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Dental Hygienist vs Medical Assistant

Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Dental Hygienist

Medical Assistant vs Dental HygienistAre you trying to decide between a career in medical assisting and dental hygiene? If so, being aware of the differences between the professions can help you more easily make a decision. These two careers both involve working as part of a healthcare team and providing quality patient care, but the similarities stop there. While medical assistants work in general healthcare alongside a doctor or nurse, dental hygienists work one-on-one in providing direct patient care in dental offices and clinics. As such, dental hygienists must have more intensive training and receive higher pay. Below are some of the major differences between these two careers.

Training Requirements

There is a slight chance that medical assistants may be able to secure on-the-job training, but most positions require formal training that can take around one to two years of full-time study. It is important that students choose a properly accredited medical assistant training program in order to be eligible to sit for certification examinations after graduation. Medical assistant training programs are available through a number of traditional and online schools and include such training as anatomy, billing procedures, medical terminology, and more.

Since dental hygienists work independently with patients, they must complete a more thorough training program. In order to work as a dental hygienist, you must complete an associate degree or higher at a community college, university, dental school, or technical school. In order to meet licensure requirements, dental hygiene programs must be accredited through the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Typically, dental hygiene education programs offer training through supervised patient care. In addition, many programs include liberal arts courses as well as basic and clinical sciences. Every state requires that dental hygienists become licensed. In order to do so, candidates must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination as well as a state-authorized licensure exam. Most state examinations include subject knowledge as well as clinical assessments.

Duties and Responsibilities

Medical assistants perform a wide range of duties necessary to the success of a physician’s office or clinic. These duties are often both clinical and administrative in nature and are performed under the direct supervision of a physician or a registered nurse. Typical job duties of a medical assistant include taking patient medical histories and vital signs, preparing and stocking examination rooms, assisting the physician with minor procedures and tests, providing patient instructions, and more. In addition, many medical assistants answer phone calls, schedule patient appointments, perform billing procedures, and maintain patient charts.

A dental hygienist has vastly different responsibilities that are performed independently and require more advanced skills. Many of the tasks performed by these professionals were once exclusively performed by dentists. In a typical day, a dental hygienist may polish patients’ teeth, remove soft and hard deposits, and use specialized tools to remove stains, plaque, and tartar. In addition, dental hygienists perform periodontal, dental, extra-oral, and intra-oral examinations, review patient histories, check vital signs, take radiographs, and conduct risk assessments on patients of all ages.

Employment & Salary

Both fields are expected to see above average growth over coming years, with medical assisting falling slightly behind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medical assisting field will experience 23% growth over coming years, slightly less than the 33% growth predicted for dental hygienists. Dental hygienists are also at an advantage when it comes to earnings. Because of their specialized training and job responsibilities, the average salary for a dental hygienist is around $70,000 a year, more than double that of the $30,000 average for medical assistants.

Is medical assisting or dental hygiene the right career for you? That depends on your career goals, the time and money you wish to spend on education and training, and your particular interests. No matter which career you choose, you are sure to face a bright future full of possibilities.