Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician: Career Comparison
Those who aspire to work in healthcare have plenty of career options beyond becoming a nurse or a doctor. Medical assistants and patient care technicians (PCTs) are two popular supporting roles in healthcare that are viable career paths without the strict educational requirements that registered nurses must complete to practice.
When comparing medical assistant vs. patient care technician positions, it can be easy to confuse the two roles at first glance. However, each role is distinct, with specific duties and responsibilities, essential skills, educational paths, and job growth potential.
What Is a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants are administrative and clinical support staff. They are jacks-of-all-trades who support physicians and administrators in various healthcare settings, including clinics, medical offices, and other outpatient care facilities.
Although medical assistants are trained to perform clinical and administrative tasks, these tasks aren’t always evenly split. Some medical assistants may focus on clinical duties whereas others may focus on the administrative side of healthcare. The tasks they perform are entirely dependent on the facility and its needs.
Medical Assistant Duties and Responsibilities
Medical assistants perform various administrative and clinical duties. During a given shift, a medical assistant may:
- Take a patient’s medical history
- Perform wound care
- Prepare and administer patient medications
- Collect lab specimens
- Perform basic lab tests
- Prepare patients and assist during physical exams
- Explain treatments to patients and their families
- Take an electrocardiogram
- Take a blood sample
- Take telephone calls
- Greet patients and help them get to the right department
- Do medical coding
- Fill out insurance and hospital forms
- Schedule patient appointments
- Update patient records
- Use computers for administrative tasks
- Perform patient billing and bookkeeping
Medical Assistant Skills
Because of the unique nature of the role, medical assistants must demonstrate proficiency in both the clinical and administrative aspects of healthcare. Successful medical assistants possess the following qualities:
- Highly analytical with an attention to detail
- Exceptional communication skills
- Compassion and empathy
- Interpersonal skills
- Administrative skills
- Clinical skills
What Is a PCT?
A PCT is a member of the clinical support staff who is focused on in-person care. PCTs provide medical care to patients in various healthcare settings, including private practices, hospitals, and nursing homes.
In their supporting role, PCTs assist physicians and nurses with basic medical tasks, such as checking blood pressure, delivering medications to patients, and ensuring that patients are comfortable and cared for. Additionally, they help patients perform tasks that they are unable to do themselves, including bathing and getting dressed.
PCT Duties and Responsibilities
A PCT’s day-to-day tasks consist of basic clinician duties and plenty of patient-facing tasks that require highly developed soft skills. During a typical shift, a PCT may:
- Provide basic patient care services
- Perform regular wellness checks on patients
- Check and notate vital signs of patients
- Meet with patients’ families and keep them informed
- Monitor patients’ liquid and food intake, noting any changes or concerns
- Collect samples of patients’ blood or urine
- Escort patients to different parts of the facility
- Help patients remain comfortable
- Assist patients with basic tasks they cannot do themselves
- Provide emotional comfort to patients
A PCT is not the most clinically demanding role, but it requires a caring demeanor and patient soft skills that are highly valued in a healthcare environment. Successful PCTs possess the following skills and competencies:
- Exceptional communication and interpersonal skills
- Patience and compassion
- Basic clinical skills to support nurses and physicians
- Physical endurance and stamina
Differences Between a Medical Assistant and a Patient Care Technician
Although some overlap exists between medical assistants and PCTs, a few key distinctions set them apart, including the following:
- Medical assistants work on both the clinical and administrative sides of healthcare. PCTs are strictly clinical support.
- PCTs generally work in places where they spend a lot of time with patients, such as a nursing home or long-term care facility. Medical assistants tend to work in places where their unique blend of clinical and administrative skills can be put to good use, such as a hospital or private practice.
- PCTs are primarily focused on patients and keeping them comfortable. Medical assistants tend to be multitaskers.
- PCT roles have a stronger emphasis on soft skills because they mostly work with patients. Medical assistants rely on a vast assortment of clinical and administrative skills.
- Depending on the state, the educational requirements for a PCT and medical assistant may vary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some states require that medical assistants graduate from an accredited program to practice, whereas most PCT roles only require the completion of a certificate program.
Medical Assistant vs. PCT: Job Outlook
Although medical assistants and PCTs are both sought after and highly valued in the healthcare profession, one role is clearly in higher demand than the other. According to the BLS, the role of nursing assistants will grow by 4% between 2022 and 2032, about as fast as the average national growth rate for all occupations.
Medical assistants, on the other hand, are projected to grow by 14% between 2022 and 2032. Over the course of the next decade, the BLS estimates that over 110,000 new medical assistants will enter the workforce each year.
Get the Training You Need to Join the Medical Field
PCTs and medical assistants provide essential support in their respective healthcare environments. Deciding between becoming a medical assistant or a PCT boils down to whether you prefer to focus entirely on patient care or prefer to perform a combination of clinical and administrative tasks.
Of course, education also plays a key factor in the development process. Those who are giving serious consideration to entering the healthcare field and becoming a medical assistant should consider the Medical Assistant Training Program at Fortis. With a detailed curriculum devoted to medical assisting, medical billing and coding, medical office administration, and more, the program offers students the opportunity to get the training and education they need to qualify for some of the nation’s most in demand healthcare roles.
Learn more about the healthcare training programs to see which path is right for you.