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What Is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and Medical Office Assistant?

Few fields offer as many rewarding career opportunities as medicine. While other industries are suffering losses, health care is expanding. But among the dozens of job descriptions, which is best for you?

Let’s take a closer look at the medical field and compare two popular programs for vocational school students, medical assisting and medical office assisting.

Why Work in the Medical Field?

If you’re passionate about helping others, working in health care is among the most gratifying career options. You’ll make a difference in the community and enjoy the many benefits of a growing field.


Health care is second only to manufacturing as the largest source of jobs in the United States. Opportunities exist regardless of education level. Whether you have a doctorate or a GED, you’re needed.

Now is a tough time for many industries. Careers that were once slam dunks are fading away, replaced by automation. But workers in the health care sector have a greater chance of finding a job and keeping it as our population grows and ages. Few choices offer as much security. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects occupations in medical assisting will skyrocket 19 percent in the next decade.

Growth Potential

In some fields, employees top out in salary and growth potential within a few years. But in the medical field, education and experience build on one another, so not only can you advance into supervisory positions in your area of expertise, but you can also use what you know to begin an entirely new career if your interests change. The avenues for professional growth are abundant.


Not every day in health care is like it is on TV. But the challenges are real, and there’s always something new to learn.

You’ll work with state-of-the-art equipment and have a front-row seat to the latest treatment innovations. The work is consistent enough to be comfortable, yet no two days are identical. If you thrive in a fast-paced environment that’s predictable yet intriguing, there’s no better field than health care.

What Is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Medical Office Assistant?

Medical office assisting is an administrative-only role. Everything they do supports patients and the clinical team, but they have no medical decision-making responsibilities.

Medical assistants are trained to tackle both clinical and clerical tasks. Working closely with doctors and nurses, some of their responsibilities overlap with a medical office assistant’s, but in most settings, their job is more clinical than administrative. Both roles are equally critical, so for prospective students, program choice should depend on your preferences and aptitudes.

What Does a Medical Office Assistant Do?

A medical office assistant works either in the front office or back, or both. Duties include answering the phone and scheduling and greeting patients, to name a few.

Answering Telephone Calls

Medical office assistants manage the switchboard, answering general inquiries and directing clinical calls to the most appropriate clinical provider. Vocational school programs include general medical courses, so graduates are ready for this role even without prior health care experience.


Managing the schedule in a busy practice is a challenge. It’s more than just filling in time slots. It’s ensuring that the correct staff and equipment are available for each appointment. The goal is to deliver timely care, keep the clinical staff busy, and be ready for emergencies.

Greeting Patients

A medical office assistant’s most important responsibility is patient care, making patients feel welcomed and safe. Vulnerable patients need a helping hand navigating a complicated health care system. Vocational school graduates have all the necessary administrative and soft skills to be frontline patient representatives.

Updating Health Records

Medical office assistants check patients in when they arrive, confirming key demographic data and insurance policy information. This is the official start of the doctor-patient interaction and will be used for billing and making treatment decisions, so accuracy is a must.

Managing Medical Records

Medical office assistants manage electronic and paper health records, ensuring they’re well organized and easily accessible. Vocational school diploma programs cover electronic medical records (EMR), electronic health records (EHR), filing procedures, and practice management software.

Medical Coding

Medical codes are short alphanumeric sequences used to condense the volume of data on insurance claims. Every symptom, disorder, and service is classified using one of three common coding systems. Medical office assistants start the coding process at check-in, initiating the chain of documentation that will be used for billing.

Interoffice Communication

Health data change hands every time a physician orders a test, procedure, or referral. A medical office assistant helps facilitate the safe transfer of sensitive medical information, assisting the patient with scheduling services and obtaining insurance preapproval.


In large practices, medical office assistants share billing responsibilities with billing and coding specialists. They manage insurance claims, collect copayments, send invoices, and handle collections. They assist office managers by creating financial reports, balancing the cash drawer, and processing credit card payments at the end of each day.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants typically receive a more general overview training of in-office procedures. Since they have both clerical and clinical responsibilities, the more complex administrative tasks usually fall to office assistants. A medical assistant’s responsibilities include these.

Triaging Calls

A medical assistant is a member of the clinical team. When patients call their provider to report worrisome symptoms, medical assistants take those calls and collect data for the physician. Their medical training helps them determine which information is pertinent.

Rooming Patients

Medical assistants escort patients to their examination rooms, performing clinical tasks while waiting for the provider. They take vital signs, collect urine samples, review the patient’s medication and allergy lists, complete screening questionnaires, and help with pre-exam preparation. The goal is to save the doctor’s time and make visits more efficient.

Taking Vital Signs

Vital signs, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, weight, and peripheral oxygen saturation are important measures of health. Obtained at each visit, they help doctors to diagnose disease, monitor changes in health, and calculate select drug dosages.

Stocking Supplies

Medical assistants know what providers need to perform exams. They refill supplies between appointments so everything the doctor needs is within reach.

Collecting Biological Specimens

Medical assistants collect biological samples, such as blood, urine, and sputum for testing, it’s a technical task requiring proper handling for accurate results. When testing isn’t performed in-house, they may send shipments to outside labs for processing.

Performing Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests, such as electrocardiograms, can now be performed in a doctor’s office minutes before a scheduled exam. A medical assistant working in a cardiology practice may do dozens a day, as well as calibrate and maintain the equipment.


Phlebotomy is the process of drawing blood from a vein with a needle. Once done only in hospitals, it’s a value-added service many health care practices now offer. It’s a skill medical assistants learn in school.

Infection Control

Health care settings serve ill people, and they can be a reservoir for dangerous germs. Medical assistants keep patients safe by sanitizing exam rooms, disinfecting equipment, and sterilizing shared instruments.

Assisting With Procedures

Medical assistants serve as an extra pair of hands during minor surgical procedures, setting up equipment, handing the surgeon instruments, and supporting the patient. They also manage aftercare, including specimen processing and bandaging. At the follow-up visit, they may assist the doctor with removing stitches or staples.

Educating Patients

Medical assistants are physicians’ representative. They can’t offer medical advice, but with supervision, they can review the doctor’s instructions, guide patients through the visit process, and answer simple health questions within their scope of practice. As the first and last clinical team member to see patients when they visit, they’re a go-to source for information.

Where Can Medical Assistants and Medical Office Assistants Work?

Most medical office assistants and medical assistants are employed in similar settings, but their roles vary in each.

Doctors’ Offices

In private practices, medical office assistants manage nonclinical front office tasks supervised by office managers and upper-level administrators. Medical assistants work in the back office with the clinical team under the direction of licensed professionals including doctors, physician assistants, and registered nurses.


Hospitals hire medical office assistants in a wide range of different departments to handle the phones, keep records, check patients in, and bill health insurance companies. Since medical assistants can handle clinical tasks, they’re likelier to work in ambulatory care departments with outpatients, which is similar in many ways to how private practices operate.

Clinics and Urgent Care Facilities

Since clinics are smaller than hospitals, they employ medical office assistants to help with a broad array of clerical tasks, from scheduling to billing. Clinics and urgent care facilities tend to hire medical assistants in more clinical roles, but duties may intersect.

Insurance Companies

Medical office assistants’ clinical knowledge is helpful for insurers who utilize them in support roles. Clinical jobs at insurance companies are usually limited to nurses, so it remains an atypical setting for medical assistants.

Billing Services

Medical billing services are increasingly popular among private practices for their cost efficiency. Medical office assistants may work with billing specialists, servicing dozens of financial accounts. Medical assistants are also qualified for the job, but few do it because it’s a primarily administrative position and poor use of their clinical training.

Final Thoughts

Health care is a noble profession, but some roles in the field take four, six, or even eight years in college to prepare for. But you can become a medical office assistant or medical assistant in months, not years, and they’re both up-and-coming careers.

Few jobs exist that require only a vocational school diploma with as much opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others. So why settle? Train now for a rewarding future doing something you can be proud of.

Medical Assistant Program

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.

The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship at an actual medical facility where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Medical Office Administration Program

The Medical Office Administration program prepares students with the skills and training necessary to provide excellent administrative support while working and playing a key role in running an efficient, productive office in a variety of medical and business environments.

Through a blend of classroom instruction and practical hands-on training, Medical Office Administration program students receive an in-depth education in computer data entry of patient information, patient files, filing systems and records, insurance claim filing, and billing and coding.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant or medical office assistant on Long Island.