If you’re thinking about pursuing a medical profession, you may be considering becoming a medical assistant or medical administrative assistant. There is a lot of overlap between the two jobs, but there are also important differences to keep in mind.
A medical assistant is someone who works with a physician helping them with both clinical and administrative tasks. They will often spend their day split between office duties and clinical work. In larger facilities, they may focus only on the clinical tasks.
A medical office assistant or medical administrative assistant is someone who focuses on only the administrative and office tasks in a doctors office. A medical administrative assistant helps keep an office or clinic organized. They help patients schedule appointments, keep supplies in stock, and take care of patient billing issues and answering phone calls.
This guide goes over key differences between medical assistants and medical administrative assistants to help you decide which is better for you.
Medical Assistant vs. Medical Administrative Assistant Overview
Although they are very similar, there are some key differences between medical assistants and medical administrative assistants. The biggest differences are in the daily tasks that each job requires.
Medical administrative assistants will not perform clinical tasks, but may need to have a more thorough understanding of computer systems, insurance, and finance.
Here’s a quick overview of each:
Medical Assistant Overview
Medical assistants work in a variety of healthcare settings. They primarily perform clinical duties under the supervision of a physician. They get to spend their time doing both office work and clinical work.
Medical assistant skills and responsibilities include:
- Measuring vital signs
- Drawing blood
- Administering some medications
- Removing stitches
- Answering phone calls
- Scheduling appointments
- Preparing rooms for patients
- Assisting with bedside procedures
- Performing simple dressing changes
You can become a medical assistant right after high school graduation or after obtaining your GED. However, most physicians prefer to work with certified medical assistants. To become certified, you must complete an accredited program and pass a certification exam.
Most medical assistants work in family practice offices. However, there are also jobs available in specialty clinics, outpatient centers, long-term care centers, and hospitals. Most medical assistants will not start before 6 AM or have to stay past 6 PM. However, some working in emergency or urgent care clinics will have to work nights, holidays, and weekends.
>> Learn more: Medical Assistant Scope of Practice
Medical Administrative Assistant Overview
A medical administrative assistant can also work in a variety of healthcare settings. These types of medical assistants will be primarily responsible for front office tasks, rather than patient care.
Medical administrative assistant responsibilities:
- Scheduling appointments
- Organizing paperwork
- Coordinating with insurance
- Ordering supplies
- Keeping inventory stocked
- Sending appointment reminders
- Handling billing and payments
Becoming a medical administrative assistant requires the same things as a regular medical assistant. There are no higher education requirements, but certification is preferred. In addition, you are more likely to be successful if you have taken medical terminology and billing and coding courses.
A medical administrative assistant will spend more time sitting and working at a computer than a regular medical assistant. They often work in doctors offices, clinics, and outpatient centers. Medical administrative assistants frequently become office managers if they are able to perform well in their role.
Key Similarities Between Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
All types of medical assistants share some similarities. All need to have a basic medical knowledge and an ability to communicate and cooperate with the rest of the healthcare team.
Here are some similarities:
- Pay. Pay for both types of medical assistants is similar. Both average between $35,000 to $37,000 per year.
- Job Locations. Medical assistants and medical administrative assistants both frequently work in clinics, offices, and outpatient centers.
- Education requirements. Becoming any type of medical assistant is possible with only a high school diploma or GED. The certification requirements are the same, regardless of the type of medical assisting work you choose to do.
- Some tasks. While the focus is different, medical assistants can be responsible for all of the same administrative tasks as a medical administrative assistant.
- Communication skills. Since you will be working with patients and physicians, good communication is essential for any type of medical assisting and both need to understand common medical assistant terminology.
Key Differences Between Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
While the two jobs have similar schedules and educational requirements, the average day between the two can actually look quite different.
- Clinical work. A medical administrative assistant will not be expected to perform clinical tasks like taking vital signs or drawing blood.
- Physical labor. A medical assistant can expect to spend most of the day on his or her feet, caring for patients and taking things from room to room. A medical administrative assistant will spend most of their day sitting at a desk and working on a computer.
- Certifications. While it is not required, there are several different options for medical assistant certifications. You can choose to get a specific certification in administrative or clinical medical assisting.
- Career progression. Many medical assistants go on to become registered nurses. Medical administrative assistants are more likely to become office managers.
Medical Assistant & Medical Administrative Assistants Salary & Job Growth Comparison
Medical assistants and medical administrative assistants have very similar salaries. However job growth for medical assistants is slightly higher than for medical administrative assistants.
- $37,190 annually
- 18% expected job growth through 2030
- Medical assistants often progress to become an RN
- Can become a medical assisting instructor
Medical administrative assistant:
- $37,000 annually
- 11% job growth by 2030
- Often progress to become office managers
Necessary Skills for Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
Some basic skills like communication and empathy are required for both types of medical assistance. However, since each has a different focus, there are some differences in the skills required for each.
Medical assistants may be responsible for:
- Measuring vital signs
- Providing basic wound care
- Drawing blood
- Administering medication
- Having good fine motor skills for assisting with procedures
- Having empathy for patients
Medical Administrative Assistants need to have:
- Organizational skills
- Strong insurance knowledge
- Good computer skills
- Knowledge of billing and coding
- Good customer service
How to Choose Among Being a Medical Assistant, Clinical Medical Assistant, & Administrative Assistant
When looking for a medical assisting job, here are some things you should consider:
- Prior experience. If you have experience with insurance or medical coding, you would have an easy transition into medical administrative assisting. If you have experience as a CNA or phlebotomist, you would have an easier time making the switch to medical assisting.
- Task preferences. Hopefully, you are able to choose a job that you will enjoy. If you enjoy organization and solving scheduling problems, you might enjoy administrative assisting. If working directly with patients and helping with bedside procedures sounds more exciting, medical assisting will be good for you.
- Comfort with body fluids/needles. Clinical medical assistants will have to deal with needles, blood, and other body fluids. If this makes you uncomfortable, medical administrative assisting might be a better fit.
- Future goals. If your future goals include nursing or medical school, clinical tasks will be a better experience. If you prefer office work and management, being an administrative assistant is a better choice.
- Physical labor abilities. Medical assistants tend to spend a lot more time doing physical labor than medical administrative assistants. If staying on your feet for most of the day sounds like it would be too challenging, try administrative assisting.
Education & Certification Requirements for Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
Education and certification requirements are the same for medical assistants and medical administrative assistants. Both require only a GED or high school diploma to get started. While there is on-the-job training available for medical assistants, certification is highly recommended for both.
If you choose to become certified, you will need to attend an accredited program. This can be done through a college, certificate program, or online. Certification courses can take anywhere from four months to two years to complete.
Medical administrative assistants can choose to take the CMAA exam, which is catered towards medical administrative assistants.
Medical assistants will probably choose a CMA or RMA exam that covers both administrative and clinical responsibilities. You can also choose to take the CCMA exam which is more focused on clinical responsibilities.
Comparing a Day in the Life for Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
Medical assistants and medical administrative assistants spend their days a little bit differently.
Medical assistants will spend their days caring for the physical needs of the patients. They will be hands-on during most of the day with the patient and will probably spend a lot of time right at the physician's side.
Medical administrative assistants spend the majority of their time at the front desk, greeting patients, answering phone calls, and working through paperwork.
>> Learn More: Typical Work Hours & Schedule of Medical Assistants
Job Growth & Progression for Medical Assistants & Medical Administrative Assistants
Medical assistants often go on to become registered nurses. The clinical experience gained through medical assisting builds a solid foundation for nursing school. From there, many choose to continue on and become a nurse practitioner or a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Some medical assistants choose to attend medical school after getting some experience working with a physician. They may go on to become a physician assistant or medical doctor.
Medical administrative assistants tend to transition into office management or leadership roles within a clinic. They may eventually move up the ladder to become office managers or even manage the other medical assistants, creating their schedules and interviewing newly hired staff.
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. Certified Nursing Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse
- Medical Assistant vs. Phlebotomist
- Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant vs. Registered Medical Assistant
- Alternatives to a Medical Assistant Career