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Describes four STEPS for beginning an MA professional development program.
Provides answers to commonly asked questions.
Shares examples of practices that have provided professional development for their MAs.
Medical assistants (MAs) are at the front line of patient care and play an integral role in achieving practice goals such as increased patient satisfaction, improved quality, and enhanced team-based care. You can enable MAs to contribute in a more meaningful way to the practice team through professional development training.
While creating your own MA professional development program will be invaluable to your practice, it does not take the place of a certified MA 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).
Certification credentials may also be obtained through (may not be an all-inclusive list):
American Association of Medical Assistants, Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
National Center for Competency Testing, National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
National Healthcareer Association, Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
National Healthcareer Association, Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
American Medical Technologists, 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.
Quiz Ref IDGather your practice team and ensure that you have their full support for a professional development series for your MAs. Brainstorm with your team to develop a comprehensive list of identified gaps in care, breakdowns in practice workflow, and other opportunities for training or development. Prioritize the topics that are most important to your team and use them as the building blocks of your curriculum to be completed during the first year of your program.
You can use the MA education survey checklist below to help your team brainstorm ideas for your MA professional development program.
Who should use the survey checklist to identify training opportunities?
Everyone, potentially. Combining the unique perspectives of individual practice team members will help you to develop a more comprehensive set of information to identify and prioritize MA professional development topics. Involve MAs, physicians, nurses, registration staff, and other members of the team. You can consider asking patients to complete the survey, or use their feedback from satisfaction surveys as a way to include their input. Consider involving practice or system leadership as well.
How much of a time commitment is the training?
Make the commitment to provide MA professional development monthly for at least one year. Each session should be 45 minutes to one hour. Before starting the program, prepare to spend time on content development and creating space in the schedule for the hour-long lunchtime or pre-clinic sessions.
How can providing education to MAs improve the experience of physicians, other staff, and patients in our practice?
Shifting some of the physicians' administrative and clinical tasks to well-trained MAs gives physicians more time to concentrate on the patient during visits. For example, if an MA uses expanded rooming protocols when rooming a patient, the following will be completed:
Updated patient, family, and social history.
Updated screening information.
Completed medication reconciliation, and identification of patient questions or concerns about medications.
Scanned records from specialists or other facilities into the medical record.
Accurate vital signs.
Standing orders placed.
What are some examples of MA professional development topics that other practices have selected?
Examples of training categories include practice improvement, enhanced work flows, chronic disease management, and healthy staff goals.
The following topics are covered by materials in this module:
Professionalism in the MA role.
Diabetes management and prevention.
Hypertension, obesity and hyperlipidemia.
Chronic kidney disease.
You may also want to consider developing your own materials on the following topics:
Panel/population health management.
Cancer screening criteria.
Conducting behavioral health screens.
Delivering normal laboratory results.
Community resources for patients.
The MA professional development program leader should have an interest and training in developing continuing education materials as well as strong clinical skills. The leader may be a nurse, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse care coordinator, or MA supervisor.
Quiz Ref IDThe program leader will work with other practice stakeholders, such as physicians and the MA supervisor, to design the curriculum and materials for each session. The program leader's responsibilities may include:
Scheduling sessions during dedicated times.
Facilitating and leading trainings.
Adapting content and materials to fit your practice's needs.
Coordinating with guest presenters.
The educational materials you use during the MA professional development sessions should be concise and straightforward. Flashcards that define the topic and contain essential information or an outline of the content that will be covered make excellent pre-session learning tools. Handouts, activities, and teaching aids are ideal to use for the session itself. All of 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 having conversations with patients about diabetes management or instructions on when to involve the diabetes educator.
You can customize the supplemental flashcards below for your training sessions to supplement the curriculum. They cover basic medical terminology and information to help MAs reach their full potential.
Should I develop my training materials from scratch or are there prepackaged materials I can use?
You can start with the handouts and activities included in this module. For additional resources, use vetted health education resources, peer-reviewed journal articles, and the guidelines from your specialty's professional society. You can start by reviewing the educational resources available from the American Association of Medical Assistants® and other organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association, the National Diabetes Education Program, and the American Heart Association, which often have dedicated training materials available on their websites. Always obtain permission to use and re-print materials created by other organizations.
The STEPS Forward™ site includes modules that address various topics that could be appropriate for your MA professional development program, including medication adherence, and panel management. You can also find workflow design and optimization resources, including modules on team huddles, pre-visit planning, starting Lean health care, and implementing team-based care.
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 so the MAs can acclimate to the training style and feel prepared for each session. The tools should be lean, consistent, and scalable as the program continues to grow.
Communicate to your MAs about the new professional development program, what they can expect from the sessions, and what will be expected of them. The rest of the practice team should also be aware of when the professional development sessions will occur. The sessions should occur during working hours, and the MAs should be told whether they should bring their breakfast or lunch to the session. Start and end on time.
Check in with physicians and other team members on a regular basis to see if the training is helping the MAs gain new competencies and improve their performance in the practice. Use feedback to continue to improve the professional development series. As MA competencies and capabilities evolve, augment MA roles as appropriate and in compliance with applicable laws.
You may also want to develop a pre- and post-educational assessment to ensure that the learning objectives are being met.
How should we make sure the training sessions are successful from the MAs' perspective?
Check in with the MAs regularly:
Play games or do activities to test and reinforce the teachings at the end of each session.
Administer a brief survey (five questions or fewer) at the end of each session to make sure 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 three most important things you learned about health literacy?”
Give a follow-up survey at the end of the year-long program to see what sessions resonated most with the MAs and how they are using what they learned in their daily work. At this point, it might be worth revisiting a popular topic or one that requires some additional reinforcement.
How should we evaluate the program?
Using data from the pre- and post-session assessments can indicate whether the program is positively affecting MA confidence, understanding of clinic workflows, performance in the MA role, and feelings of job satisfaction. These are easy to measure and provide valuable insight. You may also consider gathering feedback from the MAs and other care team members using end-of-year surveys.
Monitor any new skills or processes that should be used regularly 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 MAs to ensure that they understand and are using the new skill or process. These audits give the opportunity for ongoing coaching and feedback. Your practice may also choose to monitor metrics on your patient satisfaction survey related to MA professionalism and clinical care.
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, which is in November. 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 a team of two staff members present on a pilot that they've been involved 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 your practice wants to start out on a smaller scale, consider piloting the MA professional development program in one or two pods or teams within the clinic. Five or six MAs would be able to give valuable feedback about the teaching methods and delivery of material in these pilot sessions.
Depending on how often you decide to hold sessions, plan to run the pilot for four to six sessions or up to six months. Communicate with the other MAs and teams in the practice that are not part of the pilot so they know that they will be included in the program's official rollout.
Professional development training is a valuable tool to engage and educate your MA team. Making the effort to develop tailored lessons can improve your practice culture, workflow, and team dynamics. A team of well-trained MAs can enable the practice to adopt a team-based care model, take better care of patients with greater efficiency and increase satisfaction for all members of the care team as well as patients.
Get input from the MAs on their training needs.
Take your MAs' interests and needs into account when developing your curriculum. Lessons personalized to the needs of your unique team will be more engaging and show your dedication to their important role within the team.
Training promotes lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning is a crucial aspect of developing a strong team, and promotes the goals of pursuing knowledge and personal development.
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Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to 0.5 Medical Knowledge MOC points in the American Board of Internal Medicine's (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. Participants will earn MOC points equivalent to the amount of CME credits claimed for the activity. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABIM MOC credit.
Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the activity and individual assessment of and feedback to the learner, enables the learner to earn up to 0.5 MOC points in the American Board of Pediatrics' (ABP) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit learner completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABP MOC credit.
AMA CME Accreditation Information
Credit Designation Statement: The American Medical Association designates this enduring material activity for a maximum of .50 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
Target Audience: This activity is designed to meet the educational needs of all physicians, practice administrators, and allied health professionals.
*Disclaimer: Individuals below who are marked with an asterisk contributed towards Version 1 of this learning activity.
Statement of Competency: This activity is designed to address the following ABMS/ACGME competencies: practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communications skills, professionalism, systems-based practice, interdisciplinary teamwork, quality improvement and informatics.
Christine A. Sinsky, MD, FACP, Vice President, Professional Satisfaction, American Medical Association*
Marie Brown, MD, MACP, Senior Physician Advisor, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association & Associate Professor, Rush Medical College, Rush University Medical Center
Renee DuBois, MPH, Senior Practice Transformation Advisor, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association
Brittany Thele, MS, Program Administrator, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association
Julia McGannon, Segment Marketing Manager, Member Programs & CME Program Committee, American Medical Association
Alejandro Aparicio, MD, Director, Medical Education Programs, American Medical Association*
Rita LePard, CME Program Committee, American Medical Association*
Becca Moran, MPH, Program Administrator, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association*
Ellie Rajcevich, MPA, Practice Development Advisor, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association*
Sam Reynolds, MBA, Director, Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability, American Medical Association*
J. James Rohack, MD, FACC, FACP, Senior Advisor and former President, American Medical Association
Cathryn B. Heath, MD, FAAFP, Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School*
Steven Peskin, MD, MBA, FACP, Executive Medical Director, Population Health, Horizon BCBSNJ*
Jessica Reimer, PhD, Medical Writer, HealthComms, Inc.
About the Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability Group: The AMA Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability group has been tasked with developing and promoting innovative strategies that create sustainable practices. Leveraging findings from the 2013 AMA/RAND Health study, “Factors affecting physician professional satisfaction and their implications for patient care, health systems and health policy,” and other research sources, the group developed a series of practice transformation strategies. Each has the potential to reduce or eliminate inefficiency in broader office-based physician practices and improve health outcomes, increase operational productivity and reduce health care costs.
Disclosure Statement: The content of this activity does not relate to any product or services of a commercial interest as defined by the ACCME; therefore, neither the planners nor the faculty have relevant financial relationships to disclose.
Renewal Date: 04/25/2019
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