Interview with Ashley Bierbrodt – Medical Assistant Student

What’s life actually like in an online medical assistant education program? Ashley Bierbrodt is a recent graduate of one of these programs, and she agreed to let us interview her so we could gain a firsthand understanding of a student’s perspective. Here, in Ashley’s own words, are her experiences with the day-to-day details of the program she completed. All we did was prompt her with some simple questions, as follows.

How’s an online program different from a brick-and-mortar school?

It’s just like a regular school in a lot of ways, except you’re in charge of doing the reading and studying on your own. You don’t have somebody constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing the coursework.

What should a student do to get the most value for their money?

It works best if you stick to a schedule. The school will have a complete setup – reading assignments and a syllabus – which will tell you how many grade points you’ll get for each assignment, how many you get for discussions and posts, and so on. Make sure you’re completing all those studying and reading assignments.

Do you attend all of your classes online, or do you complete some of them in person?

I did everything but my clinical work online. But I do my blood draws and other practical work in person, since I can’t really draw somebody’s blood through the computer.

What factors did you consider when you were deciding whether to study online?

My biggest question was whether or not I’d have time for it. I knew college involved a lot of assignments – but after considering that I’d have to drive an hour back and forth from the nearest physical campus to my house, I decided it was worth the difference to pay online compared to on campus for me. And since I’m a single mom, it was important that I could continue to work full time during my day shift and still have time to spend with my daughter in between school and work. Taking classes online gave me that flexibility.

How were your interactions with the instructors?

Most of the instructors actually help out quite a bit. They’ll keep tabs on what’s going on and email you with updates. They’ll check in and ask if you’re having trouble with this or that, and so on. If you miss the discussion posts or are behind on homework, or you have a situation where you’re about to start having trouble with grades, the instructors will actually call you, ask how you’re doing, check what the problem is, and ask if you need anything or if they can offer any recommendations. They pretty much they keep track of all their students.

What are some of the drawbacks to studying online?

The massive drawback is that you can’t mess around. You don’t have anybody sitting with you in class, so you can?????????????????t ask for help – there’s no one you can ask, “Hey I didn’t get this done; can you help me out?” or anything like that. You have to make sure you’re doing the work, because it’s your own career at stake in the end, and you don’t have anyone else to turn to for answers.

How’s the learning process at an online school?

If you have the discipline and you’re willing to actually do the work, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up the material. Some people learn from reading aloud; some learn from verbal skills; and other people learn from doing activities – and in online classes you get all three kinds of learning. You have seminars where the professor sits and talks to you, you have reading assignments, and you have clinical skills portions where you have to actually go and do the work in person – which is tough, but it makes sure you’re getting things right, and getting comfortable with the actual job.

What kinds of material is covered in the curriculum?

Anatomy and physiology; medical terminology; medical assistance, which covers what you need to work in a clerical or clinical environment – working with billing and so on; medical coding, where you learn to translate the medical codes into English; and medical office management, where you learn to use the computer and utilize different file formats and layouts and everything.

Did you find your courses challenging?

Yes, I found some of the courses challenging, which is why I ended up deciding to go to on-site and get some in-person assistance. In some courses, the material can be a little hard to interpret, so sometimes you need an extra hand.

Are there ways in which being in a classroom can help you learn better?

In a few classes, it would’ve been easier for me to learn in a traditional classroom environment, because I didn’t know too much about the material – medical office management was one of those courses. But most of the courses have step-by-step instructions to help you out. The school’s website usually offers video presentations for at least some of the courses. For topics you struggle with, though, you may to wish you could take your classes in a traditional classroom, because you’d have an instructor right there to walk you through the material; whereas online, you can get help off and on from your instructor via email, but it may take you longer to figure out certain topics.

How do you learn practical skills in an online medical assisting program?

There are some actual clinical classes that you’re not able to take online; in those classes, you have to attend in person and do the work hands-on. But the instructors cover all the material in the classroom beforehand, so you’ll already be familiar with the procedures. For example, we’d go over information like distills and hand washing and changing gloves, all the way up to injections and blood draws, before we actually went in and did our clinical work.

Was the externship a requirement of your program?

Yes; I had to complete 1,560 hours in order to graduate from my program.

How long did it take you to complete your externship?

It took me about seven or eight weeks, because I shared an extern site with someone else. Some people finished sooner, because they completed their work at non-shared sites that had more open hours available. And other people took even longer than I did.

What process did you go through to get financial aid?

First you have to meet with one of their advisors or admissions people. They’ll either out tell you, “I don’t know if you’re gonna rise this field; you don’t seem like you want to do it; it seems like just something to do,” or they’ll tell you, “You look like you’re gonna do great in this field.” Then there’s a long process of going through different people to verify that you’re sure you want to do it, that you’ve got specific long-term goals, and so on. Then they find out how many terms you’re going to complete at the school, how many classes you’ll take per term, and how much it’ll cost each term. They’ll help you set up the FAFSA and get it filled out and sent, so you can find out how much assistance you’ll be able to get.

Do you have any advice for a recent graduate about finding a job in medical assisting?

Search, apply, and make sure your resume is good. If you know of a career service that can help, go to them, because they can usually connect you with openings you didn’t even know about, plus they can show you what needs to be changed or improved on your resume.