Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician Differences

Students who wish to pursue a career in the medical field but don’t want to attend the years of schooling required to become a doctor or even a nurse have a surprising number of options today, including: Certified nurse’s assistant, physical therapy assistant, radiology assistant and medical assistant. Another career option is patient care technician, or PCT. But what is the difference between a medical assistant and a patient care technician?

It’s important to not confuse either of these jobs with being a certified nurse’s assistant or physician’s aide, although there are similarities, they are different jobs. Again, the medical field is varied and offers a great many jobs for those who are willing to attend vocational programs.

Patient Care Technician Job Description

A patient care technician (PCT) is generally found in the following settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient medical clinics and private practices. He or she will spend the majority of time performing clinical duties related to patient care. The PCT may take a patients vitals, administer medications, perform phlebotomy duties, collect urine samples and other preliminary medical duties.

The patient care technician often works in hospitals, sub-acute care facilities and nursing and rehabilitation facilities providing care for patients. The PCT is often responsible for feeding and bathing patients, and ensuring they are comfortable. He or she may also assist patients with certain aspects of their physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises, and ensure they take medications and monitor vital signs.

Medical Assistant Job Description

The medical assistant is most often found in outpatient clinics and private doctor’s offices. Medical assistants are often found at the front desk, greeting patients, performing intakes and taking patients back to the exam rooms to wait for their doctor or nurse. The medical assistant will perform basic clinical duties such as taking vital signs and collecting urine samples. However, a majority of the medical assistant’s time will be spent on administrative duties such as answering phones, making appointments, making follow-up and appointment calls, performing data entry skills and ensuring that both the exam rooms and office are stocked and clean.

As you can see, both positions involve patient care, but the physician’s assistant position involves a lot more hands-on patient care. The medical assistant position is more of an administrative position.

Education Requirements for MA vs PCT

Both of these careers require a specialized education and a certificate that states you have completed the necessary educational requirements. Most people receive these certificates from schools that have vocational programs. Both medical assistant programs and PCT programs have similar timeframes, and you can generally get a certificate within one year. You may wish to complete an associates degree in medical assisting or as a patient care technician, however, a certificate program from a vocational school will generally suffice.

One of the benefits of both of these positions is that it allows you to work within the medical field without extensive schooling. Most people are able to complete vocational courses in their spare time. Some people who choose either of these positions will choose to go on to nursing school or another position in the medical field, such as physical therapy or radiology.

Is There A Difference In Pay Between These Jobs?

Pay can vary widely among medical assistants and patient care technicians, depending on where you live and what type of setting you work in. Generally, both the patient care technician and the medical assistant make similar salaries, usually in the range of about $15 to $20 per hour. Again, this can vary. The patient care technician working in a dialysis clinic will often make quite a bit more than a patient care technician in a nursing facility.

Medical assistant salaries tend to vary depending on location. For example, a medical assistant working in San Francisco is going to make more money than a medical assistant working in a rural area of the country.

So Which Career Is Right For You?

Much of the decision lies in how you want to spend your days. For those who enjoy a fast-paced office environment that includes some clinical care, the medical assistant job is ideal. There is a mix of duties and as a medical assistant, you’ll tend to wear many hats. It’s a varied working environment and you will be quite busy throughout your shift.

As a medical assistant, you’ll generally work office hours. You won’t find yourself working odd or overnight shifts. This is often seen as a huge benefit.

The patient care technician is more involved in direct patient care. Because you could be working in either a hospital, nursing home or doctor’s office, the job can vary a great deal depending on what type of setting you are working in. The PCT in a nursing home will find a great deal of physical, hands-on work, whereas the patient care technician in an outpatient clinic will have a lighter day. Hours worked will also be dependent upon your setting. If you work in a hospital or nursing home, you could easily end up working overnight or swing shifts. For those who are seeking regular, daytime hours, working in a clinic is probably your best bet.

Both the field of medical assisting and patient care technician are rewarding, decent-paying positions that are easily accessible. If you are seeking a career that is fast-paced, challenging and allows you to help others, both can provide that. For most people, the decision comes down to what type of work you prefer. If you dislike administrative duties, or if it is more important to you to have lots of interaction with patients, then becoming a patient care technician is probably your preferred route.

For those who prefer a more varied position with an emphasis on administrative work, but in a patient care setting, medical assisting is probably right for you.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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