Care Transformation Center Blog

The MA career ladder: How far can they climb?

by Tracy Walsh

Medical assistants (MAs) are quickly becoming the hottest new role in health care. To support team-based care, primary care practices are expanding MA roles beyond administrative duties and basic patient interactions to ensure all staff are spending their time effectively.

Union Health Center, a comprehensive primary and specialty care center serving union members in New York City, created a comprehensive program to up-train MAs and a "career ladder" to better match MA clinic responsibilities with individual skills.

UHC care teams developed continuous training opportunities MAs

Through UHC’s MA training curriculum, providers and administrative leaders found that with additional training and supervision, MAs can handle a range of new care management duties. By actively involving providers and care team members in curriculum development, UHC also helped generate practice-wide buy-in to the new MA role.

UHC care teams developed continuous training opportunities MAs

MA career ladder outlines opportunities for professional growth

The career ladder provides standards that match an MA’s skill level through a three-tiered structure:

  • All MAs who complete initial required training become patient care assistants (PCAs) and begin taking a more active role in supporting patient care under physician or nurse supervision.

  • After shadowing an existing health coach, PCAs who demonstrate advanced knowledge and expertise can become health coaches and work with patients one-on-one to manage their chronic conditions.

  • Select health coaches can advance to the floor coordinator role; this position manages patient flow and supports care coordination across all provider teams.

UHC care teams developed continuous training opportunities MAs

Defined standards and enhanced MA training improves practice efficiency

Since the introduction of the MA career ladder, UHC’s program has reduced PMPM costs for self-insured employees and increased clinic capacity by reducing wait times, no shows, and walk-ins. Patient satisfaction and engagement improved because newly trained health coaches formed personal bonds with patients. Additionally, staffing across the board has stabilized and overall MA retention has improved.

Here are UHC's results at a glance:

  • 17%: PMPM cost reduction for self-ensured employees followed at UHC
  • 50%: Reduction in emergency room costs for employees seen at UHC
  • 36% vs 13%: Change in percentage of patients with controlled ABCs in 2009 vs 2005
  • 3,500: Increase in annual patients served by same number of staff from 2010-2014
  • 14: Increase in the number of PCAs between 2010-2013 as a result of enhanced practice efficiencies

Given these results, UHC’s goal is to create a similar career ladder for nurses and other care team members.

Watch UHC staff in action

You can also check out videos on UHC's innovative team-based model and its ambulatory intensive caring unit.

More MA training approaches that work

Read our full research briefing to see how PinnacleHealth Medical Group, MaineGeneral Health, WellSpan Health, and Union Health Center approached medical assistant training.


Join the discussion

Please log in to comment.

Forgot your password?

Not an Advisory Board Member? Click here to register


Members please Log In


Forgot your password?

Not an Advisory Board Member? Click here to register