Patient Care Technician vs Medical Assistant: Which is Right for Me?

With the current shortage of workers in the medical industry and a firmly projected 16% growth rate over the next decade alone, the demand for healthcare professionals is at an all-time high.

There’s never been a better time to start building a career in allied health, and two of the best entry-level jobs to help you get started are patient care technician and medical assistance.

Both healthcare jobs are viable options for anyone who wants to work closely with patients. There are enough similarities between these two jobs that some of their responsibilities overlap. However, both positions are unique.

We’re going to help you figure out which one is right for you.

What is a patient care technician?

A patient care technician is a professional who works directly with patients in formal healthcare facilities. They might work in hospitals, nursing homes, residential care centers, and treatment centers. They typically work alongside nurses and other medical professionals to provide basic patient care.

Some of the common duties of a patient care technician include:

  • Helping patients with basic care (eating, drinking, using the restroom)
  • Taking and monitoring patient vital signs
  • Keeping patient rooms clean, organized, and stocked with supplies
  • Conversing with patients and reporting observations or concerns to nurses
  • Assisting nurses and physicians with patient care

While a patient care technician specializes solely in clinical patient care, medical assistants perform both clinical and administrative duties.

What is a medical assistant?

Medical assistants ( sometimes called nursing assistants), having training in both clinical assistance and administration. They work both the front office or desk, and exam room.

Some of the common duties of a medical assistant include:

  • Taking and documenting patient vital signs
  • Administering IVs, injections, and other medications
  • Scheduling appointments and following up
  • Recording and filing patient information
  • Assisting physicians with examinations and procedures

While some of the duties between a patient care technician and medical assistant overlap, they are two separate roles with their own shares of similarities and differences.

Medical assistant vs patient care technician: the similarities

Patient care technicians and medical assistants both have education requirements that can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, often in under a year. After completing a training program or education equivalent, you can become a certified patient care technician/assistant (CPCT/A) by passing an exam.

While the exact skills a medical assistant needs will vary, there are certain foundational skills that are essential for achieving personal and professional success.

Some of these skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Empathetic bedside manner
  • Phlebotomy
  • Listening and communication
  • Patient care, observation, and support
  • Basic medical assistance

While both medical assistants and patient care technicians need to know basic medical procedures and patient care, there are some key differences between the two roles.

Medical assistant vs patient care technician: the differences

The primary difference between a medical assistant and a patient care technician is the environment they work in. The former is trained to fulfill responsibilities in both clinical and administrative settings, which means they work with patients both in the exam room and at the front office. The latter specializes in working with patients in different healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, residential care facilities or nursing homes.

In addition to working in different environments, there is the difference in level of responsibility. Both medical assistants and patient care technicians work under the supervision of nurses or physicians, but their level of patient involvement varies per role.

According to the BLS, the median pay for medical assistants (in 2021) was $37,000, which equates to around $18 per hour. Patient care technicians typically earn closer to $15 per hour, which creates a salary of $30,000.

Which career is right for me?

The career path for medical assistants, after acquiring experience and filling any educational gaps, often go on to become healthcare managers and administrators, nurses and more.

For patient care technicians, it’s common for them to pursue successful careers in nursing as practical and staff nurses, registered nurses, nurse managers, nursing directors and more.

Only you can really know which career path is the best fit for your personal and professional goals, but if you’re still not sure, you can take this free career assessment to help you narrow down the best choice for your future.

When you’ve identified which option is the right fit for you, the next step is to find the best training program that will equip you with all of the knowledge and skills you need to build a successful career in the medical industry.

Accelerate your career today

Both medical assistant work and patient care technician work can lead to successful careers, and one of the best ways to prepare yourself for these roles is to partner with a healthshare apprenticeship partner.

Health Tech Academy is a leading training provider that partners with top-tier healthcare employers in order to offer career-focused upskilling programs, apprenticeships, and career coaching to aspiring and existing allied health professionals.

By leveraging a partnership with Health Tech, you’ll learn how to optimize your career path so that you can build a rewarding and lucrative career in allied health.

If you’re ready to move forward with your education, consider our Patient Care Technician and Medical Assistant bootcamps — which provide the education you need for a rewarding health career in weeks, not years.