What is a Physician Assistant?
Medical assistants and physician’s assistants both perform job duties vital to keeping a physician’s office running smooth and efficiently. Both careers involve working under the supervision of a physician. That however is where the similarities stop and the differences between these two careers begin. Although both careers contain “assistant” in their title, these two jobs are very different. Medical assistants (MA) are often responsible for both clinical and administrative job duties. Physician assistants (PA) are primarily responsible for patient care. In order to decide which career path is best suited, an individual must first understand the differences between the two.
Medical Assisting Careers
Medical assistants are often the “face” of a physician’s practice. They are the first person a patient’s sees and interacts with upon their arrival to the office. They greet the patients, have patients fill out necessary paperwork and collects co-pay fees and payments for services rendered. MA also perform a variety of job duties that include administrative and clinical responsibilities. Clinical job duties for medical assistants include taking a patient’s medical history, recording vital signs, preparing patients for diagnostic testing and procedures, explaining treatments and performing non-invasive medical care. Administrative duties include keeping updated patient records, maintaining the patient schedule, dealing with insurance companies and claims, answering phones, filing, and medical billing. The duties and responsibilities assigned to a medical assistant helps the physician’s office stay organized and allows it to run effectively.
Training is necessary for an individual to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a career in medical assisting. Although highly recommended, medical assistants at this time are not required to go through formal training prior to working as a MA. Medical assistant training programs are available through schools across the U.S and on-line. Medical assistant training programs vary in length. Accredited training programs give individuals the knowledge, skills and experience they need to work as a MA. The successful completion of an accredited MA training program provides the individual with certification and offers the chance to challenge the licensing exam to become licensed either nationally or through their state. On-the-job training for MA is also available through some employers. This type of training offered through employers may only provide the knowledge and skills needed to perform the job duties assigned by the employer.
Salaries earned by medical assistants are typically based on their job duties and responsibilities. On average a medical assistant earns $25,000-$35,000 per year. Those who have completed a formal training program and have become licensed earn higher wages than those who go through on-the-job training through their employer. Medical assistants who go through the training required to specialize in areas such as optometry, ophthalmology or podiatry often earn salaries at the higher end of the pay scale range.
Physician Assisting Careers
Physician’s assistants perform job duties which focus on patient care and treatment. They provide patients with a variety of services including preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic health care. PA perform patient assessments which include examining the patient and gathering patient information such as their medical history, current medications and allergies list. They order and interpret diagnostic testing such as laboratory testing, x-rays and MRIs. A physician’s assistant will use the information they gathered through the patient examination and diagnostic testing to diagnose illness and injury. PA are also responsible for providing the appropriate treatments based upon a patient’s diagnoses and condition. They prescribe medications, recommend therapies and perform direct patient care.
The successful completion of an accredited physician’s assistant training program and licensing is required for an individual to work as a physician’s assistant. PA training programs are available through a variety of four-year colleges, medical schools, schools of allied health and at some community colleges. On occasion training may be obtained through military service or through a hospital training program. In many cases, a college degree is required to enter a PA training program. Physician’s assistant training programs offer either a bachelors or associate degree. Some programs, such as those done through the military or hospital, offer a certificate of completion in lieu of a formal degree. Many training programs have affiliations with medical schools in which clinical teachings may take place. Clinical teachings provide PA students with hands-on experience caring for patients and working directly with other health care providers.
A physician’s assistant earns on average almost $100,000 per year. The salary earned by a physician’s assistant may be based upon work setting, the number of patients seen and the responsibilities of the PA. Typically PA employed to work in hospitals and outpatient care centers earn the highest wages. A physician’s assistant working for a specialized practice often earns a higher salary as well. Those working in education have lower earnings than those hired to work directly with patients.