A medical assistant performs a variety of clerical and clinical procedures under the direction of a physician. These include greeting the patient, taking vitals, updating the patient’s records, sterilizing equipment, advising the patient about medications, and performing basic laboratory testing. The education leads to either an associate degree or a medical assistant certificate followed by a Registered Medical Assistant Exam.
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Medical assistant careers will involve less responsibility than that of a nurse, but salaries are similar at least to those of an LPN. A medical assistant will make an average of $30,000. Due to the numerous relatively mundane tasks that must be performed in a health care facility today—most of which do not require a doctor or nurse—medical assistant jobs are expected to continue to multiply for several years. Consequently many schools have added such training to their available programs.
How to Become a Physician Assistant
A medical assistant is not the same as a Physician Assistant. Physician Assistant programs are also available online, but the training is usually a graduate program available to those who already have a college degree and some experience. A physician assistant is actually licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of the primary physician. The PA can diagnose conditions and prescribe medication. They can take medical histories, conduct laboratory tests and treat many conditions. Often, the only thing a PA cannot do is perform surgery independent of the physician although they can treat minor injuries, and they can assist with surgery under the supervision of the primary care doctor.
The salary for a PA is nearly double that of a medical assistant; the average PA makes about $70,000 a year. The PA may be the only doctor regularly in attendance at a rural office; the primary doctor might be present only one or two days a week. The PA will therefore confer with the doctor on a daily or weekly basis as required by law in that state. In fact, the PA often works more hours than the actual doctor.
For all practical purposes, a PA is just as qualified as the doctor, but the training does not take quite as long. Many PA’s already have experience as nurses, paramedics, or clinical technicians and will therefore have already completed all medical courses for those positions. The PA student will also study family medicine, internal medicine, pharmacology, prenatal care, emergency care, geriatrics, and pediatrics. They must then pass a National Certifying Exam and take 100 hours of continuing education every two years. Every 6 years, they must retake the exam.