medical assisting externships guide

Your Guide to Medical Assistant Externships


Updated By Staff Writer on March 3, 2021

Are you looking for a medical assistant externship for course credit? If you're interested in becoming a medical assistant, follow this guide on getting the right hands-on experience.

What's on This Page

Places to Do Your Medical Assistant Externship

Depending on where you live and where you study, you may be assigned a place to complete your required externship. Otherwise, you'll need to find your own externship opportunity.

Finding medical assistant externships involves looking for job postings in the following locations:

  • Urgent care centers
  • Pediatric medical offices
  • Community health centers
  • University health centers
  • Nonprofit health networks

Other healthcare institutions and medical offices may also be a good fit.

Applying for a Medical Assisting Externship

When applying to any medical assisting externship position, you can prepare by:

  • Drafting an awesome resume
  • Writing an informative cover letter
  • Gathering any additional materials
  • Reviewing potential interview questions and responses
  • Working with your externship adviser

Resume

Employers and recruiters will only look at your resume for approximately 7.4 seconds1, which means you only have a brief window to make an impression. To do that, you can't have a cookie-cutter resume. Your resume needs to be tailored to a medical center's specific job description.

When it comes to formatting your resume, you should break it up into the following sections, and in this order.

Personal Information

Start with your name. It should be in a larger font than the rest of your resume. This helps employers remember who you are.

Always include your primary email address and phone number—the two most common ways employers will reach out to you. Your email address should be professional and clear that it's yours. A username or an old email from when you were younger may deter employers from looking at your resume.

If you're applying to a local facility, add your address. Employers will often filter out applicants who are from out of state, giving priority to local candidates. So adding your address can help keep you in the running for the job. Conversely, if you are applying for a job out of state, then you may want to exclude your address.

Since most job applications take place online, include your social media profiles, especially LinkedIn. Make sure all of your information is up to date and highlights information relevant to medical assistant duties.

Statement of Purpose/Professional Summary

Your statement of purpose, or professional summary, is meant to give a summary of your resume. What makes you so special? Why should the medical facility choose you instead of hundreds of other candidates?

Not every medical assistant externship resume will have a statement of purpose or professional summary. But if you have space for it, you should include it. Since employers spend so little time with your resume, this section can help make a quick, positive impression.

Work Experience

This will be the bulk of your resume. If you have a lot of experience, you don't want to include all of it. Instead, prioritize the jobs and experiences that are most relevant to the position you're applying for. Don't include any experience outside of the past ten years.

Quantifiable experiences go a long way with recruiters. For medical assistant-related experiences, one quantifiable experience to highlight would be the number of hours you've spent assisting patients.

But what if you don't have any relevant work experience? Then double down on relevant skills that you've learned in school. Talk about related side projects, such as volunteering at clinics or a local blood drive, and projects you've done in school that relate to your responsibilities.

Skills

Look at the skills the job requires. Use those as keywords in your resume. For example, if they're looking for someone with an understanding of medical lab processes (a skill you will develop in Independence University's program), be sure to mention that in your resume.

The more skills you can match, the better chance you'll have at landing an interview.

Education

This is the one section of your resume you can take some liberties with when determining where it goes. If you graduated from a university within the last five years, it should be in line with or above your work experience section. If it's been more than five years, it's perfectly fine to put it below your work experience.

Sometimes, your education will be more relevant to a job posting than your work experience. In these cases, it's good to put your education section at the top so it is front and center for recruiters.

Cover Letter

A medical assistant cover letter for externships will often be required if you want your application to be considered. Every cover letter should follow a format similar to what we've outlined below.

Contact Information

Similar to your resume, the contact information will help employers remember who you are. You should list the following:

  • Your name
  • Street address
  • City, state, and zip code
  • Email
  • Phone number

Appropriate Greeting

Starting your cover letter with “Greetings” or “Dear” is perfectly professional. Address the hiring manager by name, if you have that information. If you don't, refer to them as “Hiring Manager,” or address the letter to “To whom it may concern.”

Body Section

The body of your cover letter will be split into three parts:

  1. Why you are writing the letter
  2. What makes you qualified for the position
  3. Appreciation for being considered

The first and third points will be simple intro and outro paragraphs. Meanwhile, the section about your qualifications will make up the majority of the cover letter.

Closing and Signature

To sign off the letter, simply choose an appropriate closing, like “best regards,” “respectfully,” “sincerely,” or “thank you for your consideration.”

Additional Materials

Sometimes, employers will specify they require additional materials for a job application. For medical assistant positions, these will likely be documents like:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • References
  • Educational transcripts
  • Certificates

As a general rule, you only need to share these documents when they are specifically asked for. Feel free to reach out to the hiring manager or HR specialist of the medical facility where you're applying to see if these documents would help you.

Interview Questions

If you've properly filled out your resume, cover letter, and any other required documents, and your potential employer is impressed by your qualifications, then you'll likely receive a call or email to schedule an interview with the hiring manager and/or the head of the department you would work under.

Here are some commonly asked interview questions for medical assistant externships and how you should prepare for your response.

  1. “Tell me a little about yourself.”

    This is a basic interview question many hiring managers will use to break the ice at the start of the interview. Keep your answer focused on professional and educational experiences, rather than your hobbies or why you'd be fun to have in the clinic.

  2. “How much experience do you have as a medical assistant?”

    If you have prior experience in medical assisting, tell the interviewer where you worked and how long you worked there. If you're new to the industry, talk about the classwork you've completed at Independence University.

    The interviewer will likely also ask questions about your experience with specific aspects of being a medical assistant, such as phlebotomy, taking patient vitals, and performing EKG tests. Be prepared to give the details of every procedure you learned in school.

  3. “What are some of your strengths/weaknesses?”

    This isn't a time to flaunt your prowess or degrade yourself. Just list some areas you feel you're strongest in and others where you could show some improvement. We can't really give examples since everyone's different, but rest assured that you do indeed have both strengths and weaknesses. Assess yourself honestly and fairly on both counts.

    “Will you ensure that you are following HIPAA guidelines?”

    Following HIPAA guidelines is an essential part of a medical assistant's job. So, the answer is obviously “yes,” but you should brush up on HIPAA protocol in case they ask follow-up questions.2

  4. “Tell us about your computer skills.”

    Aside from detailing your basic and essential computer skills, this is a good time to bring up your training in assisting in office procedures and practices, as well as managing electronic health records.

    “Are you experienced with front office administrative responsibilities?”

    Medical assistants will often have some administrative tasks mingled in with their clinical work. This is also a good time to bring up your phone skills.

  5. “What do you like most about this medical assistant externship position?”

    Pick an aspect of the job description that appeals to you. It's important to understand how the medical assistant role at one medical facility differs from an open position at another facility. This will convey that you understand what you're getting into and show that you've done your research.

  6. “Why are you the best candidate for this position?”

    Again, this is no time to gloat. Simply reiterate your previous experience and qualifications. Have a specific answer prepared to explain what specific qualities you can bring to the company.

Duties and Expectations of a Medical Assisting Externship

Your externship is designed to give aspiring medical assistants hands-on training. Completing an externship means you will assume the role of a medical assistant.

This means you may perform any or all of the following tasks:

  • Enter data
  • Measure and record vital signs
  • Clean exam rooms
  • Take phone calls
  • Gather blood samples
  • Schedule appointments
  • Update patient medical records
  • Handle medical billing and coding

How Long Is an Externship for Medical Assistants?

At Independence University, you'll need to complete a total of 100 externship hours to graduate. Other medical assisting programs likely have similar requirements.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Medical Assisting Externship

So, what can you expect from a medical assistant externship? Just like any experience, you get what you put into it.

Here are five tips to help you get the most out of your externship experience.

  1. Clarify Expectations at the Start

    When the program begins, make sure you are well aware of the expectations your facility has for you and continuously check in to get feedback on your performance. The point of the externship is to understand what you do well and what you can improve on.

  2. Complete All Your Tasks

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but stay on top of your tasks. There isn't a lot of room for error in the medical field, so try to stay ahead.

    Arrive a little early for your shift so you can effectively understand what you have to do that day. And take time to listen to your patients and their needs. After all, your new career is all about helping them.

  3. Look for Other Opportunities to Use Your Skills

    If you ever feel like there's downtime during your shift, ask around and see where you could help. There are sure to be other personnel in the clinic, whether it's an RN or a secretary, who could use some extra hands.

    If no one needs help, ask if you can observe them while they complete a task. Make note of their techniques so you can perfect your skills.

  4. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

    The externship is part of the learning process, so you're sure to have some questions. Besides, it's much better to ask clarifying questions than guess. Asking questions will open up opportunities to learn.

  5. Follow Up at the End

    Thank everyone who helped you during your externship, ask for final feedback, and stay connected with your supervisors to expand your network. And if you liked working at that specific clinic, make sure to ask if they're hiring! If not, ask if your supervisors would be willing to write a recommendation for future opportunities.

Independence University and You

If you're looking for a career that's focused on helping others, the medical assistant field may be a great fit. By following this guide, you may be able to successfully find, apply for, and complete your medical assistant externship. If you're not at that stage yet, you can learn more about IU's Associate of Occupational Studies in Medical Assisting here.


Sources:

  1. https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/you-only-get-6-seconds-of-fame-make-it-count
  2. https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/index.html