Do you want to work in a medical facility assisting doctors and taking care of others? Are you concerned this job description only fits a nurse? Well it doesn’t!
You’ll be happy to hear that helping heal the sick and injured isn’t strictly limited to doctors and nurses. In fact, there are several healthcare careers that allow you to work closely with patients and make a difference. Let’s take a closer look at two of these commonly confused careers: medical assistant versus patient care technician.
We examined the essential information about each position so you can make an informed decision about which suits you best. So pay close attention to this side-by-side comparison of these in-demand healthcare careers.
MA vs. PCT: Job duties
A medical assistant (MA) is like a jack-of-all-trades in a medical office. They’re trained in both clinical and administrative work, with responsibilities in both the exam room and the front office.
FACT: Medical assisting jobs are projected to increase 29% through 2022.
The clinical side of medical assisting involves recording vital signs, compiling patients’ medical histories and administering medications under the direction of a supervising physician. Administrative duties include greeting patients, scheduling appointments and assisting patients in completing insurance forms.
A patient care technician (PCT) is mainly focused on working closely with patients, in conjunction with nurses. PCTs, sometimes referred to as nursing assistants, help perform basic care for patients, such as assisting them in using the restroom, serving meals or changing bedding. They may also monitor vital signs and provide emotional support to patients and families.
Both professionals play a vital role in the healthcare system, but the range and degree of responsibilities will determine the level of training and education needed for each position.
MA vs. PCT: Skills needed
We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 106,000 MA and PCT job postings from the past 12 months.* The data helped us identify the top eight skills employers are seeking from candidates in each position. Here’s what we found:
It’s clear that the skill set required for each job is quite different, as it should be, given the job differences. But don’t be intimidated by these lists of abilities. These are precisely the skills you’ll acquire during your education and training.
MA vs. PCT: Education requirements
The medical field hosts a variety of careers featuring a whole spectrum of educational requirements. The good news is the qualification for both MAs and PCTs require a fairly minimal time commitment compared to other healthcare careers.
While MAs aren’t required to earn a college degree, most graduate from some type of postsecondary program, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A typical medical assisting diploma program can be completed in as few as 12 months.
To become a PCT, you’ll need to have a high school diploma and complete a training program, according to the BLS. After completing a training program, or acquiring equivalent work experience, you can become a certified patient care technician/assistant (CPCT/A) by passing an exam. Once employed, you’ll likely be required to undergo some sort of on-the-job training as well.
MA vs. PCT: A day in the life
As an MA, your duties begin when you check a patient in and end when you help him or her schedule their next appointment. In between, you may lead them to the exam room, register vital signs and record medical history. After they’ve been seen by the nurse or physician, you may be responsible for explaining medications or drawing blood for testing.
FACT: Patient care tech jobs are projected to increase 22% through 2022.
Location and hours depend on where you choose to work. The BLS reports that a majority of MAs work in physicians’ offices, meaning they generally have regular, 9-5 work hours. This can be a big advantage if you have commitments outside the workplace.
PCTs don’t have as many behind-the-scenes duties as MAs. Your primary focus would be on your patients, under the supervision of nursing staff. Your duties would largely depend on patient needs. You may have to change a patient’s bandages, collect bodily fluids for testing, document patient behaviors and assist them during mealtimes. You’ll also need to ensure hospital rooms are up to standard, with fresh linens, supplies and sanitation.
Most PCTs are employed in nursing homes or hospitals, according to the BLS. Because those locations operate around the clock, chances are good that you’ll have to work nights and weekends. The nature of these facilities will also provide you more of an opportunity to develop meaningful, long-lasting relationships with your patients.
MA vs. PCT: Salary and job outlook
The median annual medical assistant salary in 2014 was $29,960, according to the BLS. It’s also expected that positions for medical assistants will increase 29 percent through 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
The BLS attributes the growth to an aging population that will put more demand on doctors, who in turn will need more assistants. It’s also projected that MAs will begin to replace workers like licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who are more expensive to employ.
In contrast, PCTs earned an average salary of $25,100 in 2014, and the number of jobs are expected to grow 21 percent through 2022. Like MAs, this faster-than-average job growth is attributed to an aging population who will inevitably 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: The bottom line
The comparisons provided above should give you a better understanding of a medical assistant versus patient care technician. Both positions will allow you to work directly with patients while playing an important role in the healthcare system.
If you’re curious about other healthcare career options that don’t require an extensive amount of training and education, check out this article: The Ultimate List of Healthcare Jobs You Can Launch in Two Years or Less.
*Source: BurningGlass.com (analysis of 105,915 MA and PCT job postings, Aug. 01, 2014 – Jul. 31, 2015)
** Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on May 2013. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2015.
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