Medical Office Assistant vs. Unit Clerk: What's the Difference?

Updated January 2024

There's a lot of overlap between the work of a medical office assistant (MOA) and a nursing unit clerk. Both carry out a range of tasks that keep a medical facility operating effectively.

So how are they different?

The main difference between an MOA and a unit clerk is that MOAs may help with certain clinical procedures, like measuring vital signs. Unit clerks tend to focus on clerical tasks only.

Ultimately, however, the two jobs are more alike than not.

In this post, we break down the basics of the MOA and unit clerk roles: what they do, where they work, how much they make, and what training and skills they need.

Explore the similarities and differences and get a better understanding of both careers.


Moa vs unit clerk: WHAT THEY DO

The basic job description for both a unit clerk and a medical office assistant involves keeping the administrative side of a healthcare facility running smoothly. That includes public clinics, private clinics, and hospitals.

Unit clerks provide clerical and communication support in a nursing unit. Their duties typically include:

☑️ Greeting patients

☑️ Answering the phone and distributing mail

☑️ Booking appointments

☑️ Scheduling tests and arranging for equipment and patient transportation as needed

☑️ Communicating with healthcare providers, patients, and families

☑️ Managing inventory and ordering supplies

☑️ Maintaining patient charts

☑️ Transcribing doctors' orders

☑️ Preparing staff time sheets

☑️ Processing billing


Medical office assistants have many of the same responsibilities. The difference is that they might also have clinical tasks like:

☑️ Measuring patients' weight and height

☑️ Checking patients' body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration rate

☑️ Collecting samples for the lab

☑️ Cleaning and preparing exam rooms

☑️ Assisting during exams and minor procedures


Fundamentally, the two roles are very similar. The main difference is that MOAs tend to have more contact with patients, depending on the needs of the clinic where they work.


Moa vs unit clerk: WHERE THEY WORK

Unit clerks typically work in hospitals, hospices, and long-term care facilities.

Because these types of facilities operate around the clock, clerks may have night or weekend shifts.

Medical office assistants can work in those same places. But they are more commonly employed in outpatient settings, such as:

☑️ Doctors' offices

☑️ Walk-in clinics

☑️ Medical labs

☑️ Physiotherapy clinics

☑️ Dental offices

☑️ Massage therapy clinics

☑️ Diagnostic medical imaging centres

MOAs in clinics and medical offices tend to work regular business hours rather than shifts.


Moa vs unit clerk: HOW MUCH THEY MAKE

Wages are very similar for MOAs and unit clerks.

Unit clerks earn a median wage of $22.50 per hour, according to the Government of Canada Job Bank.

Medical office assistants make almost an identical amount. The Job Bank says the median hourly wage in Ontario is $22.56.

Based on full-time work, unit clerks and medical office assistants both make about $47,000 a year.


Moa vs unit clerk: WHAT SKILLS THEY NEED

Unit clerks and medical office assistants require many of the same skills. To succeed in either role, you need:

☑️ Knowledge of medical terminology

Understanding the basics of human anatomy and physiology is important.

Unit clerks and MOAs have to know the proper terminology so they can communicate with medical staff, interpret doctors' notes, and maintain files accurately.

MOAs take it one step further. They often help with minor clinical procedures like irrigating wounds and repairing lacerations, so they have to be familiar with how the body works.

A quality medical office assistant course will teach you about the language of medicine as well as common illnesses and treatments.


☑️ Computer skills

Like all administrative professionals, unit clerks and MOAs need excellent keyboarding skills. And they must be comfortable working with Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel, and Outlook.

Some positions call for knowledge of specialty software.

For instance, hospital unit clerks might need to know PowerChart or ANSOS. Medical office assistants might need experience with Accuro or PS Suite.

MOA training has a strong focus on software, so students get lots of practice with the kinds of systems used by healthcare clinics and institutions.


☑️ Interpersonal and communication skills

Unit clerks and MOAs constantly interact with medical staff, patients, and families from different backgrounds and walks of life.

They must have top-notch people skills to communicate effectively and ensure that everyone gets the information (or reassurance) they need.

Speaking multiple languages can also be a bonus, especially in a multicultural city like Toronto.


☑️ Organization and time management skills

Keeping files, documents, and schedules organized is a key skill for both unit clerks and MOAs.

Whether they're transcribing doctors' recordings, setting up appointments, or updating patient charts, they have to stay on top of deadlines and details.

Being organized and efficient is critical.



You can get started as a unit clerk or an MOA with a college diploma.

The knowledge and skills required for each job are so similar that many schools combine them in a single program. Training can typically be completed in less than a year.



Looking for quality training that can prepare you for either one of these healthcare careers?

Check out the MOA program from Herzing College, delivered online. It takes no more than 12 months to complete and includes an internship at a local hospital or clinic.

Need more info? An admissions advisor can answer any questions you have about career options, admission requirements, costs, financial aid, and more.

Click below to get more details on the MOA program and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!

Explore the Online MOA Program

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