A medical assistant is someone who works alongside a physician, usually in a doctor's office or clinic. They have both clinical and administrative duties to perform.
An emergency medical technician primarily works in an ambulance responding to emergency medical calls, performing basic emergency medicine, and transporting patients to the hospital. They might also be involved in routine medical transportation.
This guide goes over duties, salaries, education requirements, and key differences and similarities between medical assistants and EMTs to help you decide which is the best career choice for you.
Medical Assistant vs EMT Overview
Though both are medical professions, there are key differences, as well as similarities, between the two.
Both jobs require some medical knowledge and involve giving direct care to patients. The most notable difference is that medical assistants provide care in a controlled, non-emergency environment, while an EMT gives care in an unpredictable environment and often in an emergency.
Medical assistants also typically have more administrative duties than EMTs.
Here’s a quick overview of each:
Medical Assistant Overview
Medical assistants work in the front office and clinical care areas of a doctor's office or clinic. Their responsibilities include:
- Scheduling appointments
- Answering phones
- Giving injections
- Taking vital signs
- Drawing blood
- Cleaning patient rooms
- Stocking supplies
You must have at least a high school diploma or GED in order to become a medical assistant. Most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have completed a training program and passed a certification exam, though it is possible to get a medical assistant job without experience or certification.
Medical assistants generally work normal business hours, whenever most doctors offices are open. They rarely have to work holidays or weekends, and can usually expect to be home for dinner.
A medical assistant will split their time between front office duties like answering phones and clinical tasks like taking vital signs and helping patients prepare for doctors examinations. Some medical assistants get to assist with in-office surgical procedures.
EMTs work in ambulatory health settings and might be present at any event with a large crowd. They are often part of an ambulance or medical transport team. Responsibilities of an EMT include:
- Measuring vital signs
- Driving emergency vehicles
- Providing emergency first aid
- Performing CPR
- Giving some medications
- Helping patients breathe with bags
EMTs work as part of an emergency response team. They usually work alongside a paramedic, who is responsible for performing the more invasive procedures.
EMTs must be a high school graduate or earn their GED before they can start an EMT training program. They must complete a program and earn their certificate before they can begin working as an EMT.
EMTs can work nights, weekends, and holidays. Since people can have emergencies at all times of the day or night, help has to be available for them.
Key Similarities Between Medical Assistants & EMTs
While medical assistants and EMTs are not the same, they do share some similarities:
- Care for patients. Both medical assistants and emergency medical technicians get to care for patients in their work. They both measure vital signs and provide basic care to people in need.
- Similar salaries. The average salaries for MAs and EMTs are within a few hundreds of dollars per year of each other, at $37,190 and $36,930, respectively.
- Education requirements. Both of these are entry-level healthcare jobs that don't have a lot of education requirements. While certification is not required for medical assistants, it is highly recommended. Certification for medical assistants and emergency medical technicians are very similar.
- Bodily fluids. Both jobs require dealing with a certain amount of body fluids. MAs and EMTs are likely to come across blood, urine, and stool on a regular basis.
Key Differences Between Medical Assistants & EMTs
Even though medical assistants and EMTs both provide basic care for patients, a lot of their job responsibilities are quite different:
- Predictability. Medical assistants and EMTs have a very different workflow. Medical assistants see patients on a schedule and have predictable workflow. They can expect to spend 15 to 30 minutes with each patient, and usually know what types of care they will give during the day. EMTs may see 10 patients in a day or only one. They might get calls for anything from a broken bone to a cardiac arrest, and never know what each new hour will bring.
- Job Growth. Both jobs have decent outlook for the future. However, job opportunities for medical assistants are expected to increase much more than job opportunities for EMTs.
- Work Environment. Medical assistants usually work in clinics, offices, and sometimes hospitals. EMTs usually work for an ambulance service or ambulatory care, meaning they will travel around and may provide care outdoors, in people’s homes, or at large sporting events.
Medical Assistant & EMT Salary & Job Growth Comparison
Medical assistants and EMTs earn similar salaries and are generally considered entry-level jobs in the healthcare industry. The average salary for a medical assistant is $37,190 per year or $17.88 per hour. The average salary for an EMT is $36,930 per year or $17.76 per hour.
Of course, salaries can vary based on the city you work in, years of experience, and extra certifications you have.
Job outlook is good for both medical assistants and EMTs. Job opportunities for medical assistants are expected to increase by 16% through 2031, which is much faster than the national average. Job opportunities for EMTs are expected to increase by 7% through 2031, which is not as high, but still faster than the national average.
Medical Assistant vs EMT Salary by State
Education & Certification Requirements for Medical Assistants & EMTs
Both medical assistants and EMTs need some medical knowledge and skills to perform their jobs well. Both require critical thinking skills and an ability to work well as part of a team.
Medical assistants can legally start working as soon as they graduate from high school or earn a GED. However, most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have been certified.
Medical assistant certification courses can be completed through a college, a technical school, or an online program. These programs usually take anywhere from 4 months to 2 years to complete. After course completion, medical assistants must pass an exam to earn their certificate.
For example, Stepful has online medical assistant classes that takes 4 months to complete, costs under $2,000, includes an externship to help you get real-life experience, and leads to a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant certification.
EMTs must complete an EMT certification course before they can start working. You must have a high school diploma or GED before starting your certification course. These courses cover airways, cardiology and resuscitation, EMS transport, emergency medical care, and obstetrics.
Accelerated programs can be completed in as little as 4 months, and degree programs can take 2 years. EMTs must also pass a physical test to make sure they will be able to perform their job.
Comparing a Day in the Life for Medical Assistants & EMTs
A day in the life of a medical assistant and an EMT can look very different from each other.
Medical assistants will usually arrive at their clinic or office to get things opened up for the day, prepare patient rooms, make sure supplies are stocked, and send out appointment reminders. They will then spend their day helping patients with routine appointments, checking vital signs and assisting with bedside procedures. They may spend a lot of time at the computer or answering phone calls.
EMTs may start their shift early in the morning or in the evening to work all night. They usually work for an emergency call service, meaning they never know exactly what will happen during the day. They may go an entire shift without seeing a patient, or they may be rushing from emergency to emergency. They might get calls to help with routine medical transport, or may have to perform CPR multiple times in a shift.
FAQs About a Medical Assistant vs. EMT Career
Do medical assistants or EMTs make more?
Medical assistants earn slightly more than EMTs, on average—$37,190 versus $36,930—but their salaries are very similar. Job location and experience determine pay differences more than the two different roles.
How long does it take to become a medical assistant vs EMT?
Medical assistants can seek employment right after high school graduation. EMTs must complete a certification program before they can legally work. Certificate programs for either career can be completed in as little as 4 months.
Is it harder to become a medical assistant or EMT?
Since medical assisting does not require certification, it is a little bit harder to become an EMT than a medical assistant. EMTs must also pass a basic physical assessment before they can be hired for the job.
What can an EMT do that an MA can’t?
EMTs and MAs have a very similar scope of practice. For the most part, both are allowed to perform basic medical tasks like taking vital signs and can record an EKG with special training. In addition, EMTs who are specially trained can administer some emergency medications, and can monitor non-medicated intravenous fluids, if the IV line is placed by a paramedic.
Is a medical assistant or EMT higher up?
Medical assistants and EMTs have similar roles, and neither is higher up than the other. They are both entry-level healthcare jobs that can progress to more advanced healthcare careers like nurses and paramedics.
Can an EMT work as a medical assistant?
Since there are typically few education requirements for medical assistants, EMTs can often work as medical assistants. To get started, EMTs can either look for a medical assistant job that doesn't require certification or one with on-the-job training. Alternatively, EMTs can take a medical assistant training program and get certified before working as a medical assistant.
Can a medical assistant act as an EMT?
Medical assistants cannot act as EMTs, since becoming an EMT requires special certification and a physical test.
Can a medical assistant become an EMT?
Medical assistants can become EMTs if they attend an EMT training course and pass a certification exam.
Is it easier for a medical assistant to become an EMT or paramedic?
If you want to become a paramedic, it is better to start out as an EMT. EMTs usually work alongside paramedics responding to emergency calls and assisting the paramedic with their responsibilities.
Other Healthcare Career Comparisons
Here are some other career comparisons we've written that may help you decide which is best for you:
- Medical Assistant vs. Nurse
- Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse
- Medical Assistant vs. Pharmacy Technician
- Medical Assistant vs. Phlebotomist
- Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Medical Administrative Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant
- Medical Assisting vs. Medical Coding & Billing
- Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician
- Medical Assistant vs. Medical Lab Technician
- Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant vs. Registered Medical Assistant
- Alternatives to a Medical Assistant Career
- Healthcare Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree