The Biggest Problem Most Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) Face, and How You Can Fix It

When you become a CMA, you more or less know what you’re getting into. Plenty of administrative tasks, dealing with all sorts of patients from different walks of life and in varying states of distress. But there is one big problem that most people in a medical assistant career regularly face: having to be extremely clear with patients who have communication problems.

It could be a result of their condition, or maybe English isn’t their first language. Either way, we hope these tips help to reduce frustration for both parties involved.

7 Communication Tips for CMAs


Get Into a Mindset of Patience & Empathy

You wouldn’t have sought a career as a CMA if you weren’t empathetic, and didn’t want to help people. But no one’s a saint and that on stressful days it’s sometimes hard to muster up the patience and empathy required to deal with people.

As soon as you recognize that someone is struggling to communicate, take a moment with yourself to readjust your state of mind. If you notice yourself becoming frustrated, take a deep breath, smile, and remember that it’s not their fault they don’t understand.

Use simple language and emphasize key words

Try to speak using direct language, and as few words as possible. For example, instead of saying “I’m afraid there are no available appointments this afternoon, the earliest we can do is 11.30 tomorrow morning” say “The Dr can’t see you today. Tomorrow at 11.30?”

Use nonverbal communication

Did you know that at least 70% of language is nonverbal? Nonverbal communication is powerful and transcends language barriers. Body language/ gesticulating, tone of voice and facial expressions can all help to communicate your message.

Don’t forget you can also use a notepad and paper. People learning English as a second language often report that reading is easier than listening. Write down what you want to say, or you can even use drawings if appropriate.

Give them options

The person you’re with whom you’re talking might be struggling to find the right word. If that’s the case, you might phrase your question as a series of options to help prompt them. For example, when asking about family medical history, list a few common diseases so that they’ll be able to recognize the one that applies.

Speak up, but don’t patronize

Make sure to speak clearly, but unless they are also hard of hearing, try not to raise your voice. If they are accompanied by someone who is there to help them with their communication, make sure you still address the patient and acknowledge their presence.

Try rephrasing instead of repeating

If someone hasn’t understood what you’ve said, try rephrasing, or using more simple language (see point 2) instead of repeating.

Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat

It’s highly important for medical assistants to report accurately. So if you haven’t heard something, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat. To help them out, you can repeat back the parts you did hear so they just need to fill in the gaps.


We hope these tips help you to reduce frustration in your medical assistant career and efficiently communicate with your patients.

Blog Post written by:
Dr. Eida Lopez
Medical Assistant Instructor