COVID-19 Crusaders 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical assistants have stepped up to help keep the country healthy. With unparalleled excellence, medical assistants have left their comfort zones and taken on new roles all while combatting challenges unique to COVID-19.

Their skills, compassion, and commitment to health care are worth honoring. The AAMA will feature the stories of individuals who have gone above and beyond; meanwhile, the AAMA recognizes the hard work performed by all medical assistants—sung and unsung heroes—during the pandemic.

Check this webpage for the latest interviews with COVID-19 Crusaders. New profiles will be announced via social media.

Latasha Smith-Perteet, BASc, CMA (AAMA)

headshot of Latasha Smith-PerteetOccupation: Medical assistant at Genesee Community Health Center in Flint, Michigan

How They Sieged the Moment: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith-Perteet battles fear and champions safety and quality patient care by expanding her skill set and sharpening her knowledge.

What’s your occupation/title both before and during this COVID-19 crisis?

"During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to work at multiple offices in our practice as a medical assistant floater."

Has your workplace changed in a significant way in reaction to COVID-19 (e.g., increased telehealth), and how have you adapted?

"This [floating] opportunity afforded me different ways to assist patients during these critical times and shifts as we pivoted to using telehealth. [I was] able to assure patients they were still receiving the best care even though we had to convert to a new care method. Most patients were and are still welcoming of telehealth. They appreciate the concern [and intention] to keep them safe by minimizing their exposure during this critical time.

"For those patients who still require in-person attention, our practices are adhering to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] safety guidelines to keep ourselves and patients as safe as possible. Learning to pivot during this pandemic has definitely sharpened my medical assisting skills and taught me new ways to provide excellent patient care and assist physicians during this time of crisis."

What has been a challenge for you during the COVID-19 crisis, and how have you worked to overcome it?

“A big challenge for me at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis was that I began to experience anxiety and sleeping problems. Fear had gripped me. My constant thought each time I went to work [was of whether I] could have possibly been exposed. … I was on information overload, which was not helpful for my mental health. Being in this unknown crisis—a pandemic—had begun to take a toll on me, but I changed my focus and cut back on watching the news, which in turn helped to alleviate my anxiety."

What do you do to comfort/connect with patients? Has COVID-19 changed your methods at all?

"I have a heart for all patients and offer them exceptional patient care by not only providing hands-on care but also keeping them well informed by educating them and answering their concerns. The only way my method has changed because of COVID-19 is that performing these tasks [occurs] virtually instead of in person.Stay current with your employers’ guidelines, CDC updates, and insurance change."

What encouragement or advice would you like to share with fellow medical assistants?

"Stay current with your employers’ guidelines, CDC updates, and insurance changes during this pandemic crisis. Stay knowledgeable about virtual technology and explain it to patients in an easy, comprehensible way. Lastly, and most importantly, stay safe!"

Mona Williams, CMA (AAMA)

mona williams-2021Occupation: CMA (AAMA)® at Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois and Indiana in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

How They Sieged the Moment: While working as a floating medical assistant, Williams found ways to alleviate her COVID-19 pandemic–induced anxiety and made a point of helping patients conquer their own anxieties by providing patient education.

Has your workplace changed in a significant way in reaction to COVID-19 (e.g., increased telehealth), and how have you adapted?

My workplace has changed significantly, but our team has remained cohesive and innovative. We have increased our telehealth visits for both our primary care and behavioral health clients. We are offering telehealth video services to patients who are able to [use them]. We screen all our patients and provide additional resources to everyone, whether they come on-site or stay at home.

We have resources to obtain food, medical supplies, or access to mental health services; we want to make sure our patients are staying safe and supported during these trying times. We are also providing COVID-19 testing and influenza vaccines.

What has been a challenge for you during the COVID-19 crisis, and how have you worked to overcome it?

The challenge for me during the COVID-19 crisis was exposure. At the beginning, it was the lack of education about COVID-19 that caused fear, but I knew that, as long as I followed the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and wore my protective gear, I could do this. I overcame the fear by becoming knowledgeable about the virus and reminding myself why I am in the medical field. Having hospital experience as well, I understood the urgency of being on the front line. I also made time for self-care at home.

What does being a medical assistant mean to you, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 crisis, being a medical assistant is extremely valuable. I was able to expand my skill set with community work and testing, as well as be a supportive person for patients. I find that patients are appreciative of knowing that their provider’s practice is working hard to keep everyone safe and provide quality care. More safety protocols in place and patient education have been very important throughout the pandemic.

I feel like my skills have been enhanced—more like “medical assistant 2.0” skills. I enjoy seeing the patient’s reaction when we are providing care during the crisis. It is rewarding because they experience some type of human-to-human contact and normalcy, which is a motivating factor for me.

What encouragement or advice would you like to share with fellow medical assistants?

The advice I would like to share with my fellow medical assistants is to remember your purpose for being in the medical field. It is the foundation for your quality and experience as a health care worker. COVID-19 did not stop the show for medical assistants or any frontline worker; instead, it helped us solidify why we do what we do as a career.

Josh Lehrer, BA (Hons), CMA (AAMA)

headshot of Josh LehrerOccupation: Full-time medical assistant at a family medical practice affiliated with Hunterdon Healthcare and per diem for PM Pediatrics, which specializes in pediatric urgent care, in New Jersey. Lehrer is also a registered volunteer member of the Hunterdon County Medical Reserve Corps and the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps.

How They Sieged the Moment: Lehrer received the Hunterdon Healthcare Hero Award in May 2020 for being integral to and his leadership in the Patient Family Support Team.

What has been a challenge for you during the COVID-19 crisis, and how have you worked to overcome it?

“The unknowns and frequently changing guidelines while working during the COVID-19 [pandemic] have definitely added some stress to the job. Whether [it’s about] who qualifies for testing [or] what proper PPE [personal protective equipment] to wear, public health advisories have varied greatly since COVID-19 first presented. …

“Ultimately, it has been important to know that we are all doing our part through due diligence to keep ourselves, our families, the patients, and our communities safe. We’re trying our best given the circumstances, and that is what matters most.”

What do you do to comfort and connect with patients? Has COVID-19 changed your methods at all?

“In comforting and connecting with patients, I frequently attempt to find a shared commonality, [like] favorite sports team or shared interests. I have had to become creative in my approach to the myriad kinds of patients I interact with.

“One challenge during [the pandemic] has definitely been working with the pediatric patient population. Especially for younger children, facial recognition and expression play a crucial role in making sense of the world developmentally. It is hard to show enthusiasm and excitement toward kids when providing care wearing a mask and donning so much other PPE. Children typically evoke a smile from me, but they, unfortunately, cannot [easily] see this joy if I am wearing a mask. There is no doubt that the PPE we must wear exacerbates the fear associated with more invasive procedures, such as vaccination administration.”

What encouragement or advice would you like to share with fellow medical assistants?

“My advice to fellow medical assistants is now is the time to get as much experience as possible! I am new to the profession, and I have relished the opportunities that have presented [in response to] COVID-19.

“When I was first hired in late March, I worked [as a medical assistant practitioner] for a week …, but then [I] was selected to help with a novel project at the organization’s flagship hospital. Presumably due to my background in psychology—I hold a baccalaureate degree from Case Western Reserve University—I was dispatched to the hospital to help connect families with their loved ones who were inpatients.

“Through an initiative dubbed the Patient Family Support Team, I collaborated with several different departments to facilitate virtual visits—via Zoom, FaceTime, etc.—between patients in the hospital and their loved ones because of the inability to visit in-person. I was able to spend time with a diverse set of patients …: some were fully intubated and struggling to maintain effective oxygenation, while others were well on their way to recovery. I witnessed my fair share of tragedies and miracles.

“After just over a month, I was recognized by Hunterdon Healthcare for my efforts by receiving a Hunterdon Healthcare Hero Award in May [2020]. More recently, I loved the opportunity to give back to those protecting our neighborhoods by administering flu vaccines with the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps to law enforcement officers and their families.

“The main takeaway: never underestimate your contributions. They are valued and meaningful to all those who are impacted.”

Emily J. Crump, CMA (AAMA)

headshot of Emily CrumpOccupation: CMA (AAMA)® at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in The Woodlands, Texas.

How They Sieged the Moment: Crump navigates being a medical assisting student doing her practicum all through the COVID-19 pandemic, while exemplifying quality patient care by finding ways to connect with patients and brighten their days.

Has your workplace or educational program changed in a significant way in reaction to COVID-19, and how have you adapted?

“I decided to go back to school for medical assisting last July after a lot of soul-searching in what I envisioned for my next stage of life. My kids were getting older, and I was ready to get back to work after many years of being a stay-at-home mom. During those years, I did a lot of volunteering with NILMDTS [Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep], and through that, I decided I wanted to join the medical field and dedicate myself to helping people.

“Now, going back to school during a pandemic was definitely not easy. There were many days in which instructional lecture days were canceled and labs were postponed, but my fellow students and I persevered and made it to practicums. I ended up at an amazing clinic where a few seasoned medical assistants took me under their wings and graciously taught me all they knew.”

What does being a medical assistant mean to you, especially during COVID-19?

“During my second week at my practicum, I had a moment that further solidified why I choose to be a medical assistant.

“I had a patient come in early in the morning, an older gentleman who had not been to the clinic in a few months due to COVID-19. As he sat down in the room, I began reviewing all his medical history with him as I do with every patient. He told me a few stories during this time, and we laughed about all the craziness that COVID-19 has brought.

“At the end of our time together, I started to leave the room, and he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thank you for your time today, young lady. You are the first person I have had an in-person conversation with in about four months. I talk with my family on the phone, but I have not been able to see them in person. Our laughs and conversations brightened my day.”

“It was so apparent to me that day that being a medical assistant is so much more than taking vital signs and rooming patients. It is about connection and caring—patience and compassion.”

What do you do to comfort and connect with patients? Has COVID-19 changed your methods at all?

“During these COVID-19 times, I strive to take a little extra time with each patient to let them know that I am truly listening and that their lives and struggles matter. I will tell a funny story, smile with my eyes—because you know, the masks cover up a lot—look them in their eyes, and most of all, I will give a lot of grace. You never know; this might be the patient that needs you to be an extra source of joy and light that day.”