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What Is the Difference Between Medical Assisting and Medical Billing?

Job opportunities in healthcare are waiting for you to apply. Two popular roles, medical assisting and medical billing, are especially rewarding. One is a clinical role, and the other is purely administrative, yet the job descriptions overlap. Let’s explore what medical assistants and medical billers do, how they differ, and which is right for you.

Why Do People Work in Healthcare?

Careers in the healthcare industry offer more than practical benefits. People join the field because:

It’s Exciting

Medical dramas rank among the most watched TV in US history. Viewers who like science enjoy the mystery of medical puzzles. So why sit on the sidelines when you can be part of the action?

Working in a hospital or doctor’s office, you’ll see more intriguing cases than on TV and learn how they affect people in real life. Using the latest equipment and your expertise, you’ll help vulnerable patients navigate stressful situations.


There’s something sad about counting the minutes until your shift ends. Whether you’re underutilized at your current job or just bored, it wears on you to waste time when you could be productive. Healthcare environments are fast paced without being overwhelming.

There’s Something New to Learn Every Day

It’s easy to stagnate in a role when every day is the same old thing. Rote tasks don’t help you grow. But, in a medical environment, no two days are ever alike. Each brings a new round of challenges that expand your horizons.

It’s Personally Rewarding

All types of work benefit the community, but it’s a shame if you’re making car parts when you know deep inside that you should be focused on wellness. We’re all born with unique talents, and people who are drawn to the medical field feel a need to help others. Using your gifts is rewarding because it makes the most difference.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant is a versatile support professional. Trained in both health and administration, they have both clinical and administrative responsibilities in an office setting, including:

  • Triaging patient inquiries
  • Greeting clients
  • Updating medical records
  • Taking vital signs
  • Obtaining biological samples
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Phlebotomy
  • Assisting with minor in-office surgical procedures
  • Sterilizing instruments
  • Maintaining equipment
  • Stocking exam rooms
  • Ordering supplies
  • Billing
  • Patient education

What Does a Medical Billing Specialist Do?

Medical billers manage invoices and insurance claims in healthcare settings. A medical background is necessary to thrive in the role, but medical billers have no clinical responsibilities. It’s a perfect job for people with an aptitude for science and medicine but don’t feel comfortable providing personal care. Business skills are a plus. A medical biller’s duties include:

  • Researching patient charts
  • Coding insurance forms
  • Submitting claims
  • Tracking payments
  • Invoicing
  • Collections
  • Investigating rejected claims
  • Handling billing inquiries
  • Accepting payments
  • Light accounting
  • Assisting with financial reports

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between Medical Assistants and Medical Billers?

Medical assistants and medical billers are both key players in healthcare offices. They both:

  • Are employed in similar settings, including hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics
  • Support licensed medical professionals
  • Work similar hours
  • Contribute to patient care

But that’s where the major similarities end.

Broader vs Focused Roles

As clinical support specialists, medical assistants have a broader role. They’re jacks of all trades who spend more time working directly with patients. Trained in office procedures, they can assist with billing duties in a pinch, but they spend more time engaged in clinical tasks.

Medical billers have a more focused role. Immersed in administrative tasks, they spend less time with patients and peers than with computers and charts. They’re a full part of the team but behind-the-scenes.

Public-Facing vs Behind-the-Scenes

Which job is for you? If you’re an enthusiastic people person with a passion for health and science, becoming a medical assistant may be more rewarding. The roles will occasionally intersect, but medical assisting is a more public-facing occupation. The pressure to keep clients satisfied is higher, but the personal rewards are unmatched. There’s nothing better than knowing you have a part in helping a sick person to get well.

But if your idea of weekend fun is a quiet afternoon with a 300-page thriller, becoming a medical billing and coding specialist may be a better choice. Part researcher and part professional organizer, these detail-oriented superstars make quick work of complex insurance forms and medical reimbursement systems. It may sound boring, but each transaction has a medical component that adds intrigue to the average accounting task. And you have the satisfaction of knowing that your work contributes to people’s wellness.

Although training programs are designed for beginners, you don’t need a background in accounting or finance to apply. People who enjoyed their previous jobs in an office or business setting will be comfortable as medical billers.

How Do You Become a Medical Assistant or Medical Biller?

Some medical assistants and billing specialists have a college degree, but you can qualify for most of the same entry-level jobs with a vocational school diploma. Instead of spending two, three or four years in college, you’ll graduate work-ready in months. For most people, enrolling in a vocational school medical assistant or medical billing program is the easiest way to launch a new career in healthcare.

What Are the Benefits of a Vocational School Program?

The benefits of attending a vocational school shouldn’t be underestimated. Unlike colleges, they offer the real-world training today’s students need to get a great job. The many benefits include:

A Complete Curriculum

Vocational school training is underrated. The curriculum is different than in colleges. Streamlined, there’s less focus on elective courses that don’t contribute directly to your skills. An early 18th-century literature class may help you grow as a person, but does it improve your ability to manage patient care or troubleshoot insurance claims? Vocational schools prepare you for success by teaching you the hands-on skills you will need in your new roles. Programs are shorter but no less complete.

A Competitive Advantage

Without formal education, you’ll struggle to get a job. Employers prefer applicants with proven skills that need less on-the-job training and supervision. Completing a vocational school program demonstrates a commitment to learning, and it says you take your role seriously. A diploma makes a resume shine.

Seasoned Instructors

College professors are experts in their field, but they’re not necessarily professionals in yours. Vocational school instructors have industry experience. Most have worked their way through the field from the bottom up, and they have unique experiences students benefit from.

There’s always a gap in learning between the classroom and the work environment, life doesn’t happen in a laboratory. Vocational school teachers are a bridge between book and practical learning.

Hands-On Learning

Vocational school programs have a balanced blend of theory and practical application. The learning is hands-on. You’ll validate concepts covered by applying them to a practical task. Medical assistant students practice in a simulated laboratory while billers research mock charts on computers. Some days, you’ll feel less like you’re learning and more like you’re working.

Externships For Clinical Programs

Some college students can graduate without spending a day in a medical setting. Despite the shorter program length, vocational schools offer plenty of real-world learning opportunities for select programs. Some programs provide you with the opportunity to spend time with experienced peers in your field, watching how they do their jobs. You’ll get to practice the skills you’ve learned so that nothing will be intimidating on your first day at work.

Networking Opportunities

Breaking into a new field without knowing anyone is tough. The best jobs are found through connections; friends, family and peers who are familiar with your skills and strong work ethic.

As a vocational school student, you’ll meet like-minded peers and future colleagues. Many of your instructors are still employed in the field, and students of select programs will have an opportunity to impress potential employers during externships. By the time you graduate, you will have made enough meaningful connections to help you find your dream job.

Career Services

How valuable is an education if it doesn’t help you land a job? Vocational schools excel at helping their graduates find gainful employment. They work closely with local businesses, fine-tuning their curriculum to meet employers’ needs.

In return, healthcare facilities call schools when they need qualified staff in a hurry. Did you know that many available jobs are never posted publicly? Instead, employers look for candidates where the talent is.


You’ll always feel a step behind working in a field without the proper training. Going to a vocational school can change that. They’ll prepare you for your first day of work with the confidence you need to succeed. The sense of pride and confidence a diploma gives you is priceless.

Final Thoughts

The good news for students interested in the healthcare field is that the demand for talent is high. Both medical assistants and medical billers can look forward to a more secure and rewarding future.

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 in an actual medical environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Medical Billing Specialist Program

The Medical Billing Specialist diploma program prepares medical billing students to obtain entry-level employment specializing in medical related billing and coding in physicians’ offices and health insurance companies. The diploma program utilizes a current software product for managing medical practices. Training topics covered include billing and coding, accounts receivable, insurance billing, patient statements, encounter forms, appointment scheduling, procedure history, payment posting, diagnostic history, and referring doctor information.

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