Some allied health professionals who earn a medical assistant (MA) degree stay in this field throughout their careers. Others see this position as a stepping stone to another allied health role: physician assistant (PA). While the names may sound alike, these health professions are different in many ways. They have different education requirements, job duties and salaries.
What Are Medical Assistants?
Medical assistants handle entry-level administrative duties such as updating medical records and scheduling laboratory tests. They perform routine clinical tasks like recording medical histories and vital signs. Most of these allied health professionals work directly with patients in primary care settings.
What Are Physician Assistants?
Physician assistants practice medicine under a doctor’s supervision. Their everyday duties include medical diagnosis and treatment. They often serve as chief health care providers in rural or urban clinics.
In addition to their job descriptions and duties, there are other key differences between the MA and PA professions. Medical assistants usually start their careers with a certificate or an associate’s degree. Certificate programs take about a year to complete, while associate’s degrees are generally two-year programs.
Physician assistants usually earn a master’s degree that includes two years of classroom study and clinical rotation. A four-year bachelor’s degree is another option. Most of these allied health professionals have combined degrees that include an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Certification and Licensing
While medical assistants can find work without certification, their employment opportunities improve when they are certified by the state. To become certified, they must complete an accredited medical assistant training program and pass an examination.
Physician assistants must be licensed by a state board. They must also pass a national certifying exam after graduating from an accredited physician assistant training program.
Salaries and Job Growth
Salaries differ greatly for medical assistants and physician assistants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), $29,370 is the median annual salary for medical assistants in the United States. Physician assistants earn a higher median salary of $90,930.
Jobs in both fields are growing much faster than average for most other employment. Medical assistants can expect a 29 percent increase in employment opportunities through 2022. The projected job growth for physician assistants is 38 percent. A team approach to health care and an aging population are the main reasons for this job growth.
Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant
Since medical assistants and physician assistants are such different professions, why would health professionals use one position to jump-start the other? Skills and experience are the answers. Allied health workers are needed in all medical settings, and MA to PA programs are a good way to earn them.
Because medical assistants develop skills that other health workers lack, they are often the backbone of the medical field. Medical assistant jobs enable workers to polish their people skills and hone their bedside manners. This can be very beneficial to future physician assistants.