If you’re interested in stepping foot into the healthcare industry, you might be confused about which career path to choose from. The best and easiest entry points into this industry include patient care technicians and medical assistants.
But which of them is the best?
Read on to find out more about each of these career paths, including their roles and responsibilities, salaries, requirements, and more.
A medical assistant is a healthcare worker that provides support services to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Their responsibilities include both clinical and administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments or taking the vitals of a patient.
So, what is a Patient Care Technician?
A patient care technician generally works directly with a patient, and their tasks include measuring and updating the patient’s vital signs.
These healthcare workers typically do not need to undertake any medical training, but they do help the patients with improving their quality of life by helping with household chores and basic care duties.
Read more: How To Become a Medical Assistant
Medical Assistant: Overview
Medical assistants typically handle both administrative and clinical duties, and they typically work in healthcare settings such as clinics or physicians’ offices.
The main roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant are:
- Recording and updating patients’ vital signs
- Assisting physicians with bedside procedures
- Basic wound care
- Collecting samples for analysis, such as blood or urine
- Prepping examination rooms before each patient visit
- Scheduling appointments
- Assisting patients with billing and insurance
- Maintaining organization across the office
If you wish to become a medical assistant, you will be glad to know that pursuing this career does not require a degree. The minimum medical assistant educational requirements to begin the process is to complete your high school diploma or a GED.
After that, you can opt to go for a medical assistant program.
If you want to become a certified medical assistant, you will need to go for medical assistant training.
This can be completed via three main methods, getting an associate’s degree from a technical university, getting a diploma from a community college, or opting for an online training course.
Also see: Is Medical Assistant Degree Required?
After completing your training program, you will need to clear certification exams.
The work schedule and timings of a typical medical assistant are normal business hours, that is, from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
However, medical assistants may also work four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts, which is highly dependent on the type of work setting.
Also read: Medical Assistant Hours
Patient Care Technician: Overview
As mentioned earlier, patient care techs tend to focus more on the day-to-day basic care delivery for patients. Their work settings typically include hospitals, home health agencies, and assisted living facilities. Certain PCTs are certified to deliver basic medical tasks.
The main duties of a patient care tech are:
- Performing basic first aid
- Assisting patients with daily tasks
- Helping with personal hygiene
- Cooking meals
- Providing transportation
- Reporting any safety concerns
- Assisting with cleaning
PCTs may also undergo additional training and be able to perform additional tasks such as:
- Placing IV catheters
- Placing Foley catheters
Similar to a medical assistant, you can become a patient care technician by just completing your high school diploma or a GED and then going for on-the-job training.
Even though not necessary, there are some healthcare facilities that might require you to pass a competency exam before you can start working as a PCT.
Patient care technicians generally tend to work three 12-hour shifts, which might alternate between day and night shifts and even on holidays or weekends.
Medical Assistants vs. Patient Care Technicians
Now that you know the basics of what a medical assistant and a patient care technician do, you might be wondering what exactly sets these two careers apart.
Even though they seem similar and have some similarities, such as both jobs needing critical thinkers and compassionate people, there are some key differences between the two.
Let us look at the differences more specifically-
Major Differences Between Medical Assistants and Patient Care Technicians
Even though medical assistants and patient care technicians sound similar, there are some striking differences between these two careers that set them apart.
Let us take a look at the key differences:
Medical assistants tend to earn $7,000 more than patient care technicians, on average, every year.
- Work Environment-
Patient care technicians generally work in assisted living centers or home health, wherein they assist patients with daily activities. Medical assistants usually work in clinics and physician’s offices, assisting patients with illnesses or scheduling appointments.
Even though none of these careers require certifications, medical assistants are usually required to get certified since many employers prefer candidates with certifications.
While patient care technicians often have irregular working hours, such as morning or night shifts, weekdays or weekends, or even holiday shifts, Medical assistants tend to have more regular work schedules, and they generally work on weekdays, from 9 am to 6 pm.
Major Similarities Between Medical Assistants and Patient Care Technicians
Apart from the key differences between the two professions, there are also some similarities between the two.
Both medical assistants and patient care technicians are entry-level healthcare careers, and they often require similar skills, such as:
- Physical stamina-
Like most healthcare careers, both these professions are fast-paced and require you to be on your feet for long hours.
- Entry-points into core healthcare-
Medical assistants and PCTs are both great entry points into the core healthcare industry, wherein candidates can evolve their careers into a physician or nurses.
- Handle body fluids-
Both medical assistants and PCTS have to collect and handle samples such as blood, urine, or stool.
- Patient care-
Since both these professions involve caring for patients, you will need to have both patience and compassion.
- Great job outlook-
Both of these careers are in high demand, with great job growth and good job security expected in the coming years.
Read more on: Medical Assistant Skills
Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Tech: Salary & Job Growth
As mentioned before, both these professions are considered to be fast-growing, with a high employment level seen across the country.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the national average salary for patient care technicians is $29,430 annually. The BLS also reported that the expected job growth for PCTs was going to increase by 25% by the year 2031.
PCTs can also advance their careers further by undertaking a certified nursing assistant certification or attending a school to become registered nurses.
Also read: Is Medical Assistant School Hard?
On the other hand, the BLS reported that the national average annual salary for medical assistants is $37,190 annually.
However, most medical assistants tend to earn more than the national average by becoming certified and opting for specialized careers such as obstetrics-gynecology or podiatrist.
The BLS also reported a positive job outlook for medical assistants, with their job growth expected to increase by 16% by the year 2031. Also, medical assistants also have the opportunity to evolve their careers further by attending schools to become registered nurses or physician assistants.
Also see: Certified Medical Assistant Salary
Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants and Patient Care Techs
The minimum requirement for both medical assistants and patient care technicians is to complete their high school diplomas or GEDs. Once you complete that, you have to go for either training programs or on-the-job training to be able to work.
Generally, PCTs need to clear a competency exam after the completion of their on-the-job training. The competency test covers the basics of patient care, such as patient safety questions.
Medical assistants are required to enroll in certification programs. These certification programs take about 4 months to 2 years to complete, depending on which one you choose.
Read more on: Which medical assistant certification is the best?
A Day in the Life of Medical Assistants vs. Patient Care Techs
Medical assistants usually work normal business hours, and their days often begin with arriving early at the clinic and prepping the clinic for patients to arrive.
This includes answering phone calls, sending appointment reminders and follow-ups, and checking in with patients.
Their day is usually spent measuring vital signs, assisting physicians with bedside procedures, answering phones, and collecting blood samples.
Patient care techs have irregular working hours, and they spend most of their day assisting patients with basic needs.
A typical day shift in the life of PCTS includes helping patients in and out of bed, cooking meals, basic cleaning around the room or house, and running errands for them.
A night shift PCT might help with cooking dinner and basic care such as brushing teeth, putting on night clothes, and assisting patients in getting into beds.
Also see: Medical Assistant On-the-Job Training
Who earns more, PCTs or MAs?
Medical assistants generally earn around $7000 more than patient care technicians annually.
Which career is harder to start?
Even though not necessary, most employers tend to prefer medical assistants with certifications. Hence it might be harder to become a medical assistant.
How long does it take to become a patient care tech vs. a medical assistant?
The minimum requirement for both careers is to obtain a high school diploma or a GED. However, you may want to become certified as a medical assistant. In that case, you will need to undergo medical assistant training programs and then sit for the certification exams, which may take from 6 months to 2 years.
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