Program Spotlight: Medical Assistant

DCTC Medical Assistant grads: Lizzie Russell, Danielle Sterner, Jen Peters

Allina Health Eagan Clinic welcomes DCTC graduates

According to the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): “Medical assistants work alongside physicians, mainly in outpatient or ambulatory care facilities, such as medical offices and clinics. Medical assisting is one of the nation’s careers growing much faster than average for all occupations.”

The AAMA goes on to state that medical assistants “are cross-trained to perform administrative and clinical duties, as evidenced by the Occupational Analysis of Medical Assistants. Medical assistants are instrumental in helping patients feel at ease in the physician’s office and often explain the physician’s instructions.”

The AAMA also recognizes that medical assistants are crucial components of a ​patient-​centered ​medical ​home (PCMH) approach to healthcare. “According to a survey by the Healthcare Intelligence Network,” the AAMA reports, “medical assistants ranked as one of the top five professionals necessary to the PCMH team.”

More about the DCTC Medical Assistant program…

The Medical Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) delivers expansive, hands-on, skill-based learning focused on an array of duties, including:

  • Taking medical histories
  • Preparing patients for procedures
  • Administering medications
  • Drawing blood
  • Obtaining vital signs
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Collecting and testing lab samples
  • And much more!

The goal of the Medical Assistant program is centered on preparing you to become a competent, entry-level medical assistant in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains. Employment in this field typically requires successful completion of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certification exam.

Learn more about the AAMA certification exam.


The Medical Assistant program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Medical Assisting Education Review Board (MAERB).

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
25400 U.S. Highway 19 North, Suite 158
Clearwater, FL 33763

Employer perspective: Karen Tennis, RN

Karen Tennis, RN

Karen Tennis, RN, serves as the clinical services supervisor at Allina Health Eagan Clinic in Eagan, Minnesota. Karen has worked for Allina Health for 42 years. She started her career at Allina Health United Hospital in St. Paul, working as a cardiovascular registered nurse (RN). She went on to hold several leadership positions in Cardiac Rehab, Medical Exercise, Cardiovascular Research, and Vascular Services.

In 2005, after 25 years at the hospital, Karen transferred to the Ambulatory Division of Allina Health to accept the clinical supervisor position at Allina Health West St. Paul Clinic. She was promoted to a clinical manager position, serving as the clinical leader for both the Eagan and West St. Paul clinics for eight years. Due to the growth of the Eagan medical clinic, Karen has served as the clinical leader at that location since 2014.

Karen considers Dakota County Technical College her preferred school for hiring certified medical assistants (CMAs) as well as licensed practical nurses (LPNs). She noted that the DCTC programs have a longstanding reputation for quality with robust curriculums that produce professional, knowledgeable CMAs and LPNs.

“I have worked closely with DCTC Medical Assistant and Practical Nursing instructors since 2005,” Karen said, adding she feels so strongly about DCTC that she encouraged her daughter, Kristin Tennis Buchholz, to enroll in the college’s Practical Nursing program.

Kristin graduated from DCTC in 2011 and worked as an LPN in Allina’s LPN Float Pool while continuing her education. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) and Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Kristin now works for Allina Health Regina Hospital as a certified oncology infusion RN.

“I truly love the DCTC programs—and I want students to understand how they can use their education in those programs in many different ways.”
Karen Tennis, RN
Clinical Services Supervisor
Allina Health Eagan Clinic

More about the DCTC and Allina Health partnership…

10 of 19 DCTC graduates at Allina Health Eagan Clinic

“We frequently host externships for the MA program and clinical rotations for the LPN program,” Karen said. “My five most recent hires have been from those two programs, and all five are all doing a wonderful job and already contributing to our high-quality care and engaging work environment.”

Karen pointed out that 19 DCTC alumni currently work at Allina Health Eagan Clinic, including CMAs, LPNs, and an RN—that’s about 70 percent of the location’s clinical staff.

Karen also reported that Allina Health Eagan Clinic is home to 22 primary care providers, including family practice, pediatrics, and family practice with OB. The clinic has 34 clinical staff, including CMAs, LPNs, RNs, and clinic team aides. Additionally, the clinic provides eye care, podiatry, and mental health services.

“Clinics are a wonderful fit for CMAs and LPNs,” Karen said. “Both can utilize their knowledge and skill on a multidisciplinary team to serve patients with varying degrees of medical complexity for prevention, acute care, and chronic disease management. The clinic is a rewarding environment for individuals who enjoy challenges, forging relationships, and having a work-life balance. Our clinic prides itself on our great patient experience results, our quality care outcomes, and our employee engagement—all founded on amazing teamwork, respect, and flexibility.”

“Allina Health Eagan Clinic has been an outstanding partner. Our students receive a well-rounded practicum experience, and I think Karen’s hired a student almost every time she’s hosted. We have a strong partnership, and it will continue for many years into the future.”
Kathleen Paukert, CMA (AAMA) BAS
Medical Assistant Program Director
Dakota County Technical College

Medical Assistant alumnae perspectives

Karen Tennis explained that DCTC alumni at Allina Health have harnessed their education to move in different professional directions while many others have embraced their CMA and LPN careers and continue to grow and flourish in those roles.

“The beauty of working in the medical field is the constant change,” Karen said. “We have new technologies, new medications, new diseases, new treatments, and always new opportunities for professional and personal growth. It’s never boring and offers a lifetime of learning and knowledge coupled with the rewards of helping others and building relationships.”

Danielle Sterner, Lead CMA

Danielle Sterner
2010 Graduate
Lead CMA at Allina Health Eagan Clinic

Danielle completed her externship at Allina Health and has worked for the healthcare provider since she graduated from DCTC in 2010. She started with a very busy family practice with OB provider and had opportunities to care for patients of all ages with a wide variety of medical conditions.

After taking additional classes to become a clinical preceptor, Danielle trains and validates new and existing staff. Her strong clinical knowledge, organizational skills, and focus on doing what’s best, earned her a promotion to clinical lead at the Eagan clinic. She is one of two vaccine coordinators at that location.

“Danielle manages our clinical equipment and medical supplies, assists with schedules, staffing, and daily operations,” Karen said. “She is key to our great care, staff education, and positive work environment.”

Age: 53
Hometown: American Falls, Idaho
Current residence: Farmington, Minnesota
DCTC graduation date: 2010 with Medical Assistant diploma
Other degrees, diplomas, and/or certifications: Legal Secretary certification
Long-range career plans: Serve as a medical assistant until she retires
Start date at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: Summer 2017
Job title at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: Lead Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Three words that describe you as a healthcare professional:

Danielle Sterner Q & A

What inspired you to enroll in the Medical Assistant program at DCTC?

I have always been interested in healthcare. I enjoy learning about how the human body works and all the amazing ways we can heal. I knew that I did not want to be in a program that took more than a few years. I started researching and realized this was the career for me. Medical assistant had everything I was looking for in a career.

What did you like best about the Medical Assistant program?

I liked the way the program was put together. We were learning skills that we were going to be implementing in this career. There was plenty of hands-on instruction besides reading. The instructors were caring and knowledgeable. They cared that we were learning the material to be successful.

What advice would you give students thinking about a career as a medical assistant?

I would say medical assisting is probably one of the best careers you can get into for either a jumping off point if you wanted to do more in the medical field or if you want to make this your career. I have seen plenty of people move on to become RNs or X-ray techs because of what they experienced and learned while being a medical assistant.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a medical assistant?

The most rewarding and challenging are the same thing. It always comes down to the patient. They are why we are here. It is the best when you see a patient turn their health around. The light in their eyes when they are empowered and know that they can succeed, whether it is mental health or physical health.

It is also challenging when we are trying to get some of our patients to know they matter, and we want them to be in the best health possible. A patient is part of their healthcare team.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Jen Peters, CMA

Jen Peters
2015 Graduate
CMA at Allina Health Eagan Clinic

Jen completed her Medical Assistant externship at Allina Health Eagan Clinic. She has spent seven-plus years working with a family practice with OB Provider. She was delighted participate in caring for pregnant women, and then having the opportunity to also care for their newborn babies.

Jen also cares for the full spectrum of patients of all ages and conditions. She assists with surgical procedures like vasectomy, circumcision, cyst removal as well as joint injections, and IUD and NEXPLANON insertions.

After receiving additional Allina-sponsored leader training, Jen became a clinical preceptor. She assists with onboarding and training new clinical staff. She helps roll out new workflows and techniques, educating staff and validating their clinical skills.

Age: 48
Hometown: Plymouth, Minnesota
Current residence: Living in the country outside Hastings, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Robbinsdale Armstrong, Class of 1993 (Jen’s 30-year reunion takes place this summer)
DCTC graduation date: 2015 with Medical Assistant A.A.S.
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: Third place in Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) Medical Terminology competition
Other degrees, diplomas, and/or certifications: Cosmetology license, Personal Training certification, Group Fitness certification
Long-range education plans: May go back to school, but unsure at this time; loves what she does right now; her favorite part is seeing an entire family—husband, wife, and kids—yearly at their appointments; seeing the kids grow and change and then seeing the new siblings
Start date at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: August 2017
Job title at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Three words that describe you as a healthcare professional:

Jen Peters Q & A

 What inspired you to enroll in the Medical Assistant program at DCTC?

I chose Medical Assistant because I wanted to do something that was not confined to a desk. I also love talking to people and helping them.

What did you like best about the Medical Assistant program?

Most classes at DCTC were very interesting and the topics fun to learn.

What advice would you give students thinking about a career as a medical assistant?

If you enjoy people and have a heart to help others, this is a great field to get involved in.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a medical assistant?

Here at work, I learn something new every day.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


* …and I got a good education.

Lizzie Russell, CMA

Lizzie Russell
2022 Graduate
CMA at Allina Health Eagan Clinic

Lizzie Russell graduated from DCTC just last year. At Allina Health Eagan Clinic, she works with a certified nurse practitioner (CNP) to help care for patients of all ages from birth to death with health concerns of varying medical complexity.

Age: 23
Hometown: Savage, Minnesota
Current residence: Savage, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Burnsville, Class of 2018
DCTC graduation date: 2022 with Medical Assistant A.A.S.
Long-range education plans: Eventually would like to go back to school and get her RN
Long-range career plans: Currently very content as a medical assistant at Allina Health, but would love to get her RN someday
Start date at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: August 2022
Job title at Allina Health Eagan Clinic: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Three words that describe you as a healthcare professional:

Lizzie Russell Q & A

What inspired you to enroll in the Medical Assistant program at DCTC?

I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but was unsure which path I wanted to pursue.

What did you like best about the Medical Assistant program?

Fast-paced and great instructors.

What advice would you give students thinking about a career as a medical assistant?

I believe it is a great way to get started in the medical field, and it is a fulfilling career.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a medical assistant?

Rewarding: Wide scope of skills you can perform, being able to connect with patients and help with their care, lots of opportunities to learn and grow within the career.

Challenging: Can be stressful at times between patients, running behind schedule-wise, sudden medical emergencies.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Learn more about the Medical Assistant program at DCTC by contacting:

Kathleen Paukert, CMA (AAMA) BAS
Medical Assistant Program Director

Room 2-110

More about the role of medical assistants…¹

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) reports that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes strong job growth on the medical assistant career path to the following factors:

  • Predicted surge in the number of physicians’ offices and outpatient care facilities
  • Technological advancements
  • Growing number of elderly Americans who need medical treatment

Breakdown of medical assistant job responsibilities

(subject to medical practice location, size, and specialty as well as state law)
Clinical Duties (may include, but not limited to)
  • Taking medical histories
  • Explaining treatment procedures to patients
  • Preparing patients for examinations
  • Assisting the physician during examinations
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
  • Performing basic laboratory tests
  • Instructing patients about medication and special diets
  • Preparing and administering medications, including by intramuscular, intradermal, and subcutaneous injections—including vaccinations/immunizations, as directed by a physician or other licensed provider, e.g., a nurse practitioner or physician assistant
  • Transmitting prescription refills as directed
  • Phlebotomy
  • Taking electrocardiograms
  • Wound care and changing dressings
Administrative Duties (may include, but not limited to)
  • Using computer applications
  • Answering telephones
  • Welcoming patients
  • Updating and filing patient medical records
  • Coding and filling out insurance forms
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Handling correspondence, billing, and bookkeeping
¹ SOURCE: American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

Medical Assistants

Handle administrative and clinical tasks in healthcare settings.


This career pays above the statewide median of $23.81/hour


Median: $24.05/hour
High: $24.70/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $24.41/hour
High: $24.81/hour


In Minnesota, there are 10,830 workers employed in this large career, which is currently in very high demand and is seeing very high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate is 16.1 percent in Minnesota, or well above the statewide average.

There will be a need for about 13,155 new Medical Assistants to meet market demand between 2020–2030 This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

— Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (January 31, 2023)

Ashley Skov, CMA, and Lizzie Russell, CMA

Ashley Skov, CMA, a recent DCTC grad, works in pediatrics at Allina Health Eagan Clinic. Ashley helps care for pediatric patients from birth to age 20. She supports her patients through well-child prevention visits and acute/ill visits. She also assists patients with chronic medical conditions.