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From MA to Neurologist: Insight for a Rewarding Career

Like many new college graduates, Jordan Taylor had not yet settled on his next move.

He had pursued his degree in biomedical sciences from Grand Valley State University because of a general interest in medicine. With no particular career yet in mind, he went to work as a medical assistant with UM Health-West’s Dr. Joanne M. Grzeszak.

That was a launching point to a career in medicine that led to him becoming a neurologist, working in one of the most complex fields of health care. Dr. Taylor has been part of University of Michigan Health-West for nine years, a rewarding career that includes helping the stroke team attain its nationally recognized status as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.

His journey included years of education, experience and training – but it all started with that early career choice right out of college. That was where he built his foundation of medical knowledge and learned the crucial role of medical assistants in the delivery of health care. As Dr. Taylor recently shared at an open house for potential medical assistants, this can be a rewarding career in its own right – or a launching point to new opportunities.

Medical Assistants: In Demand and Essential

In modern medicine, MAs are vital partners on high-performing medical teams.

“They are a very integral part of how an office will work,” Taylor said. “You really can’t have a functioning office without a good MA. It’s like trying to build a pyramid with no base. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

That’s one reason these skills are in high demand. The 2020 Health Check report by Grand Valley State University found that the number of openings for medical assistants in the Grand Rapids region grew by more than 58 percent from 2005 to 2018. The report predicts the field to continue to grow, adding an average of nearly 73 openings per year in the Grand Rapids area through 2024.

At University of Michigan Health-West, medical assistants are crucial members of care teams, with 254 employed at its offices across West Michigan. You can search for job openings here.

One of the advantages launching a career as a medical assistant is the relatively short training period, which typically can be completed in less than a year. Prerequisites at UM Health-West include a high school diploma, training through an accredited MA program, and certification, obtained through successful completion of national certification exam.

UM Health-West works closely with training programs in the Grand Rapids area, including Davenport UniversityGrand Rapids Community College and Ross Medical Education Center. Elsewhere in West Michigan, programs are available at Muskegon Community College and Montcalm Community College.

In addition to the education and training requirements, UM Health-West seeks applicants with great customer service, professional work habits, teamwork and a motivation to learn. These skills will help them to excel in a career with great potential.

UM Health-West offers a wide range of growth opportunities for medical assistants. For example:

  • Those interested in long-term careers as MAs can become preceptors, helping with the training of new team members and working within different specialties to expand knowledge and skills.
  • Medical assistants interested in leadership can step into a clinical/team lead position and eventually into office management.
  • For those with a passion for clinical work, UM Health-West offers a tuition reimbursement program to continue their education to earn a nursing degree or beyond.

Making a Difference in Quality Care

In addition to his own experience working as an MA, Dr. Taylor said his perspective as a physician has reinforced his understanding of the key role that medical assistants fulfill. They are critical to making sure patients receive excellent care, starting from the moment a patient enters the office.

“Right off the bat, they’re the initial face and personality that people meet,” Taylor said. “If they provide a good interaction, then the patient feels welcomed and is receptive and is looking forward to being there. It makes the visit much more productive.”

The initial discussion in the exam room, when MAs engage with the patient to collect medical history, provides the starting point for effective treatment. MAs may also be called upon to perform screenings, assist with exams and procedures, collect samples, make sure exam rooms are prepared and supplied to deliver care, and much more.

“And then, after the patient leaves, they may need to call the office and have a voice to speak to. It’s great to connect on the phone with somebody they’ve already interacted with,” Taylor said. “They get to talk to this MA, and they’ve met them before, they know them, and then they’re their personal contact with the office: ‘This is the person that I need to talk to, the one who is going to be knowledgeable, the one who is going to be able to help me with everything.’

“MAs wear many hats,” Taylor said. “Having some knowledge base about medications and medical issues and how they pertain to that visit is extremely important.”

Part of a Team of Experts

Taylor said his own experiences have taught him to respect medical assistants who bring a good work ethic and a willingness to learn. This is especially true at UM Health-West, which emphasizes a collegial, team-based approach – something he came to appreciate while he was working for Dr. Grzeszak. That helped draw him back to UM Health-West, and it is a standard he seeks to support in his own practice.

He describes the UM Health-West philosophy this way: “As we rely on one another, we need to be honest about needs. You should be able to trust one other. That kind of very personal culture is what UM Health-West encourages, and certainly how it should be in medicine.”

His experience with Dr. Grzeszak – who ended up writing a letter of recommendation when he applied to medical school – taught him that everyone on the team is valued.

Perspective on the Profession

Brittany Dever, a medical assistant who has worked with Dr. Taylor for nearly nine years, said what she finds most rewarding in her career are the relationships built with the care team and patients.

“We are essentially the backbone to the healthcare system, making sure our facility or hospital runs smoothly while also making sure we’re providing the best care possible for our patients and community,” she said. “There is nothing more rewarding at the end of the day than knowing your perseverance and compassion made a difference in someone’s life.”

UM Health-West’s emphasis on teamwork makes it an ideal work environment for medical assistants to contribute and thrive, Dever said.

“You’re basically a close-knit family that all works together with one goal in mind: to care, manage, educate, and give the best medical care possible,” she said. “Being surrounded by a team of positive, uplifting, hard-working, humorous, and compassionate individuals is what separates us from other healthcare facilities. You are not treated as a number but as an essential valued member of an elite healthcare organization.”

Dever said she has learned multiple skills along the way, including medical management, prescription education and knowledge, injections, procedures and procedure assistance, blood draws and patient education. She has gained knowledge in family practice, physiatry, internal medicine, specialty care, infectious disease and neurosciences. She is continuing her education and career advancement and now works as part of a management team for a UM Health-West multi-specialty clinic.

A Great Start on a Fulfilling Career

Dever’s experience is an example of why career counselors note that medical assistants have a wide variety of professional options. The American Association of Medical Assistants describes the position as the “most versatile” among allied health professions. “They are cross-trained to perform clinical and administrative responsibilities,” the AAMA says.

That is why many find lifelong fulfillment in the important role they play in the delivery of care. Others may decide to pursue careers in management, medical coding, nursing – or in becoming a physician. Dr. Taylor’s own experience as a medical assistant is a great example.

“That is where I first really kind of came to understand what an office looked like, what patient care looked like, and what medicine in general looked like,” he said. “So, from those seeds I was able to kind of grow and build into, one, a neurologist, and two, participating with that growth of UM Health-West’s stroke system and movement to a comprehensive stroke center. But without starting somewhere, without starting in that spot, I don’t think I could have progressed to where I am now.”

Whatever someone’s long-range career plans, the keys to success as a medical assistant, Taylor said, are to enjoy working with people and being willing to keep learning.

“Even if you’re already an MA, medicine always changes – every day, every year it’s different,” he said. “And so, being willing to learn new things always is important. It’s a very rewarding career. It’s a very rewarding job. And it’s a good entry into the medical field – whether you’d like to stay as an MA or move on. It’s a great base to build your knowledge on. It’s a great place to start from.”