Table of Contents:
The healthcare industry is full of passionate professionals with the desire to help other people. Do you consider yourself passionate about helping others? Do you think about being a part of this industry?
When learning about the different healthcare career options available, you’ll find that becoming a medical office assistant and a pharmacy assistant are two of the quickest paths of entry into healthcare and both are in demand. They provide you with a fast-paced team environment where you interact with people and help patients and clients.
With both options providing you with a fulfilling career, choosing a career path may not be as clear-cut. So, how do you choose the right one for you? In this article, we break down the factors you should consider when deciding whether to become a medical office assistant or a pharmacy assistant.
Read on to learn about the two roles, including their similarities and differences.
What is a Medical Office Assistant?
Medical Office Assistants (MOAs) are essential members of the healthcare team. They may also be referred to as Medical Office Administrators, Medical Secretaries, and Medical Receptionists.
MOAs assist doctors, nurses, and allied health practitioners with administrative work to keep operations in the medical setting running smoothly.
They are the first point of contact for patients. Medical office assistant responsibilities include managing patient records, providing medical transcriptions, answering patient questions, scheduling patient appointments, and taking their height and weight measurements as well as blood pressure and temperature readings.
MOAs work in various medical settings, including clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, laboratories, and more.
What is a Pharmacy Assistant?
A Pharmacy Assistant (PA) plays a critical role in supporting pharmacy operations. In some areas of Canada, they are referred to as Pharmacy Aides or Pharmacy Supply Assistants.
They process prescriptions for patients every day. The process includes receiving the request, updating patient records, filing prescription claims to the patient’s insurance, measuring, and dispensing the drugs, scheduling prescription pickup, providing medication information to the patient, and answering any questions they may have.
Pharmacy assistants can work in retail pharmacies and pharmacies in clinics, long-term care facilities, and more. They manage inventory to keep operations running and place orders on medications that are running low.
PAs also perform specialized tasks such as using pharmacy software for managing records and assisting pharmacists in mixing medication or ‘compounding’.
Key Similarities Between Medical Office Assistants and Pharmacy Assistants
In addition to being two in-demand, quick-entry health careers, pharmacy assistants and medical office assistants are similar in other ways. Here are some of the ways these two central healthcare roles are similar.
MOAs and PAs both deal with customers on a regular basis, handling patient files and becoming the primary point of contact for patients. In doing so, they are expected to provide excellent customer service and follow the ethical guidelines and legal regulations of the healthcare industry, maintaining strict patient confidentiality.
Both roles also require you to be an effective communicator, highly organized, attentive to detail, and knowledgeable about using computers and specialized software for managing patient files, appointments, and prescriptions.
Enjoy Job Market Demand and Job Resilience after a Short Training Period
Now is a great time to consider a Pharmacy Assistant or Medical Office Administrator for a number of reasons.
Here are three of the compelling reasons to explore a career as an MOA or a Pharmacy Assistant:
- Growing Demand: The healthcare industry continues to experience rising demand due to an aging population and an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases. This demand creates job opportunities for both roles.
- Healthcare Resilience: The healthcare sector has proven to be resilient during economic downturns, making it a stable choice during uncertain times.
- Short Training Period: There are diploma programs you can complete in less than a year to get you ready for either a pharmacy assistant or a medical office assistant role.
The earning potential between medical office assistants and pharmacy assistants is very good. MOAs can earn up to $52,763 per year while pharmacy assistants can earn $56,350 annually. For comparison, the minimum wage in Alberta would provide an annual income of $31,200, while in Ontario that increases to only $34,400.
As you may expect, there are regional differences and your starting and maximum salaries depend upon which province you work in. It is also worth noting that wages increase as you advance in your career. For example, taking on a more managerial or lead role should lead to higher pay.
What are the Differences Between Medical Office Assistants and Pharmacy Assistants?
While medical office assistant and pharmacy assistant roles share similarities, they also have distinct differences. Here are some of the factors that differentiate the two roles from each other:
There are specific skill sets required to perform the duties of a medical office assistant and a pharmacy assistant. These skills are unique to their roles: Pharmacy Assistants are trained in pharmacology, compounding, pharmacy calculations, and knowledge of pharmacy-specific software.
Medical Office Assistants, on the other hand, have knowledge of medical office procedures, medical transcription, and First Aid & CPR. In addition, they use specialized health care billing software.
When looking at both medical office assistant and pharmacy assistant duties, you can see that both have similarities and differences. Their work can be divided into the following areas:
Medical office assistant responsibilities include managing patient files. They handle healthcare insurance billing, patient request forms, doctor prescriptions, and even laboratory samples. They are also responsible for coordinating with external healthcare specialists.
A pharmacy assistant also manages patient billing, inventory paperwork, as well as patient availability for medication pick-up and pharmacist calls. In addition, pharmacy assistants also update pharmacy computer systems with new drug and doctor information.
Both MOAs and pharmacy assistants maintain their offices but in different ways. Medical office assistants prepare, maintain, and replace supplies used at a medical office. They oversee order placement for medical items like syringes or gauze and office supplies like printer paper.
While pharmacy assistants also order office supplies, their bigger responsibility is the management of drug inventory. They maintain a strict system to ensure new and old stock are managed properly. Once a new shipment comes in, they are responsible for organizing them in the appropriate shelves and storage and keep corresponding records.
Dealing with patients is a large responsibility for both positions. MOAs and PAs are the faces of their respective healthcare setting and are responsible for facilitating patient care.
For medical receptionists, this means that they document important patient information for the doctor’s reference while pharmacy assistants receive and record patient information for the pharmacist’s use.
There are key differences in the workplaces of medical office assistants and pharmacy assistants.
They both have desk space for computer work and patient reception. They also work in areas specific to the nature of their job. For the pharmacy assistant this is the inventory area, locating the right patient medication, while for medical office assistants, this could vary.
A medical office assistant can work in a medical office, hospital, dental clinic, laboratories, or even long-term care facilities. MOAs may have additional duties that are specific to the work environment they are in, such as lab test requisitions, or even dental record management.
Medical Office Assistant and Pharmacy Assistant Career Pathways
Medical office assistants can become medical transcriptionists, medical receptionists, clinic coordinators, or medical schedulers.
Sundance College’s Medical office administration graduate Valerie R. was able to land two jobs using her education. “I’m a medical officer at an urgent care clinic,” she said. “I’m also a booking clerk for the gestational diabetes clinic at the general hospital.”
Valerie’s long-term goal is to use her education and experience to become a hospital unit clerk, another role available to medical office assistants.
Meanwhile, pharmacy assistant career growth potential is just as promising. Suby M., for example, used her Sundance College Pharmacy Assistant diploma and her experience working in Shoppers Drug Mart to land a job with Alberta Health Services.
“I am so proud to say that I got hired in the place where I did my practicum,” she exclaimed. “They trusted me because of the knowledge and skills I gained from Sundance College.”
Those with proper education and training can become retail pharmacy assistants, hospital pharmacy assistants, or central fill dispensary assistants.
Any of these positions are good employment opportunities and can have the potential to be promoted to a higher position or used as experience to apply for other companies.
Which One is Right for You?
Considering all the factors that have been laid out, choosing between a pharmacy assistant and a medical office assistant career is basically splitting hairs. In choosing one of these two medical support roles, the decision lies in the best fit for your situation.
You may find that working near home is the most important
aspect to you because you have kids. The pay rate may be your most important
factor because you are saving money towards a big purchase.
If you are still torn between your options, then using tools like Sundance College’s free career quiz can be useful for your decision making.
Regardless of which path you choose: you can rest assured that you will make a great decision either way.
Embarking on Your Journey: First Steps to Consider
Once you have decided on which career path you will take, the next step is to figure out how to begin working in your field.
Completing a diploma program for either pharmacy assistant or medical office assistant will help you gain all the knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience needed to excel in either of these roles.
There are many colleges offering programs for these careers, so the question becomes, which one should you choose?
Pick a college that offers you a good balance of training and practicum experience, delivered by industry-experienced instructors, and a supportive institution that’s willing to work with you and your unique needs.
Learn more about how to choose the right college in our blog article: “7 Signs to Look for When Choosing Your Career College”
Kickstart Your Career with Sundance College
Embarking on your first or a new career path as a Pharmacy Assistant or MOA can be one of the best decisions you make if you are looking for a rewarding and meaningful role in healthcare.
If you’re ready to take advantage of Pharmacy Assistant and Medical Office Assistant job opportunities, Sundance College offers accelerated diploma programs that you can complete in 10 months (43 weeks).
Student Support: Throughout your learning journey at Sundance, you'll receive guidance and support from caring admissions advisors, experienced instructors, and responsive student service assistants who are dedicated to your success.
- Online Program Options: For added flexibility, Sundance College offers online pharmacy assistant and medical office assistant programs, allowing you to better balance your studies with other commitments.
- Laptop Program: Sundance College pioneered a laptop program as part of ensuring you have the tools you need to succeed.
- Career Services: Sundance College is committed to helping students achieve their career aspirations. Our Career Services teams provide assistance with resume building, preparing for interviews, job search planning, and more.
- 7-week practicum placement: Practical work experience provides you with real-world experience in your field which sets you apart from other candidates – both on your resume as well as during an interview.
Whether you choose our Pharmacy Assistant or Medical Office Administration – Health Unit Coordinator diploma program, you can take your first step today by filling out our form so that one of our academic advisors can reach out and answer your questions including: Are scholarships available? Will I get funding? Do I qualify? And more.