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Medical Assistant vs Physician Assistant

Differences Between a Medical Assistant and a Physician Assistant

Medical Assistant vs Physician AssistantWith so many different positions in the healthcare industry, many job titles sound the same. Don’t let titles fool you, however. Even though medical assistants and physician assistants sound very similar, these two positions are vastly different. Before you make the choice between these two professions, make sure you fully understand the training requirements, job duties and responsibilities, and career outlooks involved in both professions. So what exactly are the main differences between a medical assistant and a P.A.?

Training Requirements

In order to work in most medical assistant positions, you must complete around one to two years of accredited training at an online or traditional college, university, or trade school. Medical assistant training includes book work, hands-on practice in simulated environments, and real-world experience through an internship or externship. Medical assistants can choose to receive training as clinical medical assistants, administrative medical assistants, or generalists who will be capable of performing both clinical and administrative duties. Upon graduation, students who have attended properly accredited programs may sit for the Certified Medical Assistant or Registered Medical Assistant examinations.

The education and training required to become a physician assistant is much more involved. To enter this career, you must earn a minimum of a master’s degree from an accredited physician assistant program. This training takes approximately six years to complete and must be followed by the passing of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants licensure examination. Once licensed, physician assistants must complete at least 100 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain licensure.

Duties and Responsibilities

Because the training is so vastly different, it stands to reason that the duties and responsibilities of the professions are also dissimilar. Medical assistants generally perform services that support the work of a physician. They are under the direct supervision of a doctor or a registered nurse and perform such tasks as taking and recording vital signs and medical histories, performing initial screenings, providing patient instructions, and assisting the physician with tests and minor procedures. They may also work in administrative duties such as answering communications, handling patient appoints, billing, and payments, and sterilizing and stocking examination rooms.

On the other hand, a physician assistant provides a wide range of medical services under the supervision of a physician. These duties include such things as treatment plans, examinations, prescribing medications, interpreting test results, and more. Physician assistants may provide Advanced Cardiac Life Support, assist in surgeries, perform therapeutic procedures, and conduct other highly skilled procedures. The administrative duties of a physician assistant are limited and those working in this profession are often used to provide basic medical services in areas where there is a shortage of physicians, such as inner city and rural areas.

Employment & Salary

Both of these rewarding careers enjoy a very positive future career outlook, with greater than average growth predicted for each. However, as indicated by the level of education and the job responsibilities, the salaries of the two professions is vastly different. The average annual salary for medical assistants is around $30,000 a year, while that of a physician assistant is around $90,000 annually. In both professions, these salary figures are the nationwide average and may vary greatly from one location to another and are dependent on the level of education and experience of individuals.

While both medical assistants and physician assistants enjoy excellent employment opportunities, the professions are so vastly different that it is imperative to fully understand the careers before making a decision. Take the time to carefully weigh the options and to determine which career best fits your personality, skills, and career goals before choosing an educational program for your new career.