So, you're thinking about a career in the medical field. But where do you start?
There are so many different healthcare jobs available, and it can be tough to figure out which one is right for you.
If you're looking for a rewarding healthcare career that involves working directly with patients, then you might want to consider becoming a medical assistant or a phlebotomist.
A medical assistant is a trained medical professional who is responsible for administrative tasks and provides direct patient care in various settings, including physician's offices and urgent care clinics. You'll also play an essential role in patient education to help ensure that patients receive the best possible care.
Phlebotomists are medical professionals who specialize in drawing blood and collecting other laboratory samples. Phlebotomists usually work in hospitals or clinics but may also work in outpatient labs or blood donor centers. Phlebotomists must understand the collection, transportation, and storage requirements for many types of lab specimens.
Both of these careers offer the opportunity to interact with patients and to play a crucial role in providing care. This guide will explore the similarities and differences between medical assistants and phlebotomists so you can decide which position is right for you.
Medical Assistant vs Phlebotomist Overview
Medical assistants and phlebotomists are both vital members of a healthcare team. Though they share some similarities, there are also crucial differences between these two medical professions.
Here's a quick overview of medical assistant and phlebotomist careers:
Medical Assistant Overview
Medical assistants play an essential role in their clinic or facility operations. Medical assistants are responsible for numerous tasks, including:
- Taking patient's vitals
- Recording medical history
- Preparing patients for examination
- Helping the physician during exams
- Assisting the physician with minor surgical procedures
- Collecting and processing lab specimens
- Scheduling appointments
- Handling billing, coding, and insurance claims
To become a medical assistant, you'll need to earn a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED). After that, you typically need to complete an accredited medical assisting program (such as the 4-month online MA training program from Stepful) or have one year of supervised work experience—though there are sometimes medical assistant jobs available without experience or certification.
Some states or healthcare facilities may require you to pass a certification exam from the AAMA, AMT, or NHA before working.
Medical assistants work in different settings, including doctor's offices, clinics, and outpatient centers. They typically work during regular daytime business hours, but some may be required to work weekends or evenings.
A day in the life of a medical assistant can vary depending on where they work and what type of medical assistant they are, and responsibilities may change rapidly as the day progresses.
As a medical assistant, you might start your day by checking patients in and taking vitals. Later in the day, you might need to assist a physician with suturing or wound care. At the end of the day, you might spend time correcting documentation problems in patients' charts. You can learn about typical medical assistant schedules and work hours in our full guide.
Phlebotomists play a critical part in obtaining accurate laboratory diagnostics. Typical responsibilities for phlebotomists could include:
- Collecting blood and other specimens from patients
- Labeling and storing blood specimens
- Preparing blood specimens for transport
- Maintaining equipment and inventory
- Educating patients about the lab work process
To become a phlebotomist, you must have a high school diploma or GED and complete a formal training program or have one year of supervised work experience.
Some training programs can be completed in a few weeks online. For example, Stepful’s online phlebotomy training program takes only five weeks to complete. After completing your training, you'll be eligible to take a certification exam.
Phlebotomists work anywhere where lab work is needed, such as in hospitals, urgent care clinics, diagnostic labs, blood banks, and blood donor centers. Depending on the work setting, phlebotomists may work regular weekday hours or may have to work nights and weekends.
The day-to-day work of a phlebotomist consists primarily of collecting blood and other specimens from patients. However, that doesn't mean that every day will be the same.
As a phlebotomist, you may work with infants or the elderly who will need special care when taking their blood. You may also have to help ease a nervous patient's fears about blood collection.
No matter what the day brings, skill and compassion are essential in this job.
Key Similarities Between Medical Assistants & Phlebotomists
Medical assistants and phlebotomists share many key similarities. They are both responsible for essential patient care duties. Some of the key similarities between these two careers include:
- They both require specialized training to do their jobs properly. Both medical assistants and phlebotomists must have completed high school or earned a GED and complete formal training or supervised work experience.
- They both need great people skills to be effective at their jobs. Medical assistants and phlebotomists work directly with patients, so they must understand how to treat people to achieve a good outcome. They should be able to communicate effectively, provide compassionate care, and deal with diverse personalities.
- They both need to be flexible and work well under stress. The work of medical assistants and phlebotomists can be unpredictable, so they must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. They should also be able to stay calm under pressure and maintain a high level of accuracy in their work.
- They both need to understand medical terminology. Both LPNs and MAs need to understand basic medical terminology so they understand what coworkers are saying and can communicate well with patients.
Key Differences Between Medical Assistants & Phlebotomists
Medical assistants and phlebotomists share some similarities, but there are also significant differences between these two careers. Some of the major differences between the two are:
- Medical assistants have a more diverse range of duties. Medical assistants typically have a more comprehensive range of responsibilities than phlebotomists. In addition to collecting blood, medical assistants may also take patient vital signs, help with procedures, and schedule appointments.
- Phlebotomists typically have more training in blood collection. Phlebotomists get more specialized training in blood collection techniques than medical assistants because collecting blood is their primary responsibility. As a result, phlebotomists are typically more experienced in this area.
- Phlebotomists are more likely to work in a hospital or diagnostic laboratory, while medical assistants are more likely to work in a clinic or physician's office. Medical assistants work closely with physicians and advanced practice providers, so they frequently work where those providers work. On the other hand, Phlebotomists work more independently in areas with a higher volume of lab specimen collection.
Medical Assistant & Phlebotomist Salary & Job Growth Comparison
Qualified healthcare professionals in the United States are always in demand. As a result, medical assistants and phlebotomists benefit from a stable job market with comparable salaries and job growth.
So, do medical assistants or phlebotomists make more money?
The median salary of medical assistants is $37,190, while phlebotomists earn a median salary of $37,380. Both jobs have substantial projections for growth from 2020 to 2030. Medical assistant and phlebotomy jobs should grow by 18% and 22%, respectively.
As an entry-level healthcare role, career advancement within both fields is limited. However, medical assistants may take additional training to become medical office managers or health information management specialists. Phlebotomists may grow their careers by training to become clinical laboratory technicians.
Training & Education Requirements for Medical Assistants & Phlebotomists
Both medical assistants and phlebotomists must have a high school or GED. Beyond that base requirement, the training for each profession is very different.
Phlebotomists typically need to complete a formal certificate or diploma program. Depending on the school, these programs may be as short as five weeks or may last several months.
Phlebotomy programs cover topics such as human anatomy, medical terminology, and specimen collection techniques. Many phlebotomy programs include an externship component where students can gain hands-on experience collecting blood specimens.
Additionally, to be eligible for the certification exam, phlebotomists must have documentation that they performed at least 30 vein sticks and 10 capillary sticks on living people.
On the other hand, medical assistants complete a much longer program because of their more expansive range of responsibilities. The length of medical assistant school and programs ranges anywhere from four months to up to a year. Some schools incorporate training into a two-year Associate’s medical assistant degree program.
Medical assistant programs cover medical billing, coding, anatomy, and clinical procedures. These programs also include a clinical component where students work in physician offices or clinics to get real-world experience.
After completing a training program, you can take an exam to get your medical assistant certification.
Comparing a Day in the Life for Medical Assistants & Phlebotomists
Both medical assistants and phlebotomists play a vital role in providing healthcare services to patients. Because both roles can work in similar settings, some of the day-to-day work may be the same. For example, both may collect blood specimens and educate patients on lab processes.
In general, however, you'll spend most of your day as a medical assistant providing direct patient care. That could mean taking patient vital signs, collecting medical history, and assisting physicians with exams and procedures. You'll also spend time scheduling appointments and may work on billing, coding, and insurance issues.
As a phlebotomist, you'll spend most of your day collecting blood and other patient specimens. You may also be responsible for preparing lab equipment and maintaining samples until they can be processed. Other healthcare professionals may sometimes call on you to help with a complicated lab collection.
Both roles require excellent customer service skills as you'll work directly with a diverse patient population. You'll need to be able to answer questions and address concerns compassionately and professionally.
Deciding Between a Career as a Medical Assistant or Phlebotomist
While medical assistants may have a more varied set of responsibilities, the training can take much longer than a phlebotomist. Phlebotomist students can get into the job market faster thanks to more concise coursework, but their scope of practice is limited compared to medical assistant's scope of practice.
Still, medical assistants and phlebotomists both have meaningful roles in healthcare. They also both enjoy great job growth and decent pay for the training time investment. Either option is an excellent first step into a long, rewarding career in healthcare.
Still not sure which direction to take? Read more on our blog, where we discuss exciting and educational topics related to medical assistants, phlebotomists, and other healthcare careers.
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. Medical Administrative Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant
- Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant
- Medical Assisting vs. Medical Coding & Billing
- Medical Assistant vs. Emergency Medical Technician
- Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant vs. Registered Medical Assistant
- Alternatives to a Medical Assistant Career