I was a dental assistant for 3 years before deciding to find a job as a medical assistant. When I made the decision to transition from pre-dental to pre-med, I knew that my dental assisting experience wasn’t going to be ideal. Oral health is extremely important and it plays a big role in a patient’s overall health, but it isn’t the only factor at play. I loved being a dental assistant and it was comfortable for me, but I knew I needed to find a job that would teach me more about the entire body and prepare me for medical school. I was afraid of starting over and being at the bottom again. When I first started working in the dental field, I worked front desk and would shadow the clinical team during down time. It took me a year to find a job where I was 100% in the back and helping the dentist. I didn’t go to a traditional dental assisting program so I had to learn to make temporaries, pack cord and everything else that is involved in chair-side assisting from scratch. I was lucky to find people that were willing to guide and teach me along the way, but the fear of not being as lucky a second time around paralyzed me.
I didn’t have the money or the time to take off from school and undergo a traditional training program. I did some research on different options I had and what was considered PCE vs. HCE. After a few hours of reading, I knew that the best route for me was to become a CNA or a medical assistant. CNA was faster and I would probably have easily found a job, BUT, the pay was $10 less than what I was used to making and my husband and I couldn’t take the financial hit. Medical assisting was going to require a little more time and dedication, but I had a better chance of working normal hours alongside a PA, NP or MD/DO and making a little more money. So, the big question arises:
“How in the world am I going to find a job doing something I have never done before and have no training in, in the midst of a pandemic?”
It was intimidating and required a lot of vulnerability. To say it took persistence and faith is an understatement. I want to share with you guys what I learned these last few months and what I believe helped me get my first medical assisting job with no prior experience or schooling.
Why Medical Assisting:
- Better chance of having normal 8-5 M-F hours. Since I am still in school, working regular hours allows me to better plan my week and organize myself. I like to know what nights I’ll be studying what subject and how many hours I have to do it. I like a set schedule and preferably, weekends off to unwind and reboot.
- Better pay. Medical assistants make more than CNAs. Since I didn’t want to undergo a traditional training program, my only options to gaining relevant PCE were becoming a MA or CNA.
- Working alongside MD/DO, PA, NP. Since my end goal is to become a provider, I wanted to work with them as much as possible. Being a MA would allow me to work side by side with Physicians and get a better idea of what their day to day is like. As a CNA, I would have spent most of my hours working with nurses. That is still great experience and nurses have a lot to teach, but personally, I wanted to spend more time with physicians.
1. Find Volunteer Related Experience
Before trying to find a job, try to find volunteering experience that is health care related. Some hospitals will train you to volunteer in different units. Many hospitals are looking for students who have taken science related courses and have aspirations to become doctors or mid-level providers. Call clinics and hospitals in your area to offer your skills. I was lucky to find a volunteer position at Southwest Florida Free Pain Clinic. I went there twice a week and worked helping with administrative work and translating in the back with the provider. Not only did I get to experience first hand what it was like to work in a clinic and with vulnerable populations, I loved it! It has opened my eyes to how effective functional medicine is and how many people don’t have access to care in my community.
If you want to volunteer in a different country, consider International Volunteer Headquarters. They will allow pre-professional students and current medical students to partake in international medical mission trips. I saved up money and traveled to Costa Rica in December of 2019. I spent 1 week working in a nursing home alongside nurses and other providers. I was able to help feed, bathe, and care for patients in the nursing home as well as practice my Spanish skills. It was a great experience and I was able to add it to my resume to help me land my first medical assisting job.
2. If You Can, Get Certified
Although most providers and hospitals prefer medical assistants who underwent a traditional medical assisting program, some may consider you without one. The NHA allows you to become certified online without going through a traditional program. You do have to have some sort of related experience, but no schooling. If you qualify to take the exam, do it! They provide a study guide book that you can purchase and 6 online practice tests before you go in for the official exam. The exam is proctored through PSI and it’s 180 questions. The best thing about the NHA certification is that it doesn’t cost much. It’s about $200-$300 depending on if you purchase the study materials.
If you don’t think reading through a study guide is for you or if you don’t have the related experience to qualify to take the exam, you can do a fully online, self-paced course that prepares and qualifies you to sit for it. The U.S Career Institute offers a course that is fairly priced. Some classmates of mine underwent the program in just 2 weeks and passed their exam. This option is the best in my opinion. It’s fast and inexpensive. There are online courses that allow you to take the CNA exam as well. If you think being a CNA is a better fit for you, go for it! Both medical assisting and nurse assisting are great patient care experiences to have and will expose you to medicine.
3. Include Health Related Classes in Your Resume
Many students forget to include their courses in their resume. It may sound silly, but in many of my interviews, I was asked about those courses and how well I did in them. Taking Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Pharmacology, Pathophysiology, Microbiology or any other class that relates to medicine and health care will put you a step ahead. Employers and providers like to see that you are passionate about medicine and have the potential to learn fast. If they are going to take a chance on you, they want to know their time will be well spent. This is your time to shine, so don’t be shy. Include your classes, your extracurricular activities (like volunteering) and any research you have been or are involved in. In my interviews, I was asked about my volunteer trip, my GPA and even quizzed on medical terminology. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself. Be confident and show that you can and will learn fast and are willing to work hard to do so.
4. Be Willing to Take a Pay Cut
As a dental assistant, I made pretty good money. I was working full-time while in school making a lot more than my classmates were making. The dental field pays better than the medical field and I knew that I would be taking a pay cut in the transition. I accepted that fact and moved on. You’re going to have to make sacrifices throughout your pre-med journey. I’m sure you have already made many—missing family holidays to study or not spending time with friends to catch up on sleep. This was just another sacrifice I made for my future.
The good thing is, after you are trained and know what the heck you are doing, you have a great chance of getting a raise. Many employers will give you a raise based on performance, so work hard and learn as much as you can. Show initiative, ask questions, jump in to help, be compassionate, and be a team player. You may see that raise faster than you expected. Like they say “hard work pays off!”
5. Be Eager to Learn and Show Initiative
In all of my interviews, I made sure to emphasize my desire to work in the field and to learn as much as I could. I didn’t leave that interview until I knew that the person interviewing me knew, with 100% confidence, that I was smart, dedicated and ready to learn. I described my experiences in the dental field and how I didn’t undergo a traditional training program. Many employers are okay with teaching a new grad or pre-med student the ropes. Their fear is that you aren’t willing to put in the work it takes to really learn the job and excel. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pre-professional students that just want their experience hours and nothing else. They aren’t invested in learning or in the process. They have their eye on the prize and are disconnected with the present.
DON’T BE THAT STUDENT!
Show initiative! Describe your skills outside of health care that will enable you to become an asset to their practice. Explain what you will do to learn as much as you can and to exceed their expectations. Offer to come in and train on your days off or stay after hours to shadow an experienced MA, CNA or nurse. Don’t be lazy! Just because this isn’t your end goal, doesn’t mean you get to be sloppy at it. Be GREAT at everything you do. Whether you are working retail or as a PA. Your journey matters and who you are during it will define who you become at the end.
6. Believe in Yourself!
I know, very cheesy, but also very true! Don’t let your fears prevent you from following your dreams or getting the experience you need to become a physician. Experience matters. The quality of your experience is more important than the amount of hours you have accumulated. I was afraid to change jobs. I was comfortable being a dental assistant. I was good at it and I was getting paid great money. I had to make a sacrifice for my own benefit. I am in a position now that will teach me skills I can carry into medical school. I am working alongside doctors and mid-level providers who are willing to answer questions and help me develop my skills. It’s terrifying at first and requires quite a bit of vulnerability, but it’s worth it in the end. You will be better prepared for medical school and will have a bucket of knowledge to carry with you. It will make you a more competitive applicant and hopefully help you stand out in the midst of thousand of applications.
Take a chance on yourself and don’t let fear dictate your future!