Dental Assistant Vs. Medical Assistant: Education and Career Differences

Dental assistants and medical assistants both work underneath licensed doctors, but they do so in different manners. This article compares and contrasts the education and career requirements of these healthcare professionals.

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Differences Between a Dental Assistant and a Medical Assistant

The biggest difference between a dental and medical assistant is the field in which they work. While both are healthcare professionals, dental assistants focus on the work of dentists, while medical assistants work under the supervision of physicians. These professions share some education requirements, though.

Dental Assistant Career and Education

Dental assistants work in dental offices, preparing laboratories and surgical rooms for a dentist's work. Specific duties include disinfecting instruments and equipment, laying them out for the dentist's use, obtaining and updating patients' dental records and preparing other materials, like x-rays, for the dentist to examine. Dental assistants may also make casts of teeth for impressions and clean appliances in a dental office.

Education

Technically, the only education requirement for dental assistants is a high school diploma. Dental assistants may be hired straight out of high school to work entry-level assisting jobs at community health centers and hospitals, where they receive on-the-job training. Many secondary education programs exist for those wishing to earn more pay and have more responsibility.

In fact, as of 2013, the Commission on Dental Accreditation had approved 250 dental assisting training programs. The Dental Assisting National Board administers licensing for dental assistants, which is something 37 states recognize or require.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 25% job increase for dental assistants between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the national average of 11% (www.bls.gov). The reported median annual wage for dental assistants in May 2012 was $34,500.

Medical Assistant Career and Education

Medical assistants are often divided into types based on the setting in which they work. For instance, medical assistants may work as administrative medical assistants or clinical medical assistants. Both types of assistants work under all types of physicians, including podiatrists, chiropractors and general practitioners.

Education

Most medical assistants are trained on the job, but many community and vocational schools offer medical assistant programs that take 1-2 years to complete. These programs lead to certificates, diplomas and associate's degrees, and they include such courses as anatomy, medical terminology and keyboarding.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Medical assistants can look forward to an increase in employment opportunities of 29% in the 2012-2022 decade, according to the BLS, which is faster than average. Their median annual wages were reported to be $29,370 in May 2012.

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