Difference Between Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant

One of the most common misconceptions is that a medical assistant and a physician assistant are essentially the same job. In reality, the two positions are actually much different. In order to understand these differences, they must be examined more closely.

When it comes to educational background, a physician assistant is required to have received a bachelor’s degree. From there, they must enroll in a physician assistant graduate program. These programs lead to master’s degrees in medical science, health science or physician assistant studies. PAs can expect to spend a minimum of two years on their PA education but many specialties require additional post-graduate education to allow the PA to practice with autonomy.

Education and Training

In comparison, a medical assistant does not need any formal education and can obtain employment with a mere high school diploma. While there is very little formal education required, some additional training is necessary. A medical assistant can receive the proper training through an associate’s degree program, a vocational tech school or a four year university.

A physician assistant must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam in order to become certified to work in their preferred field. All states have this requirement in place and a physician assistant also needs to complete 100 hours of continued education every two years. A re-certification exam has to be taken and passed every ten years.

Medical assistants do not require the same level of certification, but they can choose to take tests and courses that will allow them to perform other duties, such as giving injections or taking X-rays. The more certifications a medical assistant receives, the more chances they give themselves to find employment.

Position Requirements

For the most part, a medical assistant’s duties are confined to routine tasks. They handle clerical and administrative work, such as appointment scheduling, patient assistance during examination and filing out forms for the medical insurance company.

PAs diagnose and treat complex diseases with minimal supervision. While the supervision requirement varies from state to state, in many states supervision comes in the form of a review by a physician of 10% of charts for patients seen by the PA in a thirty day period. This means that the PA is seeing 90% of their patients independently of any supervision. Indeed, the PA/MD relationship is viewed as a partnership, a team in which the physician acts as team leader. PAs are licensed to prescribe, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat complex diseases and function with indirect supervision in numerous medical and surgical specialties in every state in the United States and in many other countries around the world.


One of the most crucial differences between the two professions is how they are compensated. Physician assistants make much more than medical assistants. The gap is considerable, as a physician assistant can make up to $87,000, while a medical assistant only qualifies for a fraction of this salary ($29,000).

Every medical practice needs a physician assistant and a medical assistant to carry out important daily duties. Although these duties are vastly different, each profession plays a very crucial role in the practice’s ability to function at peak capacity. When deciding on a career path, be sure to choose the job that allows you to make a true difference.

PAs have become extremely valuable in the medical field. Even the President of the United states has a PA on his medical team.