Characteristics of a Professional Medical Assistant

Because many patients view medical assistants as representatives of the physician and health care facility, one of the unofficial duties of medical assistants is public relations. Keeping this in mind, medical assistants must consistently demonstrate professional behavior in all of their interactions with others. Not surprisingly, the qualities of professionalism that patients seek in their health care providers are the very same qualities that employers look for when hiring a medical assistant,


A medical assistant should strive for accuracy in everything she does.When a medical assistant performs accurately, she sends the message that she cares about safety and quality. Through her dedication to quality and efficiency, she will reap many rewards, including fewer errors, less need for damage control, and greater job satisfaction. In addition, patients will form a more positive impression of her, her coworkers, and her employers. Of even greater importance is the safety and well-being of patients who rely on health care providers to administer medications accurately and perform procedures safely. When dealing with human lives, it does not pay to take short cuts.

Courteousness and Respectfulness

Courteous behavior should be standard practice for a medical assistant as she interacts with patients and coworkers. This behavior is polite, considerate, and helpful. Even simple measures, such as making eye contact to acknowledge someone’s presence, smiling, and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you are welcome,” go a long way in creating a pleasant, professional environment. Respectful behavior is similar to courteous behavior and involves treating others with honor, esteem, courteous regard, and thoughtful consideration. 


Dependability is critically important in winning the trust and respect of others. Being dependable means that a person is reliable and trustworthy. These qualities are important to everyone with whom the medical assistant interacts. Her employer depends on her to demonstrate consistent punctuality and performance. Coworkers depend on her to help out in a cooperative manner. Patients depend on the medical assistant to relay messages, return phone calls, and carry out other promised duties in a timely and professional manner.


Flexibility is the quality of being adaptable to change. One common analogy regarding flexibility is a tree branch, which is able to bend with the wind without breaking. In a fast-paced health care environment, unexpected events commonly occur. A medical assistant who is adaptable to change and able to “think on her feet” will thrive. A medical assistant who demonstrates the ability to recognize problems and move quickly toward a solution will earn the appreciation of her employer and coworkers.

Commitment to Lifelong Learning

Medical assistants are members of a profession in which things are continually changing. New medications enter the market frequently. Technology is becoming integrated into nearly every aspect of health care and technological changes continue to develop at a dizzying pace. It seems that new tests, treatments, and procedures enter the health care scene daily. Current understanding of the human body and the disease process also continues to deepen as a result of ongoing research. Keeping up with this fast-paced and ever-changing profession requires a commitment from all members of the health care team. Medical assistants are no exception. Anyone who enters a health care profession must be willing to commit herself to lifelong learning in order to stay current.


A tactful person is one who demonstrates the ability to respond to others with sensitivity and courtesy in their behavior and comments to avoid giving offense. Such persons are commonly described as diplomatic. Being tactful requires a medical assistant to think before she speaks, especially when tempers rise. She must resist the impulse to be so honest that her patient or coworker is offended. She must also strive to state things in a positive manner, using an even, pleasant tone of voice. Because the medical assistant cannot take back words once they leave her mouth, it is always better to be discreet and say less, rather than more, when she is unsure of what to say. Language use should include proper grammar and be free of slang terms and vulgarity. In doing so, she creates a more professional impression and enhances effectiveness and accuracy when communicating with someone from another culture who speaks another language.


The medical assistant who is accountable for her actions is someone who is willing to take responsibility for what she does. She must also admit her errors and work positively to take corrective measures if needed. In addition, a medical assistant who is accountable is empowered to create the positive work environment she wishes to experience, rather than feeling powerless to effect change or feeling victimized by others.

Positive Attitude

In most work environments, and especially in health care, attitude is everything. The saying “Hire the attitude, and train the skill” is common among health care employers. While doing so is not realistic in many cases, the statement points out how highly most employers value having employees with positive, professional attitudes. It also points out how difficult it can be to work with, not to mention change, someone with a bad attitude. Attitudes can be changed, but the motivation for change must come from the individual. Therefore, it is up to each person to notice her responses, thoughts, feelings, habits all of the things that go into her attitude—and then make the effort toward needed change. It takes work, but the results are well worth it. However, many people find it challenging
to view themselves objectively.