The health-care industry has careers to appeal to almost anyone, depending what their goals and ambitions are. If you're willing to invest a decade or more in training, you can become a doctor or advanced practice nurse. If you like the idea of helping people but would rather not spend a lifetime in school, an entry-level position might be more to your taste. For example, medical assistants and patient care technicians are both in high demand in clinical settings.
If you were a medical assistant the largest part of your job would be administrative, answering the phone and scheduling patients' appointments. You'd take their personal information and medical histories, and often enter appropriate treatment and billing codes in their files. You might also share responsibility for maintaining the office's inventory and ordering supplies. In some offices you'd also have basic clinical duties, such as taking and recording patients' vital signs or collecting blood and urine samples for laboratory testing.
Patient Care Technician
Patient care technicians provide patients with a basic level of clinical care. You'd help patients with regular daily activities such as bathing, dressing and eating, and coach them through range-of-motion exercises or other physical activities. You'd collect specimens for laboratory testing, keep patients' tubes and drains clean and sanitary, and set up oxygen for the ones who need respiratory support. With additional experience and training, you might also draw blood, operate ECG equipment, provide dialysis or perform other more-complex clinical duties.
Similarities and Differences
Although medical assistants and PCTs share some clinical duties, their roles are quite different. If you're a medical assistant you probably work in a doctor's office or outpatient clinic, and clinical duties are a small part of your day. If you're a patient care technician, you probably work in a nursing home, hospital or other inpatient facility and clinical duties take up the majority of your work day.
You can learn to be a medical assistant or patient care technician on the job, but employers usually prefer to hire people who've had formal training through a community or technical college. You can also earn professional certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, National Healthcareer Association and several other organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 31 percent job growth for medical assistants between 2010 and 2020, so work should be plentiful. The BLS doesn't track data for patient care technicians, but nurses' aides -- who perform similar duties -- will see 20 percent employment growth.
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Medical Assistant
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Medical Assistants
- St. Louis Community College: Patient Care Technician Training
- American Association of Medical Assistants: Become a CMA (AAMA)
- National Healthcareer Association: Certified Patient Care Technician Certification Exam (CPCT) Candidate Handbook
- Mayo Clinic: Hemodialysis Patient Care Technician
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.