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Phlebotomy vs. Medical Assisting: Which Should You Choose?
Should You Become a Phlebotomist or a Medical Assistant?
You’ve decided to embark on a career in the health care field. Congratulations! There’s nothing quite as rewarding as working with patients in a clinical setting. When you see people come in suffering from an illness, receive the care that they need, and go home feeling better and reassured of their recover, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something important. Simply put, working in a medical occupation can give you a sense of purpose on the job.
Plus, we shouldn’t forget to mention that the career outlook is quite optimistic for a wide variety of positions in the health care industry. Regardless of what sort of job you’re considering, there’s a good chance that job growth is expected in that field in the coming years.
That being said, though, you’ve come to this blog post because you’re trying to make an important decision. Maybe you’ve been looking into the potential of becoming a medical assistant, but you’re wondering if phlebotomy could be the better option. Or, perhaps you’re thinking of becoming a phlebotomist — but you want to learn more about medical assisting before you choose a particular career path. If you’re trying to decide between these two careers, no need to worry: you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the most important factors when it comes to understanding whether a career in medical assisting or phlebotomy is right for you. We’ll over all of the most important topics, including:
- What medical assistants and phlebotomists do
- How much you can earn as a medical assistant or phlebotomist
- The certification process for medical assistants and phlebotomists, including both training and testing
- How to study for and pass the necessary certification tests
That last point is particularly important. While many states don’t have specific requirements when it comes to obtaining certification prior to getting your first job as a medical assistant, there’s no question that both obtaining the proper training and becoming certified through a national organization will give you a leg up when it comes to finding a job. And even when there aren’t specific legal requirements associated with a particular test or type or certification, many medical practices, hospitals, and specialists only look to hire medical assistants who have passed a certification exam. This means that if you choose to become a medical assistant and opt to take one of the medical assistant certification exams such as the National Healthcareer Association’s Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam, you’ll want to find the right CCMA study guide in order to prepare yourself beforehand.
Don’t worry, though: once we’ve laid out all of the details regarding medical assisting and phlebotomy, we’ll offer some advice on where and how to study for the medical assisting certification exam of your choice. First, though, are you ready to learn more about the differences between medical assistants and phlebotomists? Let’s get started!
What Do Medical Assistants Do?
When it comes to determining whether you should become a phlebotomist or a medical assistant, once of the first questions you’re likely to ask is quite simply, “what do medical assistants and phlebotomists do?” In order to decide which career appeals to you more, you have to know what to expect from day to day on the job. So, let’s take a look at the daily tasks associated with working as a medical assistant first. Then, we’ll move on to the question of phlebotomy.
One way of understanding what medical assistants do is simply looking at the top skills that they’re expected to have in most medical environments. A recent study looked at the most common job skills listed by employers in job postings for medical assistants, assembling a list of the top 12 most common skills that various medical offices want a medical assistant to have when considering them for employment. These skills include:
- Taking patient vital signs
- Medical assistants
- Helping with patient care
- Handling patient appointments
- Working with patient scheduling
- Preparing patients for various exams and procedures
- Giving patients injections
- Drawing blood (phlebotomy)
- Checking patients’ blood pressure
- Handling the flow of patients
- Administering and managing testing surrounding electrocardiograms (EKGs)
- Working with patients to educate both them and their families regarding post-visit care
As you can see, medical assistants are entrusted with a pretty wide variety of tasks. In fact, that list might be a little overwhelming. That’s okay, though: just think of how exciting, engaging, and diverse your job as a medical assistant would be!
That said, though, it’s possible to analyze the responsibilities of a medical assistant in two ways. We can think in terms of various types of settings on the one hand, and on the difference between clinical and clerical duties on the other. Let’s look at both in order to get a better sense of what exactly medical assistants do on the job.
Different Care Settings for Medical Assistants
One of the most interesting things about working as a medical assistant is the sheer variety of work environments available to you. Depending on what sort of occupational environment you’re working in, your role on the job will likely be a little different. When it comes to medical assisting, we can think in terms of at least four different job settings:
- Working in a hospital
- Jobs at clinics
- Private practice positions
- Ambulatory care
If you work in a hospital, chances are good that you’ll be working as an assistant to a nurse. This can involve both patient facing care as well as paperwork and computer work. Medical assistants in hospital settings will do things like assist with scheduling, help with billing, and handle reception tasks such as taking phone calls. You might also help with entering patient information into forms. These clerical tasks are typical supplemented by clinical ones, too, including drawing blood from patients, collecting lab samples, giving patients shots, administering medication, and so on.
When it comes to working at a clinic, your experience may be similar to the one you’d have if you worked at a hospital. There are usually some differences, though. Clinics are generally much smaller than hospitals, meaning that you might work side by side with a doctor rather than simply assisting a nurse. Similar to working in a hospital, though, there’s a good chance that you’ll have both clinical and clerical duties as a medical assistant.
What about working in a private practice? Many different types of job environments fall under the general heading of “private practice,” making it difficult to come up with a single definition or description of what it’s like to work in this sort of environment. Just think about it: a private practice can be anything from a small family clinic to a large specialty office such as a pulmonary or gastroenterology practice. If you get a job at the office of a general practitioner, your tasks will likely be similar to those associated with working at a clinic. In other words, you’ll probably work with both nurses and doctors, and you’ll have a mixture of clinical and clerical tasks to perform. Meanwhile, a job at a specialty clinic could see you performing much more specialized and specific tasks. It’s easy to imagine how your job with a pulmonologist would differ from the tasks you might perform if working for a dermatologist.
Lastly, there’s ambulatory care. This kind of work environment is great for people who thrive in a fast paced, high energy environment. Working in ambulatory care means dealing with patients in emergency situations. This can be very stressful at times, but also highly rewarding in many instances.
Clinical and Clerical Duties of Medical Assistants
Another way of thinking about what medical assistants do is by dividing their work up into clinical and clerical duties. You’ll likely be expected to perform both at any given job. In other words, some of your work-related tasks will involve direct patient care, while others will be more administrative in nature.
In terms of clinical tasks, you might be expected to:
- Take patient vital signs, including heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and so on
- Provide patient care within your limited scope of practice (such as answering non-medical questions, helping patients relax, etc.)
- Giving patients injections and drawing blood
- Performing EKG testing
Meanwhile, administrative (or clerical) tasks can include:
- Scheduling patients using various software
- Communicating with patients both in person and over the phone
- Stocking supplies and keeping track of inventory
- Managing paperwork related to patients
- Performing various reception-related tasks
What Do Phlebotomists Do?
As you can see, there are a ton of different tasks associated with becoming a medical assistant. But what about phlebotomy? Do phlebotomists engage in similarly varied and challenging work?
Where medical assistants are expected to perform a wide range of both clinical and clerical tasks, the work of phlebotomists is much more specialized. What does this mean exactly? Simply put, phlebotomy revolves strictly around drawing blood from patients for the purposes of performing various types of tests. This means that your job will center almost entirely around drawing blood from various patients as part of whatever occupational setting you’re working in.
Phlebotomists have a number of responsibilities related to drawing blood from patients. These tasks can include:
- Physically drawing blood from patients
- Helping patients to calm down and cope with the anxiety associated with having their blood drawn
- Verifying the identity of patients when collecting samples
- Labeling blood samples correctly
- Recording patient information correctly
- Maintaining various equipment and medical instruments
As you can see, your job as a phlebotomist is much more focused around a single task than if you were to work as a medical assistant.
So, now you know how different these two jobs can be. What about earnings potential? How much do you make as a medical assistant versus as a phlebotomist?
How Much Do Medical Assistants and Phlebotomists Earn?
Despite the fact that phlebotomists and medical assistants have different tasks associated with their daily routine, both positions tend to pay a similar amount in terms of annual salary.
According to data from US News, the median salary for phlebotomists is $32,710. The lowest 25th percentile earns just $27,350 per year, while the upper 75th percentile of earners clock in at $38,800 per year.
Meanwhile, the median salary for medical assistants is $31,540. At the 25th percentile, medical assistants tend to earn $26,860, while at the 75th percentile they earn as much as $37,760 per year.
Remember that these numbers are averages. Various factors can have an impact on how much you earn. These factors include things like the state or city where you’re working, the type of medical practice where you work, and your number of years of experience in the field.
How Do You Become a Certified Medical Assistant?
Are you thinking you might want to become a medical assistant? A common question when trying to make the final decision is related to the amount of schooling required and the certification involved in getting started.
Typically, medical assistants will attend training programs that last anywhere from eight months to two years. Some programs are full time (and tend to progress much faster), while others are part time in nature.
Once you’ve finished school, you’ll want to study for and pass a certification exam to demonstrate your knowledge as a medical assistant. One option is the NHA CCMA exam. If you opt to go this route, you’ll want to make sure you have access to a proven CCMA study guide (more on this below).
How Do You Get Certified in Phlebotomy?
Becoming a phlebotomist may involve less schooling than is typically required as part of a medical assistant program. This makes sense, of course: the sheer range of tasks associated with medical assisting is considerably larger than the duties and responsibilities that come with being a phlebotomist.
That said, phlebotomists usually attend a training program that lasts for anywhere from six months to one year. Phlebotomists can obtain certification through organizations that also offer certification testing services to medical assistants, including the National Center for Competency Testing and the American Medical Technologists.
Should I Become a Medical Assistant or Phlebotomist?
As you’ve seen, the salary for medical assistants and phlebotomists is quite similar. However, the work associated with being a medical assistant tends to involve much greater variety. Additionally, the career outlook for medical assistants is excellent, with a massive job growth rate of 29% over the next decade. However, phlebotomists can often complete a program of study faster than the typical medical assistant might.
Studying for the CCMA exam
Ultimately, the decision of which career to pursue is up to you. If you choose to become a medical assistant, though, it’s important to prepare yourself for the appropriate certification Amongst the options available to you, many medical assistants choose to take the CCMA exam that’s offered by the National Healthcareer Association.
If you’re looking to take the CCMA exam, you’ll want to ensure that you have access to a top notch CCMA study guide in order to prepare ahead of time. ScopeNotes™ offers the best in CCMA practice tests to help you get ready for the real thing. Our practice tests are affordable, engaging, and highly effective. Ready to learn more? Click here to get started today!