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!

Prompt: Accidental Healthcare Career

Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.

It’s Obama’s fault that I work in healthcare.

I never, in a million years, even TOSSED the idea around of working in healthcare before our glorious dictator, erhm, leader, (*said with sarcasm*) started the current nightmare we’re living in right now. (Have you guessed that I DESPISE the man?)

It never even occurred to me to attempt it. I knew I could never be a nurse. Not so much for the gross factor (though there is that – KUDOS to nurses!), but I get so impatient with people who are sick or in pain. (Just ask my family). My first reaction is to say, “suck it up, buttercup.”

Not exactly stellar bedside manner, right?

This attitude applies to me, too. It drives me CRAZY to be sick or have some pain I can’t seem to control or get rid of.

But when Obama waved his scepter and deemed Obamacare to be the law of the land (*snicker* – yes, I’m being bitchy), I knew I had to DO something to protect my family. I had been a stay-at-home mom for the past seven years – the kids were old enough to take care of themselves and it was time to get back to work. But where to work? I could try and use my degree (I graduated from college in 2003 with a Technical Writing degree – more on why I didn’t pursue this later), but what if it took me forever to FIND a local job in that field? Time was of the essence, who knew how Obamacare would screw everything up for us?

Kevin was (is) self-employed. And with me not working, we were paying ASTRONOMICAL fees for family health insurance. And we were looking at even higher fees once Obamacare passed.

What were my options? I could go back to retail, banking or even the restaurant business. I have a lot of experience in all of those fields, but even then, how much would it ultimately cost us for health insurance?

I admit, the main reason I applied at the hospital was because I wanted to thumb my nose at Obama and his stupidity. How ironic would it be to have health insurance through a healthcare facility? Oh sure, I know that Obama will never know, nor care, about my decision to work in healthcare simply because of his God-like complex to ultimately control his minions (again with the bitchy), but I figured, on some level, that it might be the safest option in order to protect my family.

So. I applied and to my utter astonishment, I got the job.

Actually, that’s not true. I applied first to the insurance processing center and made it to my second interview. I sat at a table with four other women, the women I would be ultimately working with, interviewing me and I guess they didn’t like me because I didn’t get the job. I didn’t give up though. There was a scheduler’s position at the neurosurgery center that I went for and got. I was now responsible for scheduling testing for two neurosurgeons.

I was both excited and terrified. I bought my required scrubs (at that time we were wearing a different color every day so it was quite expensive initially) and my first day on the job consisted of all-day training, becoming familiar with the hospital rules and regulations, signing up for benefits, etc. We were allowed to wear business attire for my first two days of training.

There were a handful of us – maybe around 20? I remember feeling VERY THANKFUL because the economy was tanking at that time and I was just grateful to have ANY job, let alone the job I landed. I felt extremely grateful to be there.

That feeling quickly dissipated when I started my first day at the clinic. It was on Wednesday and after my boss took me around the clinic and introduced me, I began to fully appreciate what I had gotten myself into.

I knew nothing, NOTHING, about the medical field. In essence, I had to learn a whole new language. I had to learn new software; I had to learn how to be what they wanted me to be by constantly adjusting and readjusting my expectations and my personality. I was absolutely terrified and I wondered, on more than one occasion, just what the hell I was doing there.

I also came very, very close, to walking out several times. (Even recently).

I was so stressed. Just when I thought I had “gotten it,” something, or someone, would throw me a curve ball and I was left floundering. I suppose I did a good job of hiding my terror because months later, when I had become comfortable with my position and the people I worked with, I told them how I felt when I first started and my co-workers were shocked – they had no idea, they said.

I guess that was something, at least.

I could BS my way through patient interactions. I’m telling you, the most helpful class I took in college was communication. It taught me to understand different personalities and how to get along with those personalities. It taught me patience and how to word things so that people didn’t take offense but at the same time, it allowed me to maintain control over the situation.

I think everyone should be required to take a communications class like that (and I’m talking about the art of communication – studying Aristotle and the likes. It sounds boring, and it was, for the most part, it was also difficult to digest, but once that light bulb went off in my head, I feel like I can pretty much handle any personality now).

What stressed me out the most, and still does on many levels, was interacting with the doctors. As if rubbing elbows with doctors in general is not nerve-wracking enough, I’m rubbing elbows with BRAIN SURGEONS. To become a brain surgeon, you have to be the top 1% – these guys are SCARY SMART. Human, but Einstein smart.

I would feel nauseous anytime I had to speak directly with a doctor. Did I ask my question plainly? Should I have been able to answer my question without going to the doctor? Did I present myself in a professional manner? Will they like me or ask management to get rid of me?

(Hey – that’s actually happened before).

The doctors TERRIFIED me. I drove home, on many, many occasions when I first started working for the hospital, crying because I was so stressed out from trying to learn everything. Thank God I’m a fast learner. I tend to catch on quickly.

Looking back, I’m pretty proud of myself. I stepped into a world I knew little to nothing about and conquered it, somewhat. I’m currently working on educating myself so that I can take a certification test and become a CMA (certified medical assistant) which will lead to a raise and more responsibility. I’m feeling more comfortable in my duties and I’ve been told by both management, and the doctors (EEK!) that I’m doing a good job.

It sort of blows my mind, to be honest.

Oh – one more first to tell you about – the first time I had to take staples out. It was a PLIF (posterior lumbar interbody fusion). The nurse showed me how to use the tool and I got down on my knees, swallowed the bile back down my throat and took those suckers out. It’s actually sort of fun, to be honest. Unless they’ve been in for a while and they’re starting to scab over. Then you have to dig into the flesh a bit and that hurts the patient. I’m still not 100% confident on removing staples, but I just swallow my apprehension, grit my teeth and force myself to do it and appear confident while doing it. (Which is key – my lead nurse told me that patients will never know that you haven’t done something very often, as long as you sound confident while doing it).

I watched a carpal tunnel suture removal the other day. I haven’t done one of those yet. My doctor doesn’t do very many carpal tunnels. That’s pretty cool. You first don a pair of clean gloves, swab the stitches with rubbing alcohol to remove germs/bacteria, then you take your scissors and snip the stitch while pulling it by the knot with the tweezers. I’ve yet to see one long continuous stitch removed – I’ve put the word out if anyone gets one of those to come get me so I can watch how they do it.

So those are some of my firsts. Without sounding like a braggart (too late, I’m sure), I have to admit, this job is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. I have grabbed this medical monster by the tail and conquered it. Not bad for someone who didn’t go to any sort of medical school. The other girls I started out with? The other schedulers? Didn’t last. They couldn’t hack it and transferred to other departments.

I’m the last scheduler standing.