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Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant: What’s the Difference?

Posted Monday, Apr 19, 2021 by Altierus

Looking to train for a new career that can make a difference in your community? Healthcare is the place to be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare sector is projected to add 2.4 million new jobs over the 2019-2029 period—more than any other industry.[1]

If you’re researching healthcare career paths, you may have noticed that some of the job titles can sound similar. For example, one question we often hear is: what is the difference between a medical assistant and a physician assistant? These two occupations may seem like they would share many similarities based on their names, but the truth is that physician assistants and medical assistants are different.  

What Is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical practitioner who works under the supervision of a physician or other doctor. They can take medical histories, examine patients, order tests, prescribe some medications and provide advice or counseling to patients about how to manage health conditions.

How Does Someone Become a Physician Assistant?

Becoming a physician assistant takes several years. First, prospective PAs must hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and be able to demonstrate patient care experience—for example, experience as a registered nurse, volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT), or in another area. Next, PAs must complete a master’s-level training program and take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to become a Physician Assistant – Certified (PA-C). Usually, PA master’s degree programs require full-time study for at least two years.

Finally, PAs must obtain a license to practice in their state. This involves entering into an agreement with a supervising physician. PAs must also renew their licenses every few years, which involves completing continuing education and other requirements.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants provide administrative and basic clinical support in physician’s offices, clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other healthcare settings. Their duties can include:

  • Scheduling patient appointments and follow-up appointments
  • Reviewing patient records
  • Collecting patients’ medical history
  • Taking patients’ height, weight and blood pressure
  • Updating patient charts
  • Answering phone calls, checking voice messages and returning calls
  • Collecting blood or other lab samples
  • Performing basic wound care

How Does Someone Become a Medical Assistant?

You can become a medical assistant in less than a year. At Altierus Career College, we offer a 10-month diploma program that teaches a foundation of health science knowledge plus customer service, office administration and clinical skills. Courses cover anatomy and the major body systems, medical terminology, essential medical coding skills and much more.

Our program is offered in a blended format, which means you take essential coursework online and spend one day on campus per week for lab classes. We also provide a laptop as part of your tuition costs to ensure you can access your online classes. This approach can make training for a new career more manageable.

States do not require medical assistants to be licensed. However, after completing your diploma program, you have the option to pursue industry certification. This offers employers another signal of how qualified you are to work as a medical assistant, because you have shown you’re capable of passing a nationwide exam in addition to completing training at Altierus. There are two major certification programs for medical assistants: The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification. We will help you prepare for one of these certification exams as part of your program.

Job and Salary Info for Medical Assistants

As demand for medical care continues to rise, so will demand for medical assistants. The BLS projects 19% growth in medical assistant job openings over the 2019-2029 period—an addition of up to 139,200 new jobs nationwide.[2]

When it comes to salary, the median annual income for medical assistants in the U.S. was $34,800 as of May 2019. The lowest 10% of medical assistants earned less than $25,820, and the highest 10% of medical assistants earned more than $48,720.[3] The majority of medical assistants (57%) worked for physicians’ offices in 2019.[4]

Get Started on the Path to a New Career

We hope this article has helped clear up any confusion around the difference between physician assistants and medical assistants. If you’re interested in training to become a medical assistant, we’re here to help. Get more info about our medical assistant diploma program today!

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Main Keyword: medical assistant vs. physician assistant

Title: Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant: What’s the Difference?

Description: Learn the difference between a medical assistant and a physician assistant in this article. We cover training, salary info and more!


[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm

[2] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-6. Local job markets may vary.

[3] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-5. Local job markets may vary.

[4] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-3

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