If you’re thinking about pursuing a medical profession, you may be considering becoming a medical assistant or patient care technician .
A medical assistant is someone who usually works alongside a physician in a doctor's office or clinic. They are generally responsible for administrative responsibilities, keeping supplies organized, and basic clinical tasks.
A patient care technician works directly with patients, usually in patients’ homes or in an assisted living center. Patient care technicians don’t usually have any medical training, but help improve quality of life by helping with basic care tasks and household responsibilities.
This guide goes over everything you need to know about medical assistants and patient care technicians to help you decide which is right for you, including salary, education requirements, responsibilities, and more.
Medical Assistant vs Patient Care Technician Overview
As the names imply, medical assistants and patient care technicians are both medical professions. There are key differences between the two, however, that may make one a better fit for you. Both jobs require compassion, critical thinking, and a desire to help others.
Medical assistants focus on both the medical care of patients and administrative tasks. They often are responsible for checking vital signs, giving certain injections, scheduling appointments, billing insurance, and more.
Patient care technicians help with the day-to-day, basic care of patients, making sure their hygiene, nutrition, and social needs are met.
Medical Assistant Overview
Medical assistants typically work in doctors offices and clinics. Their work includes both clinical tasks, like taking vital signs and removing stitches, and administrative tasks, like sending billing reminders and scheduling appointments.
Medical assistants skills and responsibilities include:
- Keeping the office organized
- Drawing blood
- Taking vital signs
- Assisting with bedside procedures
- Simple wound dressings
- Collecting urine samples
- Preparing rooms for patients
- Coordinating with insurance companies
- Sending billing reminders
- Scheduling appointments
To become a medical assistant, you must be a high school graduate or have earned your GED. Medical assistant certification or a degree are recommended, but typically not required.
To earn a certification, you can take a medical assistant certification course online, attend an in-person program, or go for your associate degree in medical assisting. After completing all of your coursework, you’ll be eligible to take a certification exam.
Medical assistants typically work full-time and most often work during normal business hours. Medical assistants may work five 8-hour shifts, four 10-hour shift, or three 12-hour shifts, depending on the facility. They generally work in a fast-paced environment and spend a lot of time on their feet.
>> Learn More About Stepful’s 4-Month Online Medical Assistant Program
Patient Care Technician Overview
Patient care technicians (PCTs) focus more on activities of daily living than on providing medical care to patients. They often work for home health agencies, hospitals, or assisted living facilities. Certified PCTs can perform basic medical tasks.
Patient care technician responsibilities include:
- Assist with personal hygiene
- Light cleaning
- Simple errands
- Cooking meals
- Performing basic first aid
- Provide transportation
- Assist with daily tasks
- Reporting safety concerns
- Providing companionship
With special training, PCTs can also:
- Place IV catheters
- Place Foley catheters
- Draw blood
You can become a patient care technician with a high school diploma or GED and some on-the-job training. Some healthcare facilities and home health agencies require you to pass a competency exam before you will be allowed to begin working.
Patient care technicians often work three 12-hour shifts and might alternate between working day shift and night shift. Many patient care technicians also work weekend and holiday shifts. Some home health personal care assistants can work with each individual client to have some flexibility in their scheduling.
Patient care technicians often have to do a lot of physical labor like lifting patients and carrying objects. They are usually kept very busy and spend much of their downtime socializing with and giving emotional support to their clients.
Key Similarities Between Medical Assistants & Patient Care Technicians
Medical assistants and patient care technicians have several similarities. As entry-level healthcare careers, they require some similar skills and responsibilities, including:
- Caring for patients. Both careers require you to be patient and compassionate. MAs and PCTs spend their days helping others in need.
- Dealing with body fluids. Medical assistants and patient care technicians may have to deal with blood, urine, and stool.
- Physical jobs. As with most healthcare careers, both jobs are fast-paced and require you to spend a lot of time on your feet.
- Good entry into advanced medical careers. Both medical assistants and patient care technicians often go on to more advanced healthcare careers like nursing or earning a doctorate degree.
- Great job outlook. Both jobs are in high demand, with great job security for the future and companies hiring in every part of the country.
Key Differences Between Medical Assistants & Patient Care Technicians
Although they are similar in some ways, medical assistants and patient care technicians day-to-day responsibilities are quite different. Some key differences include:
- Schedule. Medical assistants usually keep regular business hours and patient care technicians often have to work night shifts, weekends, and holidays.
- Work Environment. Medical assistants generally work in offices and clinics and help patients with medical problems as well as things like scheduling appointments. Patient care technicians usually work in home health or assisted living centers and help people with regular activities of daily living.
- Pay. Medical assistants earn about $7,000 more per year than patient care technicians.
- Training. While career neither typically requires certification, medical assistants often earn their certification and many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants.
Medical Assistant & Patient Care Technician Salary & Job Growth Comparison
Both jobs are fast growing careers with plenty of employment opportunities all over the United States.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, patient care technicians earn between about $29,430 per year. Patient care technicians have great job security and job opportunities are expected to increase by 25% by 2031.
Patient care technicians often go on to earn a certified nursing assistant certification or go to school to become registered nurses.
Medical assistants earn $37,190 per year, on average. They can earn more by becoming certified or choosing a specialty like pediatrics or obstetrics-gynecology.
The job outlook for medical assistants is great, with jobs projected to increase 16% over the next decade.
Medical assistants often return to school to become registered nurses or physicians assistants.
Education & Certification Requirements for Medical Assistants & Patient Care Technicians
Both patient care technicians and medical assistants must earn their high school diploma or GED before they will be allowed to work. After that, they will both need some on-the-job training at a minimum.
Patient care technicians often have to pass a competency test at the end of their on the job training. This test covers basic patient safety questions and is especially important for home health aides.
On-the-job training for medical assistants is common, but many choose to attend a training program to become certified. Certification programs usually take between 4 months to 2 years to complete.
Here at Stepful, we have a 4-month online medical assistant training program that includes an in-person externship, 100% job placement guarantee, and leads to your Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Certification.
Comparing a Day in the Life for Medical Assistants & Patient Care Technicians
Patient care technicians spend their days helping patients meet their basic needs.
If they work a day shift, this will include getting their clients out of bed and dressed for the day, cooking breakfast, running errands, and taking care of basic cleaning around the living space. A night shift patient care technician might prepare dinner, get bedclothes on, brush teeth, and help clients get into bed.
Patient care technicians might visit several different homes in a day or spend their entire shift at one assisted living center. They may leave to drive clients to appointments or run simple errands.
Medical assistants will usually start their morning by preparing the office for patients to arrive. They will send appointment reminders and get patients checked in for the day. They will spend most of their day taking vital signs, helping with bedside procedures, collecting blood samples, and answering phones.
Offices generally open around 7am and close sometime around 7pm. Medical assistants may work 8, 10, or 12-hour shifts.
FAQs About Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician Careers
Do medical assistants or patient care technicians make more?
Medical assistants earn about $7,000 more per year than patient care technicians.
How long does it take to become a medical assistant vs patient care technician ?
You can become a medical assistant or a patient care technician with a high school diploma or GED. However, if you choose to become a certified medical assistant, you will have to complete a program and pass a certification exam. Programs can be completed in as little as 6 weeks but accelerated medical assistant programs aren’t always the best option for everyone.
Is it harder to become a medical assistant or patient care technician ?
Since most employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants, it can be harder to become a medical assistant.
What can a patient care technician do that a medical assistant can’t?
Patient care technicians may get special training on driving patients around from place to place and can enter patients homes. If they receive special training, patient care technicians can draw blood, place urinary catheters, and measure vital signs. Sometimes, medical assistants can’t do these things depending on their training and where they are working.
Is a medical assistant or patient care technician higher up?
Medical assistants and patient care technicians are both considered entry-level healthcare careers. Neither is “higher up” than the other, and they have similar scope of practice within the healthcare system.
Can a medical assistant act as a patient care technician?
A medical assistant would need some training to become a patient care technician, but would not need any more special certifications than what they already have.
Can a medical assistant become a patient care technician and vice-versa?
Yes, a medical assistant can become a patient care technician and a patient care technician could become a medical assistant. They would each need to complete some on-the-job training by their new employers.
>> Learn More About Stepful’s 4-Month Online Medical Assistant Program
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 Assisting vs. Medical Coding & Billing
- Medical Assistant vs. EMT
- Medical Assistant vs. Medical Lab Technician
- Medical Assistant vs. Medical Administrative Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant vs. Registered Medical Assistant
- Alternatives to a Medical Assistant Career
- Highest-Paying Healthcare Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree