Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

We will discuss the difference between a medical assistant and a physician assistant.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably seeking information on similarities and differences between these two medical fields. If so, the details contained here will prove to be in addressing any confusion you have.

All you have to do is read along to the very end for the juicy details.

Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant

The healthcare profession is one with a lot of similar job titles that may prove confusing. One of those is a medical assistant and a physician assistant.

On the surface, persons not too conversant with the healthcare field are likely to get easily thrown off as they can hardly make any distinctions.

Background Information on Medical Assistants

As suggested by the job title, medical assistants work closely with physicians and nurses and carry out all kinds of assistive roles, both clinical and administrative.

Medical assistants work in outpatient or ambulatory care facilities and may perform tasks on behalf of physicians.

The physician mostly delegates these tasks. Medical assistants may perform simple tasks, including taking vital signs, recording a patient’s medical history, and collecting lab specimens.

Sometimes, you’ll find medical assistants administering injections depending on training and experience.

Background Information on Physician Assistants

In the case of physician assistants, are mid-level healthcare providers found in almost all primary care and specialty medical fields?

As integral healthcare team members in medical establishments, these professionals spend much time standing while working with patients.

Also known as physician associates, physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine in an assistive capacity. In other words, they practice under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician.

In terms of the job description, such is usually as diverse as their supervising physician.

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

In distinguishing between medical assisting and physician assisting, we need to consider specific points that help reveal the underlying differences between these two healthcare professions.

These points include the roles or responsibilities and projected growth.

More areas to consider include salary expectations, education or training, work environments or settings, the time required to complete training, and licensing & certification requirements.

Now, let’s proceed to discuss each of these points as follows.

i. Roles or Responsibilities

We begin this section by looking at the different roles performed by each professional.

Medical assistants’ responsibilities include prepping samples for lab testing, assisting with billing and insurance claims, scheduling patient appointments, and helping physicians with patient examinations.

Medical assistants also fill patient records, measure vital signs, prepare exam rooms, and record patients’ personal information and medical histories.

On the other hand, physician assistants have unique roles that include ordering tests, prescribing medications, and supervising junior staff.

Other roles include the treatment of minor injuries and illnesses, administering medication, performing necessary surgeries, and handling medical emergencies.

Prescription of medications and performing physical examinations are other responsibilities of physician assistants. All such duties are performed under the supervision of a physician.

ii. Projected Growth

This is an exciting area for aspiring medical professionals looking at any of these two options.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistant job opportunities are expected to grow by 18% by 2030. This is higher than the average for other jobs.

In the same period, job growth for physician assistants, according to the BLS, is expected to rise by about 31%.

This is higher than the national average for other occupations. If projected growth is more important to you, then the clear preference will be to go with physician assisting, which has a higher projected growth rate.

iii. Salary Expectations

For many people, salary expectation is one of the primary factors determining what profession they go for.

Medical assistants earn an hourly average of $15.92. This translates to about $36,592 per year. With experience and further education comes promotion and increased earnings.

On the other hand, physician assistants have much higher salary expectations, as these professionals receive around $105,466 yearly.

However, like most healthcare professions, salaries are determined by multiple factors ranging from specialization, location, experience, work setting, etc.

iv. Education or Training

Compared to physician assistants, medical assistants require much less training to practice.

Certain states have no formal education requirements. Nevertheless, you’ll need to have attended an accredited training program to improve your chances of getting hired.

To join such programs, you must have committed limited time, roughly 12 months of training. Certification, which isn’t a requirement, can boost your chances of getting hired if you have one.

It takes a much extended period to complete training as a physician assistant. Training lasts about six years. This is a more rigorous training procedure compared to medical assisting.

You’ll need to enroll in a program that’s accredited.

Enrolling for a master’s degree is yet another requirement. Having completed training, you’ll need to obtain licensure, which will be discussed shortly.

v. Work Environment or Settings

For the most part, medical and physician assistants work in similar settings.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) gives physician assistants work settings, including hospitals, offices/clinics, community health centers, and urgent care facilities.

vi. Time Required to Complete Training

For many people, this can be a deal breaker when choosing a preferred field.

We stated earlier that medical assistants have significantly shorter training periods, which last about 12 months. At the minimum, the duration of training for physician assistants lasts six years.

However, this could extend to 8 years or higher depending on the fulfillment of licensing and certification requirements.

vii. Licensing & Certification Requirements

You will likely find a job as a medical assistant without certification and licensing.

However, you could boost your chances of getting employed by having some form of certification. Certification is essential for physician assistants as training involves a much more rigorous process.

How to Go From Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant

Going from MA to PA will demand extra schooling, proficiency, and a permit. How do you achieve that? Below are a few steps to switch between these medical careers.

  • Complete a Physician Assistant Program

Typically, a medical assistant handles the non-clinical duties in a medical setting. These include scheduling meetings, recording patient information, buying supplies, and filling insurance forms.

Only in a few instances do they perform basic clinical tasks such as changing dressings, preparing blood for lab tests, and more.

You’ll need to finish the PA program to become a physician associate. In most cases, you’ll end up with a master’s degree. PA programs are often completed in two years.

This could be in a hospital or medical school. But you’ll need to present your previous academic transcripts, HCE/PCE hours, letters of recommendation, personal statement, etc., to secure entry.

The Accreditation Review Commission authorizes most PA studies. The program benefits those who want to specialize in a specific medical field.

You’ll have the chance to learn and apply concepts needed professionally.

  • Pass the PANCE Exams

After completing a PA program, you must write and pass the “Physician Assistant National Certifying Exams.”

It’s a five-hour exam composed of 300 multiple-choice questions. You can only attempt this exam six times in a six-year time frame. If you fail the sixth time, you’ll be asked to retake the PA program.

Meanwhile, those who can pass the exams will receive the NCCPA. The NCCA issues this certificate.

  • Obtain Government Certification

You’ll need a state permit since you’ll provide direct patient care.

The prerequisites for such a permit vary from one state to the next. However, most demand continuing clinical academic hours and PANCE credentials.

You can take these steps to switch from MA to PA in the medical industry.

Identifying the similarities and differences between medical assisting and physician assisting goes a long way in helping you decide on what to go for.