A health care or medical assistant performs basic care and administrative duties in a doctor's office, clinic or hospital. The role varies by health care specialty, but common duties include gathering patient information, checking vital signs, taking notes during a physician's visit, giving shots and preparing lab specimens for testing.
A non-licensed medical assistant performs administrative duties. You gather patient information to update records, check vitals before the doctor enters, take notes during the exam, schedule appointments and prepare labs. A state-licensed physician assistant offers more involved health care, including ordering tests and X-rays, diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, treating injuries and advising patients on post-visit care.
A medical assistant who performs mostly routine, administrative functions doesn't need a formal education. However, some employers want a one- or two-year technical degree in health care. For a physician assistant job, you need a two-year assistant degree. You must then pass a national certification exam to get your state license. Assistants sometimes start in nursing roles. For assistant jobs, employers seek communication skills, compassion and problem-solving abilities.