There are two categories of skills medial administrative assistants need: hard and soft, according to Susan Johanson, an instructor in office careers at Dakota County Technical College (

"In terms of hard skills, they have to become very computer literate and they will learn several software applications at our college. Attention to detail is very important," Johanson says.

As for the soft skills, interpersonal communication and cultural sensitivity are huge. "They might be dealing with patients and it's a very sensitive area," she adds. "They need a thick skin because they're the front line. They have to be really in tune to everything going on around them – the patients, the physicians, the nurses – and be able to respond to each of them, meeting their needs."

Challenging And Fun Career

Kim Kost has been doing it all for 21 years, first at the HealthPartners St. Paul Clinic and now at the HealthPartners clinic in White Bear Lake ( Kost spends most of her day in pediatrics, scheduling, coordinating tests and specialty appointments, preparing charts, processing forms, making and fielding a lot of phone calls.

"I went to Anoka Vo-Tech (now Anoka Technical College) for medical receptionist and I've always wanted to work in the medical field. I like just working with the nurses and doctors," she says. "I love working in the pediatric department because I love seeing the little kids and the newborn babies. It's exciting."

The job can be challenging when parents want forms for school or camp filled out right away. "Our policy is to allow seven to 10 business days to complete, but we do get them out as quickly as possible," Kost says.

Scheduling follow-up appointments may not always go as smoothly as planned, either. "Sometimes if they have younger kids and the kids are crying after shots, they just leave the clinic and we can't get that appointment scheduled," Kost says. But she takes it in stride. "In peds, you hear a lot of crying and screaming, and that doesn't bother me at all."

The Medical Side

Medical administrative assistants must also learn medical terminology, according to Johanson. "It is a specialty and they learn the language," she says. "They become very skilled and are able to use that in any facet in the medical world," including clinics, hospitals, insurance companies and medical device manufacturers.

Many students are switching careers to go into medical administrative assisting following a layoff, according to Johanson, "I can't guarantee them a job, but they get so much satisfaction and personal growth and are empowered to go out and find something."