Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician: What You Need to Know

*Author's Note: This article was originally published on May 31, 2013. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2015.

Do you want to work with patients in a medical facility, assisting doctors and taking care of others? Are you concerned that this job description only fits a nurse? It doesn’t!

Helping to heal the sick and injured isn’t a job that’s limited to nurses and doctors. In fact, there are several careers in which you can work closely with patients and be a role model for others, including physical therapy assistant, home health aide and surgical technologist. For now, let’s focus on two of these growing medical careers: medical assistant (MA) versus patient care technician (PCT).

MAs are the jacks-of-all-trades in a medical office; they handle both the front desk and the exam room. An MA job is ideal if you’re interested in having administrative duties while also assisting doctors. PCTs, on the other hand, are skilled at working closely with patients, in conjunction with nurses. A PCT job would be perfect for someone who wants to focus solely on patient care. Both professionals play a valuable role in the medical world.

We’ve broken down the essential information about each career so you can make informed decisions about your career choices. We’ve also included a question in each section that you can ask yourself to find out which career best suits you!

MA vs. PCT: Education requirements

So you’re committed to making a change in your life but you’re wondering about the education requirement. Don’t worry, it’s natural.

For example, if you don’t want to spend seven or eight years in school then you likely wouldn’t want to be a physician. Likewise if you wanted to be a physician assistant, you wouldn’t stop at an Associate’s degree. Let’s see how the MA and PCT careers stack up, education-wise.

Ask yourself: What level of education do I want to achieve – a certificate, an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree?

MA: While you don’t need a college degree to become an MA, that education will help you become certified, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An MA certification could help you stand out when you’re searching for a job, and you’ll be able to jump into your career with confidence and less on-the-job training.

PCT: Most PCTs need to earn a certificate, according to the BLS. A PCT certificate can be earned in as little as nine months. Some courses you can expect to take as part of your certificate program include: medical terminology, medical law and ethics, phlebotomy and introduction to electrocardiograms.

After earning a certificate you’re eligible to take the Patient Care Technician Certification exam.

MA vs. PCT: Job duties and location

If you don’t like the daily duties you have to perform as part of your job, what are the chances you’ll enjoy it? Probably not much. That’s why it’s important to know the little details before you make your decision.

It’s also important to consider where your skills will be put to use. You might wonder where you’ll be able to work and whether or not your hours will be flexible. Let’s find out.

Ask yourself: Do I want a variety of administrative job duties, or do I want to focus more on patient care? Is having a consistent work schedule important, or can I work some nights and weekends?

MA: Mas often work closely with patients. It starts when you check-in the patient and ends when you help them schedule their next appointment. In between, you may lead them to the exam room, register vital signs and take medical history. After they’ve been seen by the physician, you might explain medications or draw blood for testing. Check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s comprehensive job description for a full list of MA duties.

Location and hours depend on where you decide to work. If you work at a medical clinic as opposed to a hospital, you’ll generally have regular 9-5 hours, which can be a big plus to those with commitments outside the workplace.

PCT: PCTs don’t have as many behind-the-scenes duties as MAs. They focus on patients, under the supervision of nursing staff.

As a PCT, your job duties depend on patient needs. On any given day you may change a patient’s bandages, collect bodily fluids for testing, document patient behaviors and assist them at mealtimes. PCTS are also tasked with preparing fresh linens for the patient, sanitizing their room and discussing their symptoms with a nurse, according to O*Net.

Many PCTs work in nursing homes or hospitals. Because those locations operate around the clock, chances are good that you’ll have to work nights and weekends.

MA vs. PCT: Skills

If that last section has you worried because you can’t perform the duties listed – it’s OK. That’s what education and training are for. That’s where you’ll learn the skills you need to be successful in your career.

Interested in exactly what those skills are? An analysis of 11,660 MA and 2,772 PCT online job listings* identified the top eight skills employers are looking for from job candidates in each profession.

Ask yourself: What kinds of skills do I already have that I could build on, and what new skills do I want to develop?

Medical assistant vs. patient care technician: Skills you need

It’s clear that the skill set required for each job is quite different, as it should be, given the job differences. These skills give you a hint of what the job’s like and what employers deem essential for you to know when taking on the job.

MA vs. PCT: Salary and job outlook

Why do you want a job in healthcare? You likely want to make a difference in the lives of others and be a good role model for your family. Those are noble goals. At the same time, money and job security have to be considered if you want to continue to support your family.

Ask yourself: What kind of salary am I looking for, and what kind of job security do I hope to have?

MA: The average salary of an MA in 2014 was $29,960. The number of MA jobs across the country is expected to grow 29 percent through 2022, which is faster than average. The BLS attributes the growth to an aging population that will put more demand on doctors, who in turn will need more assistants. Another big factor for the growth of MA jobs, according to the BLS? MAs will likely start to replace workers like nurses, who are more expensive to employ.

PCT: In contrast, PCTs had an average salary of $25,100 in 2014, and the number of jobs are expected to grow 21 percent through 2022. Like MAs, PCT job growth is attributed to an aging population who will have more healthcare needs as they grow older, the BLS says.

PCT jobs aren’t expected to grow as MA jobs because places like nursing homes are funded by the government and thus the number of jobs depends on the funds available, according to the BLS.

MA vs. PCT: Bottom line

So, now you’ve seen the differences of these two direct-care healthcare careers. You know that both will give you the chance to work with patients hands-on in a hospital or other medical facility. But you can’t have both of these careers!

Ask yourself: Am I ready to take the next step and earn a certificate or degree so I can begin my career? If the answer is “yes,” the School of Health Sciences has all the information you need.

If you’re still struggling with your choice, maybe checking out other options would help with your decision. Our “Healthcare Career Outlook” eBook provides helpful information on a variety of healthcare careers.


*Source: (analysis of the MA and PCT job postings, 1/27/2011-4/26/2013)

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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