Entering the field of healthcare can be lucrative. A career as a medical assistant or as a medical lab technician is promising and can be ideal for entering the healthcare field.

In this guide, we dive deep into these careers, discussing the major similarities, roles & responsibilities, and salaries.

Ultimately, if you’re confused about the two careers, this guide will help you decide which career you should go for.

A medical assistant is an allied health worker who provides support services to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Their roles and responsibilities include both clinical and administrative tasks.

A medical lab technician is a healthcare professional who works in a medical laboratory and conducts various tests such as sputum, blood, and urine.

Their work revolves around specialized lab equipment, ensuring the proper functioning and maintenance of all the machinery.

Also see: Medical Assistant Career Path

Read more on: 12 Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical Assistant Overview

Medical assistants mostly work directly with patients and act as liaisons between patients and physicians. Their day-to-day duties involve clinical and administrative tasks, such as recording patients’ vital signs, answering calls, and scheduling appointments.

The biggest advantage of becoming a medical assistant is that it does not require any degree, and only a minimum of a high school diploma or a GED is needed, although employers encourage them to get certified.

Also see: Medical Assistant Degree vs Certificate

Some of the main roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant include:

  • Assisting patients with billing and insurance claims
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Preparing examination rooms both before and after each patient visit
  • Maintaining office supplies
  • Assisting with basic wound care
  • Assisting physicians with sample collection
  • Removing sutures
  • Recording vital signs of patients

Now you might think about how to become a medical assistant. The first step is to complete your high school diploma or a GED. Then, you must enroll in a medical assistant program and sit for your certification exams.

There are online and on-campus medical assistant programs. Although it is highly recommended that you opt for an online training program owing to its many advantages, such as faster course completion, affordability, and learning at your own pace and schedule.

It is also recommended that you choose an accredited training program, as they also help you prepare for your certification exams.

See also: Medical Assistant Programs Cost

The most commonly accepted certifications across the country are the CCMA certification, offered by the NHA, and the CMA certification, offered by the AAMA.

Also read: Medical Assistant Certificate Requirements

Medical assistants usually work in physician’s offices, outpatient care clinics, hospitals, long-term care centers, and almost every healthcare facility. They are also known to be the backbone of the healthcare industry.

A typical work schedule of a medical assistant includes working weekdays during business hours, between 8 AM to 6 PM.

Some are required to work evening and night shifts, depending on the type of healthcare setting. For more information, you can read: where can medical assistants work?

Medical Lab Technician Overview

Medical Lab Technicians mostly perform diagnostic tests on patient samples such as blood, urine, and sputum. They do not usually work directly with patients, and their day-to-day tasks are quite different from that of a medical assistant.

Let’s look at some of their key roles and responsibilities:

  • Analyzing the samples collected to examine for any irregularities
  • Testing patients ’ blood to determine their blood type and antibodies and keeping the blood sample safe from transfusion
  • Informing the physicians in case of any abnormalities found during the analysis of samples
  • Counting the number of cells or the type of cells found within a sample using a microscope
  • Data entry; that is, entering the data and sample analysis results into a patient’s electronic health record

Medical lab technicians generally work in medical laboratories within clinics, hospitals, research centers, or independent laboratories.

These medical professionals are usually needed around the clock, and hence they may have to work night and evening shifts and sometimes even on weekends.

Also see: Can Medical Assistants Draw Blood?

Difference Between Medical Lab Technicians & Medical Assistants: At A Glance

Here are a few major differences between medical lab technicians and medical assistants.

See more: Accelerated Medical Assistant Program

Major Similarities Between Medical Assistants & Medical Lab Technicians

Despite the differences, medical assistants and medical lab technicians are considered critical parts of the healthcare team.

There are some similarities between the two careers, such as:

  • Adhering to HIPPA guidelines
    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects patients’ personal information. Since medical lab technicians and medical assistants have to deal with patients’ private health information, both professions require strict adherence to the guidelines.
  • Prime careers
    Both of these careers ultimately provide patient care and are considered to be the backbone of the healthcare industry.
  • Exposure to body fluids
    Medical assistants and medical lab technicians have to deal with a lot of body fluids, such as blood, urine, and sputum collection, for analysis. Hence special care and attention should be given to prevent themselves and other patients from getting infected.

Also read: Is Medical Assistant a Good Career?

Major Differences Between Medical Assistants & Medical Lab Technicians

Even though the ultimate aim and goal of both careers is the same, that is, providing quality patient care, there are some striking differences between the two, such as:

  • Amount of patient interaction
    Medical assistants act as a bridge between physicians and patients, and hence they are directly involved with patients most of the time. In comparison, medical lab technicians rarely work directly with patients, and they spend most of their time in laboratories analyzing the collected samples.
  • Educational Requirement
    This is a key difference between the two careers. While medical assistants do not need a degree, medical lab technicians are required to have at least an associate’s degree. The minimum medical assistant educational requirement is just to complete their high school diploma or a GED. Although, most employers prefer certified clinical medical assistants who have undergone a training program.

Also see: Is Medical Assistant Degree Required?

  • Salary
    The average annual salary for medical assistants is $38,190, and the salary for medical lab technicians is $57,800. This implies that medical lab technicians earn almost 50 percent more than medical assistants.

Also see: Certified Medical Assistant Salary

Job Outlook for Medical Assistants vs. Medical Lab Technicians

If you are interested in pursuing one of these two rewarding careers, you should also consider the job outlook for both while deciding which career to pick.

Even though medical lab technicians earn significantly more than medical assistants, their expected job outlook is only 7 percent by the year 2031.

On the other hand, the medical assistant job outlook is positive, with a growth of 16 percent by the year 2031.
This means more jobs will be available for medical assistants.

Also see: Medical Assistant Job Duties

Education & Certification Requirements (Medical Lab Technicians vs. Medical Assistants)

The minimum requirement for a medical lab technician is to have an associate’s degree from a technical university. Since medical lab technicians have to work with samples and special lab equipment, employers sometimes also require certifications and degrees.

Comparatively, becoming a medical assistant is fairly easy, and the only minimum requirement is to complete your high school diploma or a GED. However, as we stated earlier, completing a training program and getting certified as a medical assistant before applying for jobs is recommended.

See more: Certified Medical Assistant 

A lot of people who are interested in this career wonder, how long does it take to become a medical assistant? Well, with an online program, it can take less than 6 months.

See more on: Medical Assistant On-the-Job Training

A Day in the Life Of A Medical Lab Technician vs. Medical Assistant

Medical assistants and medical lab technicians have varied work schedules, even though their goal is the same, which is to aid in providing patient care.

Medical assistants help in the smooth functioning of the office or clinic. Their day-to-day schedule usually involves preparing and maintaining the clinic for patients, scheduling appointments,

escorting and helping patients with examinations, recording vital signs, and assisting the physician with bedside procedures.

Medical assistants typically work during the weekdays during normal business hours, that is, between 8 AM and 6 PM. Depending on the work setting, they can also work part-time or during evening shifts.

Medical Lab Technicians are centered around medical laboratories, and their work schedules are varied. Their shifts can range from mornings to evenings and late nights.

Medical lab technicians are responsible for the smooth functioning of the laboratories. Their work revolves around analyzing different types of samples and preventing any contamination while working with the samples.

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