Medical Assistants vs. Patient Care Technicians

Reviewed by AIMS Education Staff  

October 19, 2021


Medical assistants and patient care technicians are essential health providers who work directly with nurses and physicians to ensure patients receive the highest level of care possible. Understanding the difference between a medical assistant and a patient care technician can help you determine which career may be right for you. 

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants are trained healthcare professionals who work alongside physicians in hospitals and various outpatient healthcare facilities, including health clinics and medical offices. While a medical assistant's responsibilities vary from job to job, they may perform basic tasks, such as showing a patient to the examination room, recording height and weight, and taking a patient's vital signs. Additionally, medical assistants may ask a patient about any health concerns or symptoms they may be experiencing.

During your visit, a medical assistant will pass the information they collect onto the physician. Medical assistants cannot provide health advice to patients. Instead, their responsibilities primarily consist of assisting the physician by preparing you for your appointment and asking you questions about your concerns.


What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant is knowledgeable about various aspects of the healthcare industry and helps an office run more efficiently and effectively. This position's responsibilities will vary depending on the day and the individual office or clinic they work in. In general, a medical assistant's duties fall into two categories, including clinical and administrative responsibilities.

Because medical assistants are cross-trained in clinical and administrative tasks, their tasks may vary widely, depending on the healthcare clinic's needs. Medical assistants play a valuable and supportive role in any medical practice who can perform numerous front- and back-end duties. Because medical assistants have a broad skill set, they may work on either the administrative or patient care side. In some cases, they might fulfill duties in both settings.


Clinical Responsibilities

Clinical responsibilities are a central aspect of a medical assistant's job, including preparing patients for examinations and explaining various procedures or treatments to patients. A medical assistant may also take a patient's medical history, explain diets and medications to patients, and transmit prescription requests and refills as needed.

In some cases, a medical assistant may perform basic laboratory tests, such as wound care, dressing changes, phlebotomy tests, and even electrocardiograms. If a physician requires additional assistance during an exam, a medical assistant may help collect and prepare various laboratory specimens. Finally, some medical assistants may administer medications or vaccinations.


Administrative Responsibilities

In addition to clinical responsibilities, medical assistants may also perform various administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering phone calls, and greeting patients. During a shift, a medical assistant may also need to update and file various information and medical records and complete necessary insurance forms.

If necessary, a medical assistant may also make any arrangements for laboratory testing or hospital visits. Additionally, a medical assistant may also perform various bookkeeping and medical billing tasks. Sometimes, a medical assistant will also handle any office mail or general business inquiries.


How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants play pivotal roles in any healthcare office or clinic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in this field will grow 18% by 2030. With the need for medical assistants expected to grow, you may be curious about what it takes to become a medical assistant. If you are looking to work toward this career, you may want to consider these three primary steps.


1. Enroll in a Medical Assistant Program

After graduating from high school, enrolling in a medical assistant program at an accredited school can increase your chances of finding a job as a medical assistant. Choosing the medical assistant program that suits your needs will help prepare you for your intended career and teach you many valuable skills. In general, in-person medical assistant training is best because it provides direct, hands-on training.

When choosing a medical assistant program to enroll in, you may want to consider various factors, including program accreditation and alumni outcomes. You will also want to consider if a program provides courses in person, virtually, or a combination of both. You should look for a program that offers hands-on education and hones your skills to succeed as a medical assistant.

2. Complete an Internship

While the classroom aspect of a medical assistant program can provide in-depth training on various topics, it can also be beneficial to complete an internship. An internship is an excellent way to receive hands-on training in a real-life healthcare setting and work directly with physicians, patients, and other healthcare staff. An internship allows you to further develop the skills and knowledge you learned in the classroom. Clinical internships are often included as part of your training when you enroll in a medical assistant program.

3. Become Certified

Depending on the state you work in and your employer preferences, you may need to pass a certification exam to qualify for a job. There are several certification options — the Registered Medical Assistant exam (AMT), the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant exam (NHA), and the Certified Medical Assistant exam (AAMA). These tests cover essential topics, such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, and legal and safety compliance.


Where Can a Medical Assistant Work?

A medical assistant can enjoy a versatile career, as the demand for these professionals' skills and qualifications remains high. While many people may initially assume medical assistants only work at doctor's offices or hospitals, many different facilities employ medical assistants, including the following:

  • Outpatient centers: An outpatient care center is similar to a hospital and healthcare clinic and is often a medical office that provides services that do not require a patient to stay overnight. Some procedures that may not require an overnight stay include lab tests, minor surgeries, and psychiatric outpatient care. A medical assistant often works in an outpatient center to perform various clinical and administrative tasks.
  • Pediatrics: Another typical place a medical assistant may work is in a hospital's pediatric wing or even pediatrics practice. Working as a pediatric medical assistant can provide hands-on experience and serve as an excellent foundation for your career. Many medical assistants also enjoy working in pediatrics because they love to interact with children and help improve their lives. Because this position works directly with children, a pediatric medical assistant should have the skills to communicate effectively with adults and children.
  • Hospitals: Hospitals are one of the leading employers for medical assistants. Because hospitals never close, there is always a need for multiple medical assistants to maintain workloads and perform necessary tasks each shift. Medical assistants may work during the day or even overnight shifts, depending on the hospital's needs. Hospital settings often require medical assistants to stay calm and make good decisions under pressure, as hospitals usually have many emergency or high-risk situations.
  • Nursing homes: Due to the aging U.S. population, many nursing homes also require skilled medical assistants. Many medical assistants choose to work in assisted-living facilities, retirement complexes, and nursing homes. While most residents are not ill, they require assistance and routine medical attention to ensure good health. A medical assistant may help deliver daily medication to patients, check and record a patient's vitals, and administer any necessary injections.
  • Diagnostic laboratories: Diagnostic lab workers examine and test clinical samples, including urine, blood, stool, or bodily tissue. Additionally, diagnostic laboratories handle blood sugar scans, drug testing, antibody tests, radiology scans, and more. In most cases, being certified in phlebotomy is a necessary step to working as a medical assistant in a diagnostic laboratory. 
  • Medical research centers: Some medical assistants may find employment at a medical research center, where health professionals perform clinical trials or other research. In this role, a medical assistant may assist with collecting and preparing samples and administering tests. Legally, any new drug entering the market must pass rigorous clinical trials, requiring research and talented medical assistants.


What Is a Patient Care Technician?

Patient care technicians also work directly with nurses, doctors and other medical professionals to ensure patients receive the care they need. Like medical assistants, patient care technicians also work in hospitals and doctor's offices. A PCT is indispensable because they perform essential tasks.

While a patient care technician's duties will vary depending on their state and place of employment, a patient care technician must complete a formal training program to learn basic patient care skills. Before becoming a PCT, a person must earn CPR certification and learn how to take people's vital signs. Patient care technicians can then build on these skills with on-the-job training.


What Does a Patient Care Technician Do?

Patient care technicians are fundamental to any healthcare setting, as they are responsible for various essential tasks. While these responsibilities might be elementary, they are not all simple. Instead, a PCT helps doctors and nurses perform their duties, ensuring all patients receive an appropriate level of care. 

While patient care technicians provide fundamental care, their responsibilities vary depending on the facility they work in. Additionally, a patient care technician's task list may change from one day to the next.


Basic PCT Responsibilities

While a patient care technician's responsibilities vary depending on where they work, some of the most common tasks include helping patients in and out of bed, transferring patients with mobility issues to walkers or wheelchairs, and assisting patients during any daily exercises they perform. A PCT's vital responsibility is to listen to any patient concerns and report them to a nurse or doctor.

A patient care technician may check vital signs, collect blood or urine samples, deliver samples to laboratories, and keep track of a patient's progress during treatment or physical therapy. If a PCT notices any issues or concerns a patient may have, they are also responsible for advocating for the patient's needs and ensuring nurses, doctors, and any relevant parties are aware.


How to Become a Patient Care Technician

To be a patient care technician, you will need to understand the PCT requirements to succeed in this career. One of the first of these is to receive a high school diploma or earn a GED. Following high school graduation, you will want to attend a training program at an accredited school, especially if you do not have any pre-hospital or medical training.

A patient care technician should be able to confidently communicate to patients and other medical staff. Conceptual knowledge of the healthcare industry and basic patient needs is also necessary. During training, a patient care technician will begin building a comprehensive understanding of medical devices, terminology, and conditions.


Where Can a Patient Care Technician Work?

A patient care technician works under a registered nurse's supervision, fulfilling various roles. Patient care technicians can work at numerous healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and doctor's offices.



Hospitals always need patient care technicians because these facilities are open 24/7/365 and require a medical staff to care for patients around the clock. Because the hospital setting is so vast, some patient care technicians may fulfill administrative roles, while others may work more in the medical environment directly with patients. When working in a hospital, a patient care technician typically reports to a nurse or a physician.

Home Healthcare and Nursing Homes

Many people rely on patient care technicians to maintain their independence and lead a healthy lifestyle, especially if they do not live in a nursing home or long-term assisted living facility. In home healthcare settings, patient care technicians assist with day-to-day activities that patients may need help completing. For example, some PCTs may assist with cooking meals, completing simple household chores, ensuring the patient can safely and comfortably bathe and more.

As the U.S. population continues to age, the need for patient care technicians in nursing homes and assisted living facilities will keep growing. Even if most patients in long-term facilities are in good overall health, they require regular assistance and care to maintain their well-being. In many nursing homes, a patient care technician may help patients with day-to-day grooming, hygiene and bathroom needs. Another critical function PCTs fulfill in a nursing home is monitoring and recording any dietary changes.

It is important to note that some states regulate who can work in long-term care facilities and home healthcare environments. For example, patient care technicians in New Jersey are not permitted to work in long-term care facilities or as home health aides. Those facilities require certified nurse aides (CNA) or certified home health aides.


Medical Assistant Training With AIMS Education

If you are looking to begin a career as a medical assistant, AIMS Education's medical assistant training can provide you with the skills and tools you need for success. Our medical assistant certificate program provides fundamental training in basic medical assisting skills to help future medical assistants build career foundations. We are proud to offer a program spanning some of the most critical topics, including medical billing, medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and more.

Request more information on our medical assistant training program and start working toward an exciting, rewarding career.