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.
What are the Education and Career 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 focus on a series of other specialties, such as pediatrics and general care. These professions share education requirements.
Overview of 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.
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 2009, the Commission on Dental Accreditation had approved 281 dental assisting training programs, and many vocational schools offer 4-6 month non-accredited courses in dental assisting. 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 36% job increase for dental assistants between 2008 and 2018, among the fastest rate for any occupation (www.bls.gov). The reported median annual wage for dental assistants in May 2008 was $32,380.
Overview of Medical Assistant Career and Education
Medical assistants are often divided into types based on the setting they work in. For instance, medical assistants may work as an administrative medical assistant or a clinical medical assistant. Within the clinical medical assistant role, there are other types of medical assistants based on the medical profession they assist. Medical assistants work under all types of physicians, including podiatrists, chiropractors and general practitioners. They may report directly to a series of individuals, such as office managers and health practitioners.
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 are offered as certificates, diplomas and associate's degrees, and they cover such courses as anatomy, medical terminology and keyboarding. Students are recommended to have strong organizational and secretarial skills, as job functions often change from day to day.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Medical assistants could also look forward to increased job growth, by about 34%, in the 2008-2018 timeframe, according to the BLS. Their median annual wages were reported to be $28,300 in May 2008.
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