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How to Interview: Medical Assistants

How to Interview: Medical Assistants

By: Dona Dezube

Thanks to high employee turnover rates, hiring managers can end up interviewing many candidates when trying to fill a medical assistant job description.

How can stop the revolving recruitment door and save yourself time and effort?

The key to knowing how to hire staff for a medical practice is to match your interview questions to the specific needs of your practice.

The first step is to list the daily tasks that your medical assistant will perform and delve into each of those tasks, says Judy Whelehan, area director of Adecco Medical & Science, Melville, New York.

What Hard Skills Do You Need?
Use your list of hard skills to create your medical assistant interview questions, including: 

  • Are you a certified medical assistant?
  • What experience do you have with Medent (or other electronic medical records software)? What have you used that software to do?
  • What other software are you proficient with?
  • Which insurances have you billed?
  • Tell me about your HIPAA knowledge.
  • What OSHA training have you taken?
  • What front office tasks did you handle in your last position?
  • What phlebotomy skills do you have – autoclave? IM injections? How do you feel about needle sticks?
  • Tell me about your experience in prescriptions. Have you managed refills electronically, charted prescriptions, worked with pharmacies?
  • Are you CPR certified?
  • What phone and voice mail systems have you used?
  • Have you taken patient histories, or did your doctor like to do that herself?

Practice-Specific Interview Questions for Medical Assistants
Next, consider your office’s philosophy and company culture. Then determine how to interview to explore those cultural and philosophical areas.

A lone wolf practitioner needs a multitasking front and back office whiz, while a 10-lane pediatrics office handling hundreds of patients a day needs medical assistants who handle stress well.

Your next set of medical assistant interview questions will explore specialty knowledge, the patient population you serve and the scope of your practice.

Suppose you’re hiring for a dermatology practice with a high volume of teen patients. Your questions might include:

  • How many years of experience do you have in dermatology?
  • What was the scope of your duties in your last practice?
  • What procedures have you assisted the doctor with?
  • Can you tell me about a case when you had a particularly difficult time dealing with a teen patient and his parent?
  • What decisions were you able to make on your own at your past practice?
  • Tell me about your patient education duties at your last job.
  • How many other techs and medical assistants did you work with in your last job?
  • What was the daily patient volume at your last position?

Perhaps the most difficult medical assistant interview questions to ask are those that raise cultural fit issues.

It’s vital to know how to interview medical assistants about those issues because they give you clues about whether a job candidate is likely to be happy working in your practice, says Andrea Crawford, director of career services at Kaplan College, Chula Vista, California.

“Someone who worked in a fast-paced clinic and thrived there isn’t going to be happy in a slow-paced clinic,” she says. “They’re going to be bored.”

Include questions about the challenges the medical assistants in your practice will face. If the office gets backed up, you want someone who will communicate well with patients in the waiting room, so you’d ask:

  • Tell me about a time when you had an irate patient. How did you handle him?

In a high-stress office, you’d ask: How do you handle stress? The answer you want to hear involves balance, whether that comes from taking a five-minute break to walk around the building, or outside activities like yoga class.

In a multi-doctor office, ask the candidate how they would prioritize workloads and tasks — as well as how they multitask in their current position.

The right medical assistant will talk about how she gets things accomplished; how the way she’s made decisions in past positions should also work well at your practice.

Finish with an open-ended question:

  • What did you like and not like about your last practice?

Listen for clues about whether this medical assistant will thrive in your practice. What are the medical procedures that are most often done in your office? If the candidate loves to do these procedures you know they're likely a good fit.

Knowing how to interview medical assistants by focusing on hard skills, soft skills and cultural fit doesn’t mean you’ll never have to do another interview.

But, it will help you find medical assistants who are happy and well-matched to your practice, cutting down on the likelihood you’ll need to interview their replacements in the future.