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Medical Assistant vs. Medical Coder: Which Career Is Right for You?

Written by Nicole Krempasky on Monday, 23 January 2023. Posted in Career

Woman with brown hair, wearing a surgical mask and gray scrubs, standing in front of medical equipment.

The demand for healthcare professionals has, for the most part, always been pretty steady. However, the need for qualified, well-rounded healthcare workers has increased in the past few years, thanks in part to the Covid-19 pandemic. Medical assistants and medical coders, in particular, have seen a steady rise in need. Here we will break down the similarities and differences between the two, and what’s needed to get started in both, to help you make the best career choice for you.

What are the job duties for medical assistants vs medical coders?

Medical assistant support patients in a combination of administrative tasks and clinical responsibilities, while medical coders support medical professionals behind-the-scenes.

Being in the medical field, both medical assistants and medical coders face some overlap in what they need to know to be successful in their roles. Their job titles explain a bit about what they do, but there’s so much more.

Medical Assistants. Offering support in medical settings, medical assistants’ duties usually are a combination of both administrative tasks and clinical responsibilities, which can give you variety throughout your typical workday.

  • Administrative duties involve welcoming patients, updating records, scheduling appointments, and coordinating with other providers, hospitals, and insurance companies.
  • Clinical duties for medical assistants include taking medical histories, collecting laboratory samples, patient exam preparation, and reviewing information with patients.

Medical Coders. Also offering support to medical professionals, medical coders serve a more behind-the-scenes role than medical assistants, with fewer patient interactions. They can work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and healthcare clinics. They review patient charts, verify and collect information from healthcare providers, and assign medical codes to diagnoses and procedures according to insurance regulations.

Your personality and interests will play a large part in which career is best for you. For instance, if you really enjoy working with people face-to-face, being a medical assistant may be a more fulfilling career for you. Or, if you like to follow specific rules and are very organized, preferring to work more independently and with less personal interaction, medical coding might be a better fit.

However, since there is overlap in skills and knowledge needed for both roles, medical assistants sometimes transition into medical coding at some point in their careers. Their knowledge of medical terminology, diagnoses, and procedures can provide valuable information in medical coding careers.

Learn more: What Jobs are in Doctors Offices?

What do medical assistants and medical coders earn?

Another difference between medical assistants and medical coders is the salary. The average salary of a medical assistant is $37,190. These are in-person jobs, working on-site within an office, making it a great job option for people who like to keep busy and be around others.

Alternatively, medical coders earn an average of $46,660 and have a few more options in where and how they work. Some hospitals and insurance companies hire medical coders on a contract basis or as part-time employees. As a contractor, you may be able to pick and choose when you want to take a job. Medical coding can also be done remotely, which can be a bonus if you’re a parent or caretaker for family members needing a flexible schedule.

It’s important to note that medical assistant careers are projected to grow at a fast pace, nearly 16% over the next decade. While there is a demand for medical coders, growth is a bit slower, with a 7% increase over the next ten years, so a job as a medical assistant may be a faster option to start your career.

Learn more: Medical Administrative Assistant vs Medical Office Receptionist

What education do you need to be a medical assistant and medical coder?

Medical assistants and medical requires both require high school diplomas and while both careers can sometimes learn on the job, training is usually beneficial.

Another area where medical assistants and medical coders are very similar is in educational requirements. Both positions require a high school diploma to get started. Medical assistants can learn on the job, but many employers prefer to hire someone with career training. Ashworth’s Medical Assistant Career Diploma can help you learn the basics of clinical practice, like psychology, anatomy, and physiology. It also can help you prepare to sit for certification exams, which can be appealing to potential employers.

Read more: How to Get a Diploma in Medical Billing and Coding

Medical coders also need a high school diploma or equivalent and career training, like Ashworth’s Medical Billing and Coding Career Diploma. The course covers information like medical terminology, how to identify certain procedures, and ethics and confidentiality laws. This program, too, can help you earn in-demand certifications. Tuition even includes a voucher to cover most of the costs associated with taking the Certified Billing and Coding Specialist (CBCS) exam from the National Healthcareer Association.

Read more: Launch a Medical Billing and Coding Career

Can a medical assistant work as a coder?

Medical assistants can work as medical coders, depending on the circumstance. Within a medical office setting, it’s not unusual for medical assistants to be trained in coding practices. You will sometimes see medical assistants transition their careers into medical coding.

Learn more: How to Become a Medical Coder With No Experience

Who makes more money, medical assistants or medical coders?

Medical coders make on average $46,660 a year, while medical assistants make on average $37,190 a year. However, these averages depend on where you work and your experience.

Learn more: Medical Billing & Coding Day in the Life

What position is higher than a medical assistant?

Many medical assistants who enjoy their work progress to earning their license as licensed practical nurses or even registered nurses. Those who want to move up into higher roles, putting their skills to good use but not necessarily work clinically, pursue careers in healthcare administration through an associate degree.

Explore more: Which Healthcare Career Is Right for You?

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