What Is The Difference Between A Medical Assistant and A Physician Assistant?

Medical assistants and physician assistants work in the healthcare setting but that’s as far as their similarities go. These careers are as distinct from one another as day is to night. They perform different responsibilities and meet different education and licensing requirements. They also differ in terms of the salary received. The discussion below will tackle the key differences between these two occupations to avoid confusion among those who are planning to pursue any of these career paths.

Medical assistants perform routine clinical and administrative tasks in the office of a healthcare provider. Whether they work for cardiologists, pediatricians, podiatrists or other medical doctors, they can take patient’s personal information and interview them to get their medical history. They can get vital signs like the patient’s temperature, blood pressure, weight, height and others. They may also be asked to assist the doctor when undertaking patient examinations. Under the direction of the physician, medical assistants may also give injections to some patients.

They also perform administrative tasks like taking patient’s calls and scheduling them for appointments. Medical assistants take care of billing and bookkeeping tasks. The widespread use of electronic health records has also made it necessary for medical assistants to learn the EHR software used by their employers. If this is the first time that the office has used EHR, medical assistants are responsible for transferring existing patient information to the EHR.

Physician assistants are medical practitioners who, under the supervision of doctors or surgeons, are licensed to diagnose and treat patients. Like physicians, they can get and evaluate a patient’s medical history and correlate this with his current symptoms. They can conduct a physical examination to determine his health issues and order laboratory exams to finalize diagnosis. They can give immunizations and treat injuries. In many states, physician assistants can also prescribe medication. They monitor a patient’s progress and make adjustments to the treatment plan when necessary.

In more ways than one, it would seem that the job of physicians and physician assistants overlaps and to a certain extent this is true. The latter would even serve as the primary healthcare providers in underserved areas where the medical doctors cannot be present every day. It’s important to understand that physician assistants are not autonomous. That is, they must always do their work under the supervision of a medical doctor and must constantly confer with them regarding the condition of a patient.

Based on the information on the tasks that both these professionals do, it should be obvious now that physician assistants undergo more extensive training than medical assistants. Universities, community colleges, vocational schools and technical schools offer one or two-year medical assistant programs for those who have already obtained their high school diploma. Although certification is not mandatory, many medical assistants choose to become certified because it increases their chances of getting a job. They can obtain the Certified Medical Assistant, Registered Medical Assistant, National Certified Medical Assistant, Certified Clinical Medical Assistant or Certified Medical Administrative Assistant certifications from various organizations that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Physician assistants, on the other hand, need to hold a science-focused associate’s or bachelor’s degree and have some experience in the healthcare field before they can apply to physician assistant education programs. These programs typically take two years to finish for a fulltime student and leads to a master’s degree. Unlike medical assistants who can choose to be certified or not, all physician assistants need to be licensed before they can practice their profession. They need to take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants so they can become “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).” They also need to comply with continuing education requirements and take a recertification exam every ten years starting in 2014 to maintain their certification.

Career Spotlight: Medical Assistant

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