Difference Between Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant

Difference Between Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant

The healthcare system has similar job titles, such as medical assistant (MA) and physician assistant (PA). This can create confusion for many.

Although both these titles have the word “assistant” in them, there are several stark differences and similarities between them.

We have created this article to help clear your confusion and show you the difference between the two.

Here, we will see the difference in scope of practice, education, training, salaries and job prospects.

Scope of Practice – Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

Medical assistants and physician assistants deliver direct patient care. However, they do so in different forms.

For Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants (MAs) are responsible for performing entry-level or mid-level patient care, such as recording patients’ vital statistics, reviewing patients’ medications and allergies, creating and reviewing patients’ medical history and scheduling appointments with the doctor.

MAs must handle clinical and administrative duties that make the doctor’s work easier.

Most of their responsibilities include preparing the patient to see the doctor, allotting rooms to patients, taking vital signs and collecting laboratory specimens for pathology.

In many states, the MAs are also responsible for administrating medication and injections, depending on their training.

For Physician Assistants

Physician Assistants (PAs) are responsible for work similar to trained doctors. PAs work to diagnose patients, perform diagnostic examinations and order additional tests and treatments.

PAs provide various physician-level services but under the supervision of the physician. PAs often work independently and consult doctors when required.

This often includes conducting examinations, creating treatment plans and even reviewing diagnostic test results to prescribe medications.

PAs are increasingly being used to fill the significant gaps in medical infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved communities.

However, the responsibilities of a PA may vary from state to state and also depend on the level of training received.

Education and Training – Medical Assistant vs Physician Assistant

Significant differences come to light when you check the types of education and training that medical assistants and physician assistants need to acquire.

Both require being at least high-school graduates, with additional qualifications to become certified PAs.

For Medical Assistants

Medical assistants are required to train comparatively less than PAs. Most US states do not have a fixed formal education requirement, but employers usually hire assistants trained under an accredited program.

Such programs usually last for shorter periods. Although many states do not expect medical assistants to have certification, employers usually expect it.

If you are pursuing certification, you should graduate from an accredited medical assistant program and undergo the certification exam to complete the requirements.

For Physician Assistants

Physician assistants must complete a physician assistant education for up to six years. Every state requires a physician assistant with a master’s degree for an accredited PA program, with licensure.

Most entry-level PA programs require aspirants to have a bachelor’s degree, have been trained under a practicing physician assistant, and have a certain number of paid patient care hours.

Some of the best ways to accumulate the relevant experience required to become a certified physician assistant are to work as a medical assistant, patient-care aide, EMT or certified nursing assistant before applying.

Here is where you can enroll for EMT Certification

Job Prospects & Salary – Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

For Medical Assistants

The median annual salary for medical assistants is around $34,800, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

The report expects medical assistant employment to rise by at least 19% – around 139,200 new MAs – by 2029.

This is a highly prospective growth and is higher than most employment expectations.

The main reason for this growth is physicians increasingly rely on medical assistants for patients’ electronic health records (EHRs).

For Physician Assistants

On the other hand, the extensive education and training required to become a physician assistant pay off handsomely in the end.

According to a 2019 BLS report, the median annual salary for physician assistants is around $112,260. The report expects the physician assistant employment rate to increase by about 31% – around 39,300 new Pas – by 2029.

Increasing demand by medical professionals and growing healthcare needs are the reasons for the boost in demand for physician assistants in the US.


Both occupations are essential for the healthcare system despite varying capacities and departments.

While physician assistants are required to study more extensively in comparison, they also have higher earning potential and greater work responsibilities.

On the other hand, the way to becoming a medical assistant is significantly shorter, but it can still be an excellent way to gain entry into the lucrative healthcare industry.

See Also

Average Pay for Doctors

Physician Organizations in the USA

Medical Apps for Doctors

Apps for Medical Diagnosis

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