Well, how about that! I have passed the National Healthcareer Association’s certification exam, my next to last step on becoming a medical assistant. It’s been an incredible ride, to have success in an academic program in a year such as this. I’m not quite out of the woods just yet; in just over a week, I will start my practicum at a clinic in Woodinville, Washington. I am required to put in 165 hours of clinical time, the last bit of my training. This last step will be a massive challenge, but also a fantastic academic opportunity. I imagine I will learn more actually working with patients, in a clinical environment, than I have in any classroom. I am extremely eager to start! If all goes well with my practicum, the state of Washington’s Department of Health will grant me a license (well, after I pay for it) to practice healthcare. One more mile to go….
At that point, then, I will have obtained the credential of CCMA, or certified clinical medical assistant. There are four different guilds that have been granted legal authority to certify low and mid level practitioners; the NHA, the AAMA, the RMA, and the NCCT. All of them may certify medical assistants, with slightly different titles, but for all intents and purposes, all four are greatly similar. My certification focuses more on the clinical aspects of healthcare, whereas the others may focus more on administrative, or both.
The NHA exam was an absolute bruiser. It was 150 questions, multiple choice, and we were given 3 hours to complete it. That may sound favorable, but those details mask a brutal, demanding trial. I needed 2 and a half hours to complete it… There were very few black and white answers on the exam; most of them were abstract, so to speak. The exam would present you with a scenario, and you would need to pick the most relevant answer pertaining to the legal scope of practice, ethics, and training of a medical assistant. Only about 65% of students pass it on their first try. Not everyone in my class made it.
That was last Tuesday, the 10th of November. To be honest, today’s the first day in a while where I’ve felt I can actually relax. I was in a daze after that exam. I had a sense of accomplishment, sure, but I was also exhausted and burned out. I have been hitting it hard since my academic training started, January 7th of this year. When I was younger, college didn’t work out so well for me. This time, as an adult, I pushed myself incredibly hard. For the first time in my life, I have succeeded academically. At age 48. An old dog, a new trick.
So today, I’m allowing myself to relax a little. For about an hour, anyway. I played my beloved video games, something I haven’t had time to do in a very long time. I was holding off the advancing alien horde, defending Earth, before my work ethic/guilt started nagging at me again. After this post, I’m going to practice some more with the sphygmomanometer and read more about the endocrine system. There is no off position on the hardcore switch!
Be that as it may, this is all still very surreal. I still have the practicum, the last, largest hurdle to jump through, but I have come farther that I thought I might. I am thrilled beyond belief to be entering this field. I have come to enjoy the subject matter greatly; healthcare is like a job and a hobby to me. In this regard, I realize I’m very fortunate to have found something, later in life, that I enjoy, and, if my grades are any indication, something I show some aptitude for.
I have a cumulative 4.0 gpa for the entire program. I am on both the Dean and President’s list. I am a member of the American Association of Medical Assistants, and I have been invited to join Phi Theta Kappa. I find it odd that I am being recognized for my intelligence and dedication in a field that, until I started this program, was completely foreign to me. Yet, here I am.
I fully realize that I will be entering a field that is already dealing with a substantial burden. I’ll hit the ground running with the flames at my feet, but I feel more than up to the challenge. If I can contribute, in my own way, to helping improve peoples’ lives, the sense of accomplishment and pride may be more of an intrinsic reward than the paycheck.
It is also surreal, and humbling, to consider how far I have come, and how much I have turned my life around. It was not easy to get here. 2019 was an incredibly difficult year for me. I had already been on a long, extended medical leave from my former employer, for a rough, intractable anxiety and panic disorder. It just would not abate. Things collapsed for me in the summer of that year. I ended a 13 year relationship, as neither of us were happy. I had become addicted to opioids. Needless to say, this phase of my life was incredibly painful and difficult. It took me a few months to recover. It was hard to leave that relationship, and it was profoundly difficult to kick the painkiller habit. I didn’t sleep for about a month. But I came through. The anxiety disorder was still debilitating, however. Eventually, my skilled psychiatrist, Dr. Dispensapill, reached deep into his back of tricks, and tried a medication that is very rarely used anymore. Damned if it didn’t work, and continues to work. Since August of 2019, I have had no panic attacks, and no anxiety (well, plenty of test anxiety, but that’s situational, not clinical), and I am the happiest I have ever been. I returned to work, I enrolled in school, and I have excelled. There is no way I could have done that had my anxiety disorder still been present. Say what you want about psychiatry, and many reactionary people do, but I can say that it has definitely helped me.
My training started in January of this year. I had a only a vague, naive idea of what a medical assistant did. They just take vitals and answer the phone, right? Hoo-doggy! I could not have been more wrong. It turns out, they don’t let just anybody walk in off the street and start practicing medicine. You need a little training, first. I was not prepared, at all, for the amount of material they threw at me. My textbook is over 1300 pages long! It was a serious mental shock, at first, being in an academic environment for the first time in a very long time, and absorbing information that was completely new to me. I quickly settled in, though.
All of it was fascinating, all of it. I was expected to learn an enormous amount of information in a rather short time. I called it med-school light. But, as it I found it so interesting, I dedicated myself completely to this new endeavor. Every class was something new and fascinating.
So, in less than a year, I learned, and became quite proficient in, skills and knowledge that, had you told me I would have had just a year ago, I would have chuckled in disbelief.
The technical skills, though challenging, were a blast to learn. Palpating a pulse. Drawing blood. Using a sphygmomanometer. Calculating medication dosages. Giving an injection, wherever you need it. Audiometry. Assessing vision. Not only running an ECG, but knowing what the process meant. Lavage. Pediatric measurements. Microbiology. Laboratory procedures. Autoclaving. Sterile fields. Using the AED. A jolt of adrenaline (it doesn’t go in the sternum, Pulp Fiction style).
Administrative components, as well: scheduling, ICD coding, CPT coding, patient screening. And, just for fun, I can now tell you everything about health insurance you need to know. And yes, in America, it’s a bit of a mess.
Soft skills, also: the long history of medicine, the names that made a difference. I’ve now achieved a rudimentary law degree; healthcare is replete with legal and ethical obligations, and I’ve come to understand them fairly well. Basic psychology was part of the ciriculum. I’m more Jungian than Freudian. Learning terminology was brilliant, as well. Most of what you hear in healthcare has its roots in Greek and Latin (that’s another story), and I can practically speak the ancient tongues now. Terms that I’ve heard all my life; now I know what the heck that actually means.
Above all else, my most favorite subject, the one I found to be profoundly captivating, was anatomy and physiology. Brilliant, fascinating stuff. The human body is an amazing machine. We can talk about the different body systems (cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine, nervous, integumentary), but these are all just simply arbitrary designations of convenience. It’s all one system, working together, dependent on each other, all the time, constantly striving towards homeostasis. It’s an absolute miracle when you look under the hood. The more I learned of the internal workings of the human body, the more it both reinforced the concept of intelligent design, while at the same time rendering it completely absurd. That’s for another time, as well.
There were 3 things I learned in the program that are not only crucial to healthcare, but, I found, greatly applicable to my everyday life. The first was the concept of adaptability and flexibility. Plans, schedules… those are adorable, but when you are dealing with the sick and injured, or with life in general, things do not often go according to plan. Or ever, really. It is a skill to change and adapt to the environment around you while maintaining composure and dedication. Think of your feet, move to the next issue. The second thing I learned was the concept of empathy. Empathy was drilled into our heads since the first week of class. You never judge how a patient came to be how they are, you are there to help them get better. However, the concept took on a deeper meaning to me, the more I studied. As I mentioned, I greatly enjoyed anatomy and physiology. At the end of each chapter, of each particular body system, were several pages of what could go wrong with that particular system. Some of it was absolutely heartbreaking. Each of us in our own way is broken. My empathy developed into a deep sense of compassion. A lot of work goes into a human being. All life is precious. The third thing I learned, and kept to heart, was simply this: you never stop learning. I have found that the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. There is no ‘done’ in healthcare, or any emerging field. There is always more to learn. I have developed an insatiable desire to learn more. Being a healthcare practitioner requires continuing education, but there is no need for the industry to mandate it to me. Though at this point my academic commitments may be complete, I intend to keep learning and studying. We have come a long way since bloodletting and leeches, but there’s still so much we just don’t know.
Near the end of my third quarter, on the last day of class, my instructor told us a story that finally hammered home the importance of what I was learning, what I had dedicated my life to. He was always a supportive and jovial man, but not at that moment. We were finishing our training in advanced life support. He told us that he wished someone who knew this material had been there for his son, who would have been 25 the following week.
Well, as you can tell, I’m quite excited to continue this journey. Thank you for reading, and thank you for letting me sound my triumphant, barbaric yawp. I’m excited, thrilled, and profoundly optimistic about where my life has now taken me.
Wash your hands! Wear the mask!