I Am a Certified Medical Assistant

I passed my Certified Medical Assistant test. I went through this site, in case there are any other medical assistants out there thinking about taking this test.

cmaWhat does that mean, exactly? Well, not to belittle the position because DUDE, I KNOW, it basically means I’m mentally capable of being a doctor’s minion.

The test was … harder than I thought it would be. It went beyond simply knowing the information, they asked questions that applied that knowledge. For example, phlebotomy, (which is the name of the specialty for people who draw blood). “If you’re drawing blood to test for this condition, what color tube would you use?”

ACK!

That was pretty much my first question and I immediately broke out in a sweat. And FYI: KNOW PHLEBOTOMY inside and out. There are a TON of questions on the test about this area. Oh, and EKG’s, but mostly phlebotomy.

Let me back up.

The hospital presented an incentive for medical assistants to become certified. They promised a pay increase and a bonus – you got so much money up front and if you stuck around for one year, you would get the other half of this bonus. Sweet deal, right?? Not to mention, having more certified staff makes the hospital look good, right?

For those of you that don’t know, I sort of fell into this whole medical assistant thing. I have never had aspirations of doing ANYTHING in the medical field. And my end goal is not to become a nurse – nurses are great, legendary really, but I have neither the patience nor the desire to become a nurse. I’m happy where I am, thank you very much.

No. I applied to the hospital back in 2011 because of Obamacare. I was concerned for my family’s healthcare. Kevin’s company had liquidated and he was setting up his own business, which meant we didn’t have healthcare, and the healthcare we could qualify for was astronomically expensive. I was thinking about going back-to-work at that time anyway, (I had been a stay-at-home mom for seven years), so I applied at a local hospital.

I feel like I’ve told this story before. Sorry if you’ve heard this one …

I got an interview. It was with the insurance processing part of the hospital. My first interview went really well and I landed a second interview with my peers. That one didn’t go as well. I guess they didn’t like me because I didn’t get the job.

Then I got another interview. It was for a scheduling position with neurosurgery. I didn’t even know what neurosurgery was.

I landed that job and started in September of 2011. It was AWESOME. It was fast paced and challenged me daily. So much so that I would often go home crying with frustration because in essence, I was being asked to learn a whole new language – adapt to a whole new world, really.

I took care of three, sometimes four, doctors’ scheduling needs. Once the patient had seen the doctor, they would be asked to stop at my desk and schedule follow-up appointments and/or testing. I loved it. I’ve always been a good multi-tasker and it took all of my “talents”, if you will, to do this job.

About three years into it and things started changing. The hospital needed to downsize and they were eliminating the scheduling jobs. So, we could either become medical assistants or lose our jobs.

One guess which option I chose.

I was thrust into a world I neither knew, nor really wanted, to be perfectly honest. But never one to turn my back on a challenge, I dove in, head first.

I listened. I read. I absorbed every aspect of the job. Google became, (still is), my best friend. Some of the best advice my old boss gave me was, “patients will never know you don’t know what you’re doing if what you do is with confidence.” She was absolutely right. I became a master bull-shitter.

That’s not to say I didn’t do my job correctly, I just made damn sure the patient didn’t doubt what I was doing.

I learned to take blood pressures. I learned to take out sutures and staples. I learned to read, and respond, to verbal cues and body language. I learned when to be seen but not heard around the doctors. I learned to gauge the doctor’s moods and adjust accordingly. I learned when to ask questions and when to listen.

I assimilated to a world I knew nothing about. I’m sort of proud of myself for that, truth be known.

Here’s the kicker: I don’t really like people. I mean, I’m okay being around people and I’m genuinely interested in their stories, for about two seconds, and I’m both sympathetic and empathetic to their complaints , but given the choice of being around people all the time?

Not so much.

When the hospital started pushing us toward certification, I became concerned. I already felt like a fraud because I hadn’t gone to school to do what I was doing and most everyone I worked with had years of medical experience in different departments, they already knew medical terminology, physiology and anatomy, I did not.

Most of my peers passed their certification in no time flat. “Oh, you’ll do fine, Karen. Don’t worry about it,” was their confident responses to my doubts but bottom line?

I didn’t know squat.

So. I started staying after work and studying. And unlike my peers, I didn’t tell anyone when I was planning on taking the test. That way, if I bombed it, no one was the wiser, right? I wouldn’t have to endure pitiful looks of sympathy.

This test cost $150 dollars. So if I was going to commit to this, I WAS GOING TO COMMIT. That’s a chunk of change to just throw against the wall and hope it sticks.

Studying was difficult. I felt like I was cramming four years of medical school into six weeks. But once I got into it, a light bulb sort of went off and I started to “get it.” And it was interesting. I made flash cards and started searing the information into my brain. It took me close to six months of studying after my peers had already passed their tests before I felt comfortable enough to take it.

I registered, paid my money and committed to a date.

The date approached and I started to panic. In fact, I woke up a few nights in a cold sweat and my heart going crazy. It was another panic attack. I knew I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t FEEL ready. So I called the company up and re-scheduled my testing date out another four weeks.

I hit the material harder than before. That was all I could think about for that four weeks. The date approached.

The nearest testing facility was in Aurora, Missouri, at a teeny, tiny airport. That was about 45 minutes from Springfield. What a weird place to have a test. Kevin and I drove out there the weekend before to find it because I know me – if I got all stressed trying to find the place then I would be too stressed to take the test. (It is across the street from the old drive-in in Aurora, for those of you from the area).

I took the Friday off before the test date (it was at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning) so I would have one last chance to cram for the test. I’m so glad I did that, I think that really helped calm my nerves as opposed to working all day the day before and not really having a chance to look over my notes before getting up at the ass-crack of dawn to get ready and drive out there the next day.

THE DAY ARRIVED.

I was nervous, but not petrified. I felt confident enough that I could squeak by. I needed a minimum of 70% to pass. No one would need to know my score. The only thing I needed to do was just pass the damn thing – that’s all the hospital really cared about.

I got to the airport at 7:45 AM. It was completely dark and there wasn’t a soul to be seen.

I went up to the door, knocked, cupped my hands over my eyes to see if anyone was inside. Nope. No one.

Now I’m starting to get annoyed. I went to all of this trouble of preparing, of sweating, of being nervous and no one bothers to show up?!? About the time I finish that thought, I see an SUV coming down the long road to the building. And my very next thought is, “I hope that’s the testing person because how creepy would it be to be out in the middle of nowhere and some guy drives up and I’m by myself, not a soul around ….” Then my imagination runs away with me, which is par for the course for me – was this all a set up to get defenseless medical wannabes out in the middle of no where and kidnap them? Was I going to be a sex slave?

I wonder how much they would charge for my services?

Wait. Where was I … oh yeah, the car is driving up.

A man, a woman and a teenager get out of the car. They open up the building and ask me to take a seat. About five minutes later, a guy walks in. “Is this where you take the … ” the last part of what he says fades away from me, I simply nod my head. Let’s get this party started before I forget everything! Was what I was really thinking. I didn’t want to do a brain dump before I took the test!

We checked in, he checked our ID’s, then we were asked to put our phones, purse, (well, I was the only one who had a purse), jackets and yes, even my fitbit, into a basket. We were then escorted into a tiny room off the main office area. There were two computers with a partition between them. We sat down but were asked not to touch anything. The guy pulls our specific tests up (because this is a test site for all sorts of licenses and certifications) and we are asked to log in but not to start the test.

We have one piece of paper and one pencil. That’s it. And we’re instructed to leave the piece of paper in the room, we are not to take it with us when we leave.

We have exactly 120 minutes to take the test. Then we begin.

I had already taken a practice test (well, several actually) so I knew there would be plenty of time to answer 200 questions. But still, the first question threw me for a loop and I started to panic. All of my confidence flew out of the window and I started sweating. I took a breath, forced myself to calm down and re-read the question. I processed it by eliminating the “no way is it those answers” and gave it my best educated guess. The second question was easier and I knew the answer to that one, so save for that brief terrifying moment of getting past the first question, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. However, I REALLY wish I had studied phlebotomy a bit more. Not so much the technical aspect of it, but the WHYS of it. (Let that be a warning to anyone out there wanting to take this test).

The only thing I used the paper for was one calculation on how many beats per minute on an EKG strip.

The guy who was taking a test with me got done way before me. But that was okay. Again, I just forced myself to breathe and focus on passing this damn thing. It took me a little over an hour to complete the test. But I felt like I had to guess on so many phlebotomy questions, that I left the facility QUITE convinced that I had failed.

I was devastated. I cried on the way home. But since I had to drive 45 minutes to get home, I had come to terms with my perceived failure by the time I arrived home. The big con to this entire process was you didn’t find out your score right away. But there were a few of my peers who had taken the same test at the same test site and said that I would be able to sign on to my account on Sunday, sometime, after they emailed me, to find out my score.

I tortured myself all that night. “I’m so dumb! What was thinking?!? I didn’t know what the hell was doing. Why did I just blow $150 bucks??” It went on and on.

By Sunday morning, I was already past my self-loathing stage and planning to take the test again. THANK GOD I hadn’t told anyone I was taking the test that weekend!! I’m not sure I could handle the humiliation.

Finally, about 1:00 in the afternoon, I received an email. My test score was online! I signed on and I literally closed my eyes and then peeked with dread at my score.

I PASSED!!!!!!! True, my score wasn’t as high as I had hoped it would be, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be either. And the section I did the worst on? Yep. Phlebotomy.

hoorayScrew it. I PASSED!!

A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I told my boss that next Monday and an email was sent out congratulating me. Everyone was so nice and supportive. My boss notified human resources and they got the ball rolling on my monetary reward. They gave me a new badge with CMA on it and I proudly wear that.

I do have to take so many credits every two years in order to keep my certified status. And of course I have to pay to renew my certification every two years, but the continued education are short courses you take online, through the site, that is included with your renewal cost, so it’s not all bad. And honestly, I’m sort of looking forward to reading the material because it will only help me understand my job that much more.

Damn dog, I’m a CMA!

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Karen

Hi! My day job is a CMA in neurosurgery.. I'm a mom to two twenty-something sons. I've been married to the same man for 26 years. I have a lot to say about nothing. Lucky you.