Medical professional in a lab coat

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

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

Medical professional in a lab coat

It can be tough to choose the right career when entering the medical field. Two of the most vital healthcare positions are Medical Assistants (MAs) and Physician Assistants (PAs). While both MAs and PAs fill invaluable roles on a medical team, they have their own unique responsibilities, day-to-day tasks, job outlook, and earning potential.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or PA 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. Physician Assistant: Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

MAs are multi-competent healthcare professionals involved in the administrative and clinical tasks that keep the offices, clinics, and laboratories of physicians running smoothly. Depending on where they work, 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 Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants (PAs) practice medicine on medical teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

In the healthcare industry, Medical Assistants are well known for the dual nature of their job. They complete both administrative and clinical tasks in equal measure. They also assist physicians, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Physician Assistants work on medical teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. Their duties and the extent to which physicians must supervise them vary from state to state.

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Medical Assistant include:

  • Recording patient history as well as personal information
  • Measuring vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Assisting physicians with patient examinations
  • Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physicians and as permitted by state law
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Preparing blood samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into their medical records

Physician Assistant Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Physician Assistant include:

  • Taking or reviewing patients’ medical histories
  • Examining patients
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Diagnosing a patient’s injury or illness
  • Providing treatment, such as setting broken bones or immunizing patients
  • Educating and counseling patients and their families
  • Prescribing medicine
  • Assessing and recording a patient’s progress
  • Researching the latest treatments to ensure the quality of care
  • Conducting outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness

Medical team examining a chart

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants are needed in many healthcare settings. Some examples include physicians’ offices, private healthcare facilities, hospitals, laboratories, health industry providers, independent clinics, and more.

Where Do Physician Assistants Work?

Physician Assistants work in most areas of medicine, such as primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. Their environment largely depends on their specialty. In addition, PAs in rural communities may even act as primary care providers.

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants often enroll in postsecondary education programs. While many areas do not have formal educational requirements for becoming a Medical Assistant, employers typically prefer to hire candidates who have completed these programs and are prepared to enter the workforce.

Educational Requirements for Physician Assistants

Physician Assistants usually need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. It typically takes students at least two years of full-time postgraduate study to earn this degree. All states require Physician Assistants to be licensed. In addition, PA graduate school applicants often obtain experience caring for patients prior to applying.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Not only can you pursue a great career path, but Medical Assisting 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 MA curriculum at Unitek focuses on administrative and clinical tasks. These courses feature 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 Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants often obtain a master’s degree from an accredited program. This degree usually requires two years or more of full-time postgraduate study. In addition, PAs must pass a certification exam to earn their licensure.

Their educational programs typically include classroom and lab instruction in pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. They should also include supervised clinical training in multiple areas, such as family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Some students may even complete clinical rotations under the supervision of a physician who might want to hire a PA. In this sense, the program and rotation can lead to employment.

Medical Assistant vs. Physician 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 was 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 Physician Assistants Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for Physician Assistants is around $55.00, with an annual average salary of about $115,000. However, the top 10 percent of PA salaries reach higher than $162,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Physician Assistants

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

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $ 61.93 $ 128,820
Employment Services $ 57.89 $ 120,400
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $ 56.40 $ 117,320
Offices of Physicians $ 55.34 $ 115,120
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $ 53.43 $ 111,140

Highest Paying States for Physician Assistants

As reported by the BLS, PAs earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $ 72.32 $ 150,430
Connecticut $ 70.24 $ 146,110
Rhode Island $ 65.29 $ 135,800
California $ 64.99 $ 135,180
Nevada $ 64.77 $ 134,710

Highest Paying Cities for Physician Assistants

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

City Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
Salinas, CA $ 80.88 $ 168,220
Waterbury, CT $ 79.44 $ 165,230
Portsmouth, ME $ 75.97 $ 158,020
Yuba City, CA $ 74.92 $ 155,830
Santa Rosa, CA $ 73.87 $ 153,660
San Jose, CA $ 72.84 $ 151,500
Anchorage, AK $ 72.07 $ 149,910
Yakima, WA $ 72.07 $ 149,900
Norwich, CT $ 71.50 $ 148,720
New Haven, CT $ 71.41 $ 148,520

Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the job outlook for Medical Assistants might be one of the brightest in healthcare! Their overall employment is expected to grow 19 percent by 2029 alone!

Physician Assistant Job Outlook

The vital nature and advanced knowledge that’s required for this career path will help create a bright outlook for Physician Assistants. The BLS reports that overall employment for Physician Assistants is expected to grow a whopping 31% by 2029! This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

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

While some Medical Assistants pursue a nursing career path, others may want to take it a step further and become a Physician Assistant. These healthcare professionals are one step closer to physicians and may even act as primary care providers in some clinics. A background as an MA can help boost school applications to pursue this path.

Medical receptionist on the phone

Change Your Future by Earning a Medical Assistant Diploma

If you obtain a Medical Assistant diploma, you can become more experienced and jumpstart your career in healthcare. In addition, for some Medical Assistants, their education can help them pursue other paths in the medical field. While many enjoy careers as MAs, others use their 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.