This essential first aid is one of the many practical skills students gain in the Medical Assisting program
The Jersey City campus of Branford Hall Career Institute is lucky to have Fredrica Evans, director of the Medical Assisting program and instructor of the “Clinical Procedures, Specialty Exams, CPR and First Aid” class. She has been program director since July 2017 but an instructor at the school for a decade. Ms. Evans is also a Patient Care Technician (PCT) at a local medical facility, and she routinely brings her years of experience into the classroom with her students. We spoke with her recently about teaching the hands-on aspects of this class, and how the students benefit at this crucial step in their training.
Becoming an “ace” at bandaging
In teaching the students how to use a compression bandage (usually known by the brand name ACE), Ms. Evans demonstrates how to use the “figure 8” technique to wrap an ankle, knee, wrist, or elbow. You might think it’s as simple as twirling the bandage around, but it turns out there is a specific way to do it, and it takes some practice. “They learn how this is an effective treatment for sprains and strains,” she says.
Evans does more than demonstrate, however. She prepares students in classes several days before, explaining the various uses and procedures. She then engages them in role-playing, in which one student plays the Medical Assistant (MA), and another acts as the patient (and a third has a brief cameo as the doctor). She offers specific scenarios, such as a patient that slipped and fell and tried to brace herself with her hand and ended up spraining her wrist. She teaches the MA to ask whether the patient can move her fingers, and if so, whether that causes her pain. “I show them how to pinch the skin lightly, to determine if the patient can feel it,” Evans says. In the role-play, the MA explains to the patient, once the X-rays have come back determining that there’s been a bad sprain, that bandaging the wrist is necessary.
Essential to this process, once the MA has done the wrapping, is to be active in asking the patient for feedback, with questions such as “Are you comfortable?” “Does the bandage feel too tight?” and “Can you wiggle your fingers?” Depending on the response, the MA may need to re-wrap it. If there is any bluish coloring of the skin, this is also a sign that the bandage is too tight. Students learn to then instruct the patient to come back in 4 or 5 days, to check the swelling and do another set of X-rays.
The students get a grade on this kind of triage, which can be harder than it looks. “It takes practice,” Evans says. “The bandage can’t be sloppy or bulky. It should look tidy and feel comfortable to the patient.” She was pleased with how this recent class of students performed. “They did awesome!” she said. “They really get involved in it.” She has observed that, when the students get to this stage in the coursework, they welcome the opportunity to do anything that’s hands-on.
Other hands-on practice
Another aspect of the class is teaching MA students how to prepare patients for what are called “specialty exams,” such as a colonoscopy, a gynecological exam, or a mammogram—any examinations that require anything other than the patient lying supine (flat on the back) on an examination table. Evans shows students how to place patients into stirrups, if needed, and how to drape them to maintain privacy during the exam. She also reviews what information an MA is qualified to share with the patient about the examination. “This process of preparation MAs perform saves the doctor valuable time,” she says.
MA students also learn how to give patients instructions on how to collect a urine sample, including whether they need to do what’s called a “clean catch” (which is sterile) or a random sample (for which no preparation is needed on the patient’s part). In this way the MA helps ensure that the lab gets the sample needed for the correct urinalysis. Ms. Evans also teaches students other skills that she herself puts into practice in her work as a PCT at a high-volume trauma center, such as how to pack a wound with gauze.
Part of a broader curriculum
Every MA student takes this class, which is one of the last in the sequence of the program’s curriculum. These practical courses come after students have already studied topics such as medical terminology, anatomy, billing, and procedures. “This is the perfect time for them to start practicing the techniques,” Evans says, “because they’re getting ready to go out on their externships.” In that essential phase of training, students will be shadowing an MA in a medical setting and beginning to put their skills into practice.
In her experience, the students really enjoy this aspect of the work. “My reward during graduation is seeing my students walk across the stage to get their diplomas,” says Ms. Evans. “They’re so happy and proud of what they’ve achieved.” After graduation, she’s seen some students even come to work at the hospital where she’s on staff. “All their hard work pays off,” she says, “and it’s great!”
This post is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We support our students and prospective students in seeking new careers. Reach out for more information about our Medical Assistant program, or to request information, or schedule a tour.