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Difference Between Medical Assistant and Physicians Assistant

Other than the fact that they both work in the healthcare field, there isn't much common ground between the work of medical assistants and physician assistants. Read on to explore the differences between these professions.

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Comparing Medical Assistants to Physician Assistants

Medical assistants perform routine administrative duties and help doctors or nurses examine patients. Physician assistants, on the other hand, require more education and may diagnose and treat patients, order medical tests, and prescribe medications. Due to their extensive training and the level of responsibility they assume for their patients' care, physician assistants also earn a much higher salary than medical assistants.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Outlook* (2014-2024)
Medical Assistant Postsecondary certificate or diploma $31,540 23%
Physician Assistant Master's degree $101,480 30%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Medical Assistants vs Physician Assistants

Although medical assistants and physician assistants both work in the healthcare industry, there are a lot of differences between these professions. Medical assistants do not need extensive postsecondary training, and, while some may assist medical doctors with patient care, other medical assistants may primarily perform administrative tasks. Physician assistants must complete several years of postsecondary training. They are qualified to diagnose patients and determine what treatment their patients need. They spend most of their time focusing on direct patient care.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants primarily work in offices with doctors or other medical professionals. Some also work in hospitals. Those that work in a doctor's office are more likely to work set hours, with some weekend or evening shifts depending on the office hours. Medical assistants who work in hospitals or clinics typically rotate shifts and may work at any time of the day or night. They can also choose to specialize in a specific medical field. Some only perform administrative tasks while others have some clinical duties.

Job responsibilities of a medical assistant include the following:

  • Bandage patients
  • Take a patient's temperature
  • Update patient files
  • Complete insurance claims
  • Make appointments for patients
  • Give patients doctor prescribed medicine

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants work closely with doctors and perform similar duties as doctors. They can work in medical clinics, doctor's offices or hospitals, and they must be able to spend long periods of time standing. It's important that they pay attention to details and ensure that patient records are thoroughly updated so that all relevant medical information is considered when diagnosing patients. Once they complete their bachelor's degree, they must earn a physician assistant master's degree. Physician assistants also need to be licensed.

Job responsibilities of a physician assistant include the following:

  • Examine patients with medical issues
  • Update patient charts with relevant data
  • Refer patients for tests
  • Determine what medical issues are affecting patients
  • Develop a treatment plan
  • Monitor a patient's recovery or the effectiveness of their treatment

Related Careers

Medical records technicians perform administrative duties in doctor's offices but earn a median higher salary than medical assistants, so aspiring medical assistants may also want to consider this career field. Those who are thinking about a career as a physician assistant may also be interested in become a nurse practitioner, since nurse practitioners also treat and diagnose patients.

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