Jobs in healthcare aren’t always cut and dry. Medical assistants and laboratory technicians, for example, have overlapping responsibilities. Either role is a rewarding career choice for people with a passion for science and medicine, but which you choose to train for should reflect your personal interests and aptitudes.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants perform administrative, clinical and laboratory tasks in healthcare settings. Their job is to support physicians and other healthcare providers in delivering quality patient care. Job descriptions may vary based on employment setting but typically include:
- Answering phone calls
- Scheduling appointments
- Handling correspondence and returning phone calls
- Assisting with billing activities
- Managing referrals
- Responding to inquiries for medical records
- Stocking shelves and tracking inventory
- Welcoming patients
- Sanitizing exam rooms
- Recording vital signs
- Measuring height and weight
- Preparing patients for exams
- Assisting with procedures and treatments
- Administering medications, such as vaccines, under the direction of a licensed healthcare provider
- Performing EKGs and other diagnostic tests
- Wound care, including suture removal and dry dressing changes
- Sterilizing instruments and other surgical supplies
- Collaborating with other healthcare professionals in a multidisciplinary team environment
- Patient education
- Drawing blood (phlebotomy)
- Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens for testing or shipment
- Conducting basic laboratory tests, such as urinalysis, urine pregnancy screens and blood glucose monitoring
Medical assistants may specialize in certain areas of healthcare, such as podiatry, cardiology, and mental health. Where you work has a significant impact on your job responsibilities and how much time you’ll spend in the laboratory.
What Does a Lab Technician Do?
Laboratory technicians have no clinical role. Working under the supervision of laboratory or medical technologists, they spend most of their time performing analyses on fluid and tissue samples to aid in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases. Most positions include both laboratory and administrative components. Duties include:
- Collecting different types of biological samples, such as blood, urine, sputum, feces, or other bodily fluids
- Preparing and properly labeling samples for analysis or storage, ensuring accurate documentation of patient information
- Conducting routine laboratory tests and complex analyses, such as microscopic urine or tissue examinations
- Operating and maintaining advanced laboratory equipment, including centrifuges, microscopes, and chemistry analyzers
- Recording and interpreting test results
- Troubleshooting equipment malfunctions or irregular test results
- Ensuring compliance with laboratory safety protocols while maintaining a clean and well-organized work environment
- Engaging in quality control and quality assurance programs to ensure reliable testing
- Recording test results and entering data into electronic health and billing records
- Monitoring inventory levels and reordering laboratory supplies
- Collaborating with other laboratory staff and fellow healthcare professionals to manage workflow
- Reporting significantly abnormal lab results to the ordering provider
- Responding to patient and provider inquiries about laboratory services
What Is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Lab Technician?
While both medical assistants and laboratory technicians work in healthcare settings, their roles and responsibilities differ significantly in these key ways:
Medical assistants perform a broad mix of clinical, administrative and laboratory tasks, no two days are ever alike. You might handle correspondence in the morning and assist with surgery in the afternoon while squeezing in a blood draw or two. If you’re flexible and thrive on diversity, you’ll enjoy medical assisting.
Laboratory technicians focus on testing samples. They collect and process patient specimens, spending most of their day in a laboratory setting. The work is intriguing, but it may occasionally be monotonous. Few jobs, however, are as consistent.
Some medical assistants have college degrees, but most have vocational school diplomas. Full-time students can become medical assistants in just nine months. The curriculum is job-focused and includes hands-on administrative, clinical and laboratory training. If you want a healthcare career with flexibility and growth potential in the least amount of time, few choices are as impactful as medical assisting.
Laboratory technicians typically need an associate degree in medical laboratory technology or a related field. Programs include coursework in general laboratory sciences with an introduction to specific disciplines, such as hematology and pathology.
Just over half of medical assistants work in doctor’s offices, the remainder are employed by hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, medical billing services and laboratories. In a lab, a medical assistant may function as a phlebotomist, receptionist, or laboratory assistant.
Laboratory technicians mostly work in hospitals, clinics, and private laboratories. Jobs outside of medicine may be available in academia.
Medical assistants have direct and frequent patient interaction. They engage with clients throughout the day as part of their clinical duties.
Laboratory technicians have limited patient contact. They mostly work behind the scenes where they focus on analyzing samples. While they may occasionally engage with patients while collecting samples or answering questions about laboratory services, they are not direct care providers.
Medical assistants work with patients, families, vendors, administrators, and other healthcare professionals, from laboratory technicians to billing and coding specialists. Healthcare is a team sport, and nowhere is that more evident in the medical assisting field.
If you value peace and quiet, however, laboratory technicians work in quiet spaces. Laboratories are clean areas, so foot traffic is discouraged. But you’ll have regular contact with fellow technicians, technologists, and supervising scientists, usually pathologists.
Medical assistants are jacks-of-trades by definition. With a broad skill set, they can work in nearly any healthcare environment. But they can also adapt their skills to specific areas of medicine, choosing a specialty, such as pediatrics, gerontology, or urology. Still, however, they will perform a wide array of tasks.
Similarly, laboratory technicians are trained to handle a broad range of analyses. But most develop expertise in hematology, microbiology, pathology, or chemistry, and will perform primarily those tasks.
There’s advancement potential for medical assistants within their field. With experience and continuing education, medical assistants can grow into supervisory positions, becoming shift leaders, certified phlebotomists, or office managers. They can’t, however, move into a licensed clinical role, such as nursing, without building on their diploma with a degree.
Since laboratory technicians already have associate degrees, it’s easy to take the next step. With two years of additional coursework, they can earn the bachelor’s necessary to become a medical technologist. The role remains relatively limited, however. Once you start working in a laboratory, you tend to stay on that career path.
Certifications are the key to advancement in any industry. With a diploma, medical assistants can qualify for several nationally recognized certifications through accredited credentialing agencies. After completing a medical assistant program, students are ready to take the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).
Laboratory technicians with a degree can apply for the Medical Laboratory Technician credential offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or the Certified Laboratory Technician certificate offered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
How Do You Become a Medical Assistant?
Becoming a medical assistant is as easy as enrolling in a vocational school program. All you need is a high school diploma or GED to apply. Most schools offer part-time and full-time programs, but attending full-time is the fastest way to get out of the classroom and into a job.
Students graduate with the practical skills they need to succeed in a complex and competitive industry. Upon completing the program, you can apply for immediate certification. Schools support you with perks, such as hands-on learning opportunities and job placement services.
The healthcare industry offers dozens of careers to appeal to the scientifically minded. Medical assisting is just one of the many. Regardless of where your passions lie, there are options for students with all interests and career goals. At the end of the day, there’s no wrong way to contribute to the healthcare field.
Medical Assistant Technician Diploma Program
The Medical Assistant Technician Diploma Program prepares you to obtain entry-level employment as a medical assistant technician. This program offers you the opportunity to learn the necessary knowledge and skills both in the classroom and in supervised clinical practice or capstone. You will learn how to prepare patients for various technical examinations such as EKGs and phlebotomy, as well as how to perform several such procedures.
Ready to move from the classroom to a career? Florida Technical College is here to help. Contact us to learn more about completing a Medical Assistant diploma program at Florida Technical College.
NUC University (NUC) is an accredited institution and a member of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) www.msche.org. NUC’s NUC University – IBC Technical Division (NUC-IBC), NUC University – Florida Technical College (NUC-FTC), and The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (The DAVE School) are included in this accreditation. NUC’s accreditation status is Accreditation Reaffirmed. The Commission’s most recent action on the institution’s accreditation status in 2019 was to reaffirm accreditation. MSCHE is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
*These examples are intended to serve only as a general guide to possible employment opportunities. There are many factors that determine the job an individual may obtain and Florida Technical College cannot guarantee its graduates any particular job. Some positions may require a license, degree, experience, or other industry certifications. We encourage you to research the requirements for the particular position you desire.