Medical Assisting vs. Medical Office: Which program is right for you?

by Nyla on January 6, 2015 · 10:00 am

Working with a dedicated medical team that serves the health needs of others is a rewarding career you might be considering. But figuring out exactly where you fit in that environment may leave you with a great big question mark.

Front office, back office…or some of each? We can help you decide.

To start things off, take a good look at yourself. To be a part of any medical care team – clinical or administrative – one thing is essential: Good communication skills.

Most positions within a medical facility work with patients on some level. That means you will need to be sensitive, aware and responsive to the needs and feelings of others, as they deal with medical issues large and small. Customer service is never more important than during this interaction.

There are two main areas of service in the medical community: clinical and administrative. San Joaquin Valley College has programs that provide entry into each of these areas, at different levels.

What’s the Difference Between Clinical and Administrative Medical Assistants?

The main focus of a clinical medical assistant is the clinical aspects of a health practice, which may include preparing patients for medical examinations, documenting vital signs and medical histories, assisting physicians, performing minor treatments and providing in-person or over-the-phone home care instructions. Administrative medical assistants, on the other hand, mostly perform administrative tasks such as medical billing and coding, scheduling appointments, processing insurance claims and managing medical records.

Administrative and clinical medical assistants play pivotal roles in physicians’ offices, and no matter what career path you choose, San Joaquin Valley College has programs that provide entry into each of these areas, at different levels.

Medical Assistant school student practicing back office proceduresMedical Assistant: Clinical or “Back Office”

SJVC’s Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA) 7-month Certificate program provides students with the basic training required to work in a medical office. Emphasis is placed on clinical or back office education and training in preparation for direct patient care.

In SJVC’s 14-month Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting program (CAMA), students learn advanced training in medical office procedures, as well as in-depth front office procedures, while they earn an Associate of Science (A.S.) Degree. This extended program offers students greater versatility and flexibility in both front- and back-office knowledge and skills.

Click to learn more about SJVC’s Medical Assistant programs.


Medical Office program training front office assistantsMedical Office: Administrative or “Front Office”

SJVC’s 7-month, Certificate-level Medical Office Administration (MOA) program offers required training for an administrative support position in the front office of a medical facility.

The 14-month Medical Billing Specialist (MBS) A.S. degree-granting program offers additional clinical classes in addition to advanced training in medical billing, coding and office management.

Click to learn more about SJVC’s Medical Office programs.



The chart below will give you a closer look at specific information regarding program courses, outcomes and potential career positions for each of the medical programs:


Medical Assisting vs. Medical Office

Medical Assisting Medical Office
Program Content Lectures and labs emphasize hands-on learning techniques and include:

  • Patient care
  • Medical office procedures
  • Laboratory skills
  • Medical administrative practices*

*CAMA-specific training

Students enrolled in Medical Office programs learn:

  • Medical insurance principles
  • Medical office operations
  • Human relations
  • Medical law and regulations


Career Preparation Job duties graduates can expect to perform include:

  • Take medical histories & vital signs
  • Assist the physician with procedures
  • Clean & sterilize equipment
  • Perform office accounting, bookkeeping & billing*
  • Prepare insurance claims*

*CAMA-specific training

Medical Office administrators might perform many of the following job duties:

  • Process patient insurance claims
  • Assign ICD-9 & CPT codes to claims
  • Perform general bookkeeping
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Manage medical records
  • Answer patient insurance questions
Program Outcomes CMA graduates who earn their Certificates are eligible to sit for the California Certified Medical Assistant exam, offered by the California Certifying Board for Medical Assistants.

Online campus CMA graduates can sit for the National Certified Medical Assistant exam, offered by the National Center for Competency Testing.

CAMA graduates can sit for the Registered Medical Assistant exam offered by American Medical Technologists.

All CMA and CAMA graduates also earn Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Certification, CPR and First Aid Certification.

An externship component allows students to gain hands-on experience under the direction of a medical office manager or director.

Graduates are eligible to take several national certification and credentialing examinations administered by the National Center for Competency Testing.Graduates also earn Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), AHA-Adult & Infant CPR, and First Aid Certification.

 Careers SJVC’s CMA and CAMA graduates can go straight to work as Medical Assistants in environments such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, medical clinics and more. SJVC MOA and MBS graduates are ready to work in the office of several types of medical facilities, including dental offices, hospitals, doctors’ offices and more.





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Posted in Medical Assisting / Medical Office / Medical Programs / SJVC