Medical Assistant Vs. Dental Assistant: What Is the Pay Difference?

If you'd like a job performing administrative duties for a doctor or dentist, then you may want to consider a job as a medical assistant or dental assistant. Both of these positions are similar, but they do differ in job duties and pay. Read on to find out how much you could earn in each position. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Duties

Medical assistants work for physicians, chiropractors and other healthcare professionals. The exact duties of this position may vary depending on your employer, but general duties include recording patients' blood pressure, pulse and other vital signs and assisting with examinations.

As a dental assistant, you may gather materials needed for x-rays, fillings and impressions. You may also prep patients and retrieve tools such as suction hoses for the dentist during a procedure.

Administrative duties for medical assistants and dental assistants are closely related. You may be expected to properly file medical records or insurance paperwork. Managing inventory of medical equipment and supplies is another job duty of both these professionals.

Salary Comparison

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that medical assistants earned a mean hourly wage of $14.69 and a mean annual wage of $30,550 in May 2012 (www.bls.gov). Dental assistants, on the other hand, earned a mean hourly wage of $16.86 and a mean annual salary of $35,080 in the same reporting year.

Salary by Industry

With a mean annual wage of $42,250, medical assistants who worked in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earned some of the highest salaries in this field in May 2012, according to the BLS. However, most worked for physicians' offices and were paid an average wage of $30,740. Those working for general hospitals earned a slightly higher average wage of $31,750, while those working for offices of other health practitioners made a lower average salary of $27,420.

In contrast, dental assistants working in specialty hospitals earned an average salary of $39,380 as of May 2012, making it one of the top-paying industries, according to the BLS. However, most of these professionals worked for dentists' offices and were paid $35,070 on average. A smaller number worked for physicians' offices and earned an average wage of $33,210. Outpatient care centers offered an average salary of $34,880.

Salary by Location

According to the BLS, California and Texas had high medical assistant and dental assistant employment levels in May 2012. While medical assistants earned respective average wages of $33,750 and $28,270 in these states, dental assistants earned higher respective average wages of $36,660 and $32,700.

In May 2012, the BLS reported that the states offering medical assistants the highest pay included Alaska ($39,900), the District of Columbia ($37,800) and Massachusetts ($37,210). The District of Colombia also offered dental assistants one of the highest average wages of $41,730, and Massachusetts paid these professionals an average wage of $41,290. However, the top-paying state for dental assistants was New Hampshire, where these professionals earned $43,480 on average.

States that included Utah, South Dakota, Alabama, West Virginia, and Oklahoma paid both types of these professionals the lowest wages, according to May 2012 BLS data. The low-end average salary range was $22,460-$28,140 for medical assistants and $17,530-$31,480 for dental assistants.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that job openings for medical assistants were expected to grow at a rate of 29% from 2012-2022. This very fast growth is attributed to a rising demand for more healthcare workers as the number of elderly patients increases. Dental assistants are expected to see 25% growth in job openings during the same reporting decade. Job prospects are projected to be good due to the number of new dentists needing qualified dental assistants to perform routine procedures.

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