Woman using exercise bands

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Woman using exercise bands

There are so many great careers options available to those who are looking to work within the medical field. Two of the most vital supporting healthcare roles are Medical Assistants (MAs) and Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs). Although MAs and PTAs both fill irreplaceable roles on a medical team, they each have their own unique responsibilities, day-to-day responsibilities, job outlook, and earning potential.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or PTA but need more information regarding these careers, continue reading to learn about the key differences between these vital roles.

Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants are multi-competent healthcare professionals involved in administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices, clinics, and laboratories of physicians running smoothly. For example, depending on the state, some Medical Assistants may telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, collect and prepare laboratory specimens, sterilize medical instruments, and prep patients for X-rays. They may even take electrocardiograms and remove sutures or change dressings.

What Is a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Physician Therapist Assistants work under the direction of physical therapists. They are involved in the direct care of patients and aid those who are recovering from injury or illness. Their goal is to help patients regain movement and manage pain.

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistants often measure vital signs, help physicians during exams, and prep laboratory samples for tests. They also schedule appointments and enter patient information into medical records. Honestly, MAs fill a very versatile role.

What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

Physical Therapist Assistants provide direct support to the physical therapist. They will oftentimes help patients perform exercises prescribed by the physical therapist. Like Medical Assistants, PTAs offer support and keep medical facilities running smoothly.

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a Medical Assistant may include:

  • Measuring vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Assisting physicians during examinations
  • Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physicians
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Preparing blood samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into medical records

Physical Therapist Assistant Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a Physical Therapist Assistant may include:

  • Observing patients before, during, and after therapy, noting the patient’s status and reporting it to a physical therapist
  • Helping patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care
  • Treating patients using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching
  • Using devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients
  • Educating patients and family members about what to do after treatment

Patient exercising on a ball

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants can find employment in a number of healthcare settings. Some examples include physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of chiropractors, private healthcare facilities, laboratories, independent clinics, and more.

Where Do Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

The majority of Physical Therapist Assistants find work in offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists. They may also find work with audiologists, who treat hearing or balance issues. In addition, they can also be employed by hospitals, nursing care facilities, home healthcare services, doctors’ offices, and more.

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

While many employers do not have formal educational requirements for becoming a Medical Assistant, aspiring MAs often enroll in postsecondary education programs to hone in their skills and increase their chances of being hired. Employers usually prefer to hire candidates who have completed these programs and are formally prepared to enter the field.

Educational Requirements for Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical Therapist Assistants are usually required to earn an associates degree from an accredited program as well earn their license or certification. These associates degree programs typically last about two years and include coursework in subjects like anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

If you’re looking to enter the field as quickly as possible, then you might want to consider Medical Assisting. These programs typically allow you to do so in a year or less. At Unitek College, you can even complete a Medical Assisting program in as little as 9 months.

The Unitek MA curriculum emphasizes both administrative and clinical tasks. These courses include dynamic instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and more.

As you plan for your educational needs, remember to consider each school’s admissions requirements, program curriculums, financial costs, and course lengths.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Physical Therapist Assistants need an associate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. This degree usually requires two years or more of full-time postgraduate study. PTA curriculum consists of classes in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. PTAs also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work.

In addition, Physical Therapist Assistants must have a license or certification. This means that graduates from an accredited program need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for PTAs. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is around $17.00, with an annual average salary of about $36,000. However, MAs who earn salaries in the top 10 percent can make more than $51,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $20.35 $42,330
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $18.37 $38,200
Offices of Physicians $17.59 $36,580
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $15.97 $33,210
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly $14.84 $30,870

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
District of Columbia $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

The BLS has reported that Medical Assistants earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

How Much Do Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for a Physical Therapist Assistant is around $30.00, with an annual average salary of about $60,000. However, Physical Therapist Assistants in the top 10 percent can earn more than $82,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Physical Therapist Assistants

Recently, the BLS reported that these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for PTAs:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Home Health Care Services $ 32.15 $ 66,860
Nursing Care Facilities $ 32.03 $ 66,620
Continuing Care Retirement Communities $ 31.73 $ 66,000
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $ 27.59 $ 57,380
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $ 27.55 $ 57,300

Highest Paying States for Physical Therapist Assistants

According to the BLS, PTAs earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $ 33.93 $ 70,570
Connecticut $ 33.62 $ 69,940
Texas $ 33.61 $ 69,900
New Jersey $ 33.32 $ 69,310
Rhode Island $ 32.36 $ 67,300

Highest Paying Cities for Physical Therapist Assistants

The BLS reports that PTAs earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
Houston, TX $ 39.19 $ 81,510
Sacramento, CA $ 37.68 $ 78,370
Visalia, CA $ 37.62 $ 78,240
Los Angeles, CA $ 36.54 $ 76,010
Salinas, CA $ 36.42 $ 75,760
McAllen, TX $ 36.32 $ 75,540
Santa Rosa, CA $ 36.04 $ 74,960
Hartford, CT $ 36.03 $ 74,950
Laredo, TX $ 35.39 $ 73,610
San Jose, CA $ 35.36 $ 73,540

Medical Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

According to the BLS, Medical Assisting has a stellar job outlook. Their overall employment is expected to grow 19 percent by 2029! Some of this growth can be attributed to the aging baby-boomer population, who will continue to need preventive medical services.

Physical Therapist Assistant Job Outlook

Due to the growing and aging population, the job outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants is excellent. The BLS reports that overall employment for Physical Therapist Assistants is expected to grow 33% by 2029, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations.

Physical Therapist Assistant helping a patient walk

Why Is a Physical Therapist Assistant a Great Alternative Career Path for Medical Assistants?

If you enjoy the physical aspect of being a Medical Assistant, then a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant could be a great choice for you. Build on your MA knowledge while entering a PTA program and earn an associates degree. On the job, you’ll get to alleviate pain and help others.

Advance Your Career by Earning a Medical Assistant Diploma

With a Medical Assistant diploma, you can gain experience and start your career in an excellent field. Some Medical Assistants even use their education to help them pursue other paths in healthcare. While many enjoy careers as MAs, others use this experience to advance their careers.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Medical Assistant diploma in as little as 9 months at Unitek College.

Click here to learn more about our Medical Assistant program.