney.org/kidney-basics
Chronic kidney disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Updated June 28, 2018. Accessed February 13, 2023. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/chronickidneydisease.html
How to understand your lab results. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2020. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/how-to-understand-your-lab-results/
Education from AMA Center for Health Equity. American Medical Association Center for Health Equity. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://edhub.ama.assn.org/ama-center-health-equity
Basics of health equity. American Medical Association Center for Health Equity. October 14, 2021. Accessed February 13, 2023. https://edhub.ama.assn.org/ama-center-health-equity/interactive/18646635#
Social determinants of health. Healthy People 2030. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health
Mild cognitive impairment. The Alzheimer's Association. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/related_conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment
Medical Assistant Recruitment and Retention
Advanced Rooming and Discharge
Racial and Health Equity: Concrete STEPS for Health Systems
Racial and Health Equity: Concrete STEPS for Smaller Practices
Social Determinants of Health
Training Medical Assistants as “Encounter Specialists”
Team-Based Care Model
One Practice's Success in Implementing Advanced Team-Based Care
Telemedicine is a Team Effort
The Importance of Screening for Social Determinants of Health
Racial and Health Equity: Five Concrete STEPS
Health Equity: The Importance of Building Trust
Creating a Safe and Welcoming Environment for LGBTQ+ Patients
How to Master Communicating with the Most Challenging Personalities in Your Life
Encounter Specialist Model Promotes Physician and Team Satisfaction
Dermatology Practice Reaps Benefits of Empowered Medical Assistants and Detailed Note Templates
Medical Assistants Are the Cornerstones of Successful Team-Based Care
Teamlets Led by Physicians but Run by Medical Assistants Improve Efficiency
Working Smarter in Primary Care Means Transitioning to In-Room Physician Support
Medical Assistant Professional Development Case Report: Vanguard Medical Group
Medical Assistant Professional Development Case Report: Snow Mesa Internal Medicine
Webinars and Videos
Telehealth & Team-based Care: How to Engage Support Staff to Implement Team-based Care in Telehealth webinar
Medical Assistants: Recruitment and Retention webinar
Advanced Team-based Care webinar
Addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) with Rush University Medical Center webinar
Saving Time: Improving Team Engagement video
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Disclaimer: AMA STEPS Forward® content is provided for informational purposes only, is believed to be current and accurate at the time of posting, and is not intended as, and should not be construed to be, legal, financial, medical, or consulting advice. Physicians and other users should seek competent legal, financial, medical, and consulting advice. AMA STEPS Forward® content provides information on commercial products, processes, and services for informational purposes only. The AMA does not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services and mention of the same in AMA STEPS Forward® content is not an endorsement or recommendation. The AMA hereby disclaims all express and implied warranties of any kind related to any third-party content or offering. The AMA expressly disclaims all liability for damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on AMA STEPS Forward® content.
About the AMA Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability Group
The AMA Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability group is committed to making the patient–physician relationship more valued than paperwork, technology an asset and not a burden, and physician burnout a thing of the past. We are focused on improving—and setting a positive future path for—the operational, financial, and technological aspects of a physician's practice. To learn more, visit stepsforward.org.
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