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!

Too Many Changes in Too Short of Time

I can honestly say, these past three months have been the most exhausting, frustrating, rewarding and fulfilling months in my life. Well, maybe not my life, but they certainly rank in the top five.

1. We moved offices.

It was a confusing, whirlwind mass of chaotic activity. We all knew we were going to move to our new office at the hospital, it was inevitable, but we were told it wouldn’t be until closer to Thanksgiving, so though we knew we were moving, we weren’t really PSYCHED to move. Suddenly, our new office was done and the CEO of the company didn’t see the need to delay the inevitable so we got the green light to move.

It wasn’t a slow, organized move, it was a crazy, throw everything in boxes and load up our cars move.

We moved on a Friday but we didn’t close up shop to move. It was business as usual and we packed our crap up in between patient phone calls. Each team was allotted about two hours to pack our crap, load it up and drop it off at the new office. Then, once the phones shut off at 4:30, we all went into frenzy mode and moved the rest of our stuff. We unloaded just the stuff we knew we would need for clinic on Monday and the rest stayed in boxes.

It was a crazy, disorganized but sort of fun time. And we survived our first clinic in our new place. My doctor was pretty patient, (what choice did he have?) and when we explained the situation to the patients, they were pretty understanding and patient, too. (Again, what choice did they have?)

I love this office. I truly do. It’s spacious and still has that NEW smell. We’re located on the 7th floor and we have a spectacular view of the city. We are the only specialty on our floor so we have the place to ourselves. I’m proud to work here. I know it’s impressive and people are impressed when they get to us.

We’ve had issues. We’ve had doors that wouldn’t open and doors that opened so fast that they were seriously a hazard to anyone within slapping distance. We have been unable to locate light switches and we still have problems with light-motion sensors that are too sensitive and often shut off leaving us in the dark and either having to wave our arms to bring the lights back on or we have to work in the dark until we physically get up to turn the damn things on again.

The toilets flush so loudly they are seriously damaging our eardrums and everyone has to hold their ears when they go off to protect ourselves. At least we won’t have to worry overly much about clogging them as I’m pretty sure they have so much suction they would suck a small child down the pipes if given the chance.

Our docs don’t have offices. Instead, we have collaboration spaces within each “pod.” We have five pods total. In fact, I’m using a collaboration space right now to write this. (More on that later). These collab spaces are intended to allow the physicians to sort of disappear whenever they need a break or want someplace private to eat their lunch. These collab spaces also double as meeting rooms or in my case, study spaces. Since the doctors are only in the clinic two times a week, they are in surgery the rest of the week, they didn’t see the need to have permanent spaces for temporary occupancy.

We’ve been in our space now for three months. Three months, in some ways, it feels a lot longer. We still don’t have enough stools to sit on in the exam rooms and supplies to supply 55 exam rooms. (Each pod has five exam rooms each – we also have one large procedure room in case the doctors need to treat wounds or more complicated issues). For several weeks, we didn’t have enough scales and we had to routinely share and move scales around in order to work our clinics.

Even though we are the only specialty on our floor, we still have room to grow. The front part of our floor is undeveloped and locked off. I have no idea what the hospital plans on doing with this undeveloped space and can only guess that it’s intended to add on more doctors, but we’ll see. So that’s exciting, knowing that at some point, there are likely more changes in our future.

If you can count on anything in business, it’s change.

Let me see if I can explain this set up for you …

When you get off the elevators, you can only go one way and that way is to a centralized podium. The person at the podium then “blues” you in on the schedule so that people like me will know you’re on the floor. The podium person will then direct you to the pod where your doctor is located. I work out of pod 5. Patients will then settle into our waiting room and wait for me to call them back to a room where I start their charts and get their vitals.

On Wednesdays, we share the waiting room with another doctor and last week it was so crowded it was literally standing room only. It’s so weird how the patient flow works out – we will be an hour ahead of schedule and suddenly, we have an influx of patients and we’re an hour behind.

I think this week, I’m going to ask my doctor if he would mind if we used the main waiting area – the area that people see when they first get off the elevators. It’s just too confusing for patients and awkward for me to try and keep track of everyone.

I’m all about efficiency. In fact, I’ve sort of developed a reputation for being “on top of it.” I probably over plan clinics but in my mind, a little preparation goes A LONG WAY towards a more organized clinic. In fact, I’m pretty sure my doctor has come to expect this preparation from me now so there is no way I would NOT plan my clinics, I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.

Which leads me to the second big work change ..

2. We finally switched over to the hospital charting software program in August.

The hospital has been “warning” us for years this change was going to happen so it’s not surprising that it happened once we moved onto the hospital campus.

We spent weeks staying after work transferring people over on to the new schedule program and into the new charting system. It was exhausting but it allowed us to make extra money and to familiarize ourselves with the new program so that ultimately, we taught ourselves how to get around it faster than if we hadn’t stayed to do data entry.

The first week we went live, we had software representatives available for questions. Which sounds awesome on the surface, but wasn’t really awesome in reality. Though they knew their way around the program, they were unfamiliar with our specialty and our specific needs. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard, “well, this is the way it’s supposed to work, but the feature is not working now.” After a time, they were just in the way and became super annoying to have around.

You could FEEL the tension emanating off our bodies that first week we went live. IT. WAS. FRUSTRATING. to say the least. And it’s still frustrating to this day. It’s hard to find anything, let alone quickly. Everything is filed into folders, each doc has a folder, I have a folder for all of the documents I put into the patient’s chart, every type of document has a folder, days have folders, it’s pretty insane, quite frankly.

And the programs, the charting program and the scheduling programs, are GLITCHY. Things will disappear, or we get error messages, or the program will just shut down. And our servers SUCK. They are SO SLOW. In fact, these programs are SO glitchy and slow that our ER finally put their foot down and refused to use it. They use something different.

It’s not unusual for me to completely shut down my computer, several times a day because it just locks up.

AARGH.

I think our docs had the most trouble with the program. They were definitely not set up the way our physicians wanted them to be set up and we’re constantly coming up with ways to get around restrictions. The hospital will likely figure out some of the workarounds we’re doing but that’s the only way our physicians can get their work done so I’m sure the hospital, at some point, will no choice but to make those changes. In the interim, we make do.

So. We moved on July 17th and went to a new software system one month later.

I was working 60 hour weeks for WEEKS during this process. I’m just NOW getting to a point where I’m now going home at 6:00 instead of 8:00. I haven’t seen my family in three months. Truly, I haven’t been home to have dinner with Kevin or the boys, during the week, in three months. I haven’t had time to stop. It’s been crazy.

Some of that crazy came from our phones.

3. We FINALLY went back to voicemails.

Some knucklehead had the bright idea that answering all of our calls live was the way to go. And for a while, it seemed to work. We answered live calls and did our best to help the patient with his/her questions/requests. But after a while, that’s ALL we did. Let me break it down for you.

Monday – I was in clinic. So I didn’t answer calls. I focused primarily on making sure the clinic ran smoothly.

Tuesday – I needed to schedule the Monday clinic patients for testing, but I didn’t have time to do that because I was in the pit answering live calls. So, I was taking calls for other doctor patients who had to tell their stories, from the beginning, to me because I was not familiar with their background. And then, being on a new system, it look three times as long to look anything up because we couldn’t find the damn information. AND/OR we had (still have to) access our old system – so in essence, we were working out of four systems, our old charting/scheduling programs and our new charting/scheduling programs. And when you answered live calls, you had to stop what you were doing before the call, to take the call, and when you hung up, you didn’t have time to start your own work because the damn phone would instantly ring.

Can you tell I LOATHE the phones??

Wednesday – I’m back in clinic. And I haven’t had a chance to touch my Monday clinic.

Thursday/Friday – I’m back on the damn phones. And again, I do not have a chance to get my clinic work done because I”m now forced to take care of patients for all of the docs. So the ONLY time I had a chance to clean up my week’s clinics AND prepare for my upcoming clinics, was after hours.

It was an insane process.

And to top it off, I started having chest pains. I don’t know if it was because I was under so much stress and working 60 hours weeks, or if it due to gas from starting to take Coconut supplements, or maybe a combination of both, but I ended up in the ER one night.

I was working clinic on a Wednesday and I just couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had to continuously take large breaths in order to function. I made several trips to the restroom just so I could pause, close my eyes and force my body to settle down. I took my blood pressure and it was way high. And my heart rate was over 100. I had chest pain but no arm/jaw pain so I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack but something was OFF.

Then that night, I just couldn’t sleep. My heart was racing double time and I was laying down!! I started hyperventilating and text Kevin (because he was at band practice) and he rushed home and took me to the ER. They hooked me up to an EKG machine and luckily, I wasn’t have a heart attack. They put me into a room and gave me liquid Ativan. Liquid GOLD, I say. That calmed me right down and my blood pressure went back down to normal. They didn’t give me an explanation for my crazy, but I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack. I think the pressure just got to me and I snapped.

I haven’t had an attack since then. I’ve adapted and learned to cope with this stress.

We had another person in the office break out into a rash because of the stress. When the director of our department found out about our physical manifestations to all of this stress, he put his foot down – it was time for changes.

We narrowed down that the phone situation just wasn’t working for us. So, we called our communications department in and they set it up so that each doctor has a voicemail now. Now, I can get to phones on MY time. And I’m already familiar with my doctor’s patients so that cuts down on response time. And I can return phone calls all at once so it’s way more efficient for everyone.

We’ve been back on voicemails for several weeks now and everyone is WAY more relaxed. We have time to BREATHE. We can all go to lunch together, if we want. We’re more in control of our processes and time. And that has left more time for me to pursue my next goal …

4. I’m studying for my CMA test

The CMA test is the Certified Medical Assistant test. The hospital has put together a pretty sweet incentive package for the medical assistants to become certified. It’s better for us, for the doctors and of course, for the hospital. So that has motivated all of us to study for the thing. A few of use have been staying late, or coming in on the weekend (like today – but I’m writing to you instead because I was feeling it today), to prepare for this. It costs $150 dollars to take the 3 hours test so I’m also motivated to take this pretty seriously because I don’t want to blow $150.

I’ve purchased study materials and I plan on purchasing a practice test so that I can focus my studies on the sections that will be on the test. I’ve only really been studying seriously for the past several weeks and I already feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s stressful though – I feel like I’m cramming four years of medical school into about six weeks. I’m not going to tell you, or anyone I work with, the actual date I plan on taking this test, that way, if I fail, no harm, no foul. My goal is to just announce to everyone that I passed. If I told everyone my plans, took the test and then failed, I’m pretty sure I would be too mortified to show my face again. Everyone is wanting to go take it on the same day, but I simply can’t do that – I will be a bundle of nerves anyway, let alone taking the test with a bunch of people I work with.

The hospital is not only offering a bonus for becoming certified, but they’re also offering an hourly pay increase. And it’s a pretty sweet jump, let me tell ya.

So yes. I’m focusing my energies onto passing this thing now. I’ve been staying after work not only to finish my work, but on collaborating with my fellow co-workers on studying for the CMA.

I’m looking forward to the day when things get back to normal. Our entire worlds, and not just working worlds, but personal worlds, have been turned upside down these past several months.

But then I’ll have continuing education requirements after I pass the CMA in order to KEEP my CMA status.

It just never ends, does it.