The Different Worlds of Physician Assistants and M
By BrownCollege

To be a physician assistant or a medical assistant – that is the question

However, before someone can accurately answer, he or she needs to understand the difference between the two closely related positions. To make things a little clearer, we will examine the specific duties performed by professionals in these two fields.

The Role of Physician Assistants

Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.* Their specific duties are determined by their supervising physician and by state law. However, some duties PAs can perform on a regular basis are:

- Providing diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative healthcare
- Taking medical histories, examining and treating patients, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and x-rays, and making diagnoses
- Treating minor injuries
- Prescribing certain medications
- Counseling patients and promoting wellness

Physician assistants work as important members of a healthcare team. Many work in primary care specialties such as pediatrics, family medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery and surgery subspecialties, internal medicine, occupational medicine, orthopedics and geriatrics. PAs need to have an excellent bed-side manner, be able to react quickly in emergencies, and have a strong desire to serve each patient to the best of their ability.

To become a physician assistant you must complete an accredited PA program, become certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), and get state-licensed.

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners running smoothly.* Their duties vary greatly from office to office, depending on size, location, and the practitioner's specialty.

Medical assistants can be administrative, clinical or specialized. There are some basic duties they perform no matter what, but outside of that their responsibilities can be quite different.

Administrative Medical assistants:

Update patients' medical records and keep accurate files, arrange for hospital visits and laboratory services, handle insurance information, and perform administrative duties that keep the office running efficiently.

Administrative Medical assistants:

Take medical histories, record vital signs, prepare patients for examinations and explain treatment procedures, perform basic laboratory tests, sterilize medical instruments, and engage in administrative duties aimed at keeping the clinic clean and stocked with supplies.
Specialized medical assistants work for ophthalmologists, optometrists, podiatrists, and others, and their duties vary depending on the needs of each practice.

No matter what office a medical assistant works for, he or she is ultimately the face of the practice. Medical assistants schedule patient appointments, greet patients as they walk in the door, and ensure that they understand the doctor's recommendations. In addition, medical assistants work behind the scenes to keep the office itself running smoothly.

Both medical assistants and Physician assistants perform important duties that are essential in any medical practice. No matter which path you choose, you can rest assured that you are entering a field in which you will truly make a difference.

This article is presented by Brown College. Contact us today if you're interested in developing marketable knowledge and career-relevant skills with one of our industry-current degree programs.

Brown College does not guarantee employment or salary. All trademarks are property of their respective owners.

*Definitions for physician assistant and medical assistant were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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Submitted: 01/19/11

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