Careers in Medicine: Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

When entering the medical field, choosing a career and a role can be a daunting task. With all the options available, it can be difficult to narrow down your search and determine the best choice. One of the biggest confusion points is understanding the difference between a medical assistant and a physician assistant. What do these terms mean, and what do they entail? In this guide, we’ll break down the key differences between the role of a medical assistant and a physician assistant and explore whether one designation is more desirable than the other.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant, also referred to as a clinical assistant, provides administrative and clinical support for a medical practice. That’s right; this role has a dual nature. You’ll be tasked with helping doctors and medical professionals carry out day-to-day tasks while also helping patients with administrative tasks. 

A medical assistant’s responsibilities can vary depending on the setting, but there are some basic tasks that many medical assistants are responsible for.

Medical assistant duties include:

  • Taking medical histories from patients
  • Performing basic tests (blood pressure, temperature, pulse, etc.)
  • Assisting in the administration of medication
  • Cleaning, sterilizing, and processing lab specimens
  • Taking x-rays, CT scans, and other diagnostic images
  • Performing EKGs and sonograms
  • Collecting payments from patients
  • Keeping files
  • Ordering materials for procedures such as prescriptions, lab tests, x-rays, and imaging
  • Answering phones

As a medical assistant, you’ll be an invaluable member of the team, helping physicians, nurse-practitioners, and physician assistants in treating patients and maintaining medical records.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

A physician assistant is basically a healthcare professional who is licensed to work in a variety of clinical settings with physicians. Physician assistants provide medical treatment to patients under the supervision of a physician, who is responsible for the ultimate decision-making for the patient. 

Physician assistant responsibilities include:

  • Providing preventive and primary care
  • Diagnosing health problems
  • Recommending treatment plans
  • Providing medical management and consultation
  • Conducting physical exams
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Providing immunizations

The duties and powers of a physician assistant are regulated by the state in which they are practicing. The laws governing physician assistants vary by state, so it’s important to research the laws in your state to determine what your role is.

What’s the Difference Between the Two Roles?

The two roles are similar in that they both provide medical care to patients, but there are a few key differences. First, medical assistants are permitted to administer medications in some states, while physician assistants can administer medication in all states. This can be a crucial factor in choosing one role over another, especially if you’d like to work in an area such as pharmacy administration.

The second difference between these roles is the level of education and training. A medical assistant will have completed some clinical training but will generally not have the same level of education that a physician assistant has. This may determine whether you’re able to sit for state licensing exams and work independently in the role.

Finally, the amount of supervision required between the two roles is different. A physician assistant requires more direct supervision than a medical assistant due to the nature of their training and the fact that they can prescribe medication.

Final Thoughts – Is One Role Better Than the Other?

Both roles are vital to the success of a medical office. While both roles are in high demand and provide rewarding careers, the choice of which role to pursue ultimately boils down to your personal preferences and needs. 

If you’re looking to train as a medical assistant, then Northwest Suburban College is a smart choice for you. Northwest Suburban College gives you the opportunity to enroll in career-focused health sciences programs that will teach you the job skills needed to succeed in the field. Become a medical assistant today by enrolling at Northwest Suburban College.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

I Want Answers!