Medical Assistant vs CNA - Learn The Difference

medical assistant vs CNA comparison

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Healthcare remains one of the fastest growing providers of employment, with incredible job growth potential. In addition to offering lucrative salaries and job security, one of the biggest appeals of the healthcare field is that aspiring applicants don’t necessarily have to possess an advanced degree to secure employment.

Thanks to numerous roles and responsibilities that require only a few months training to get started in, anyone with a basic diploma can begin a career in healthcare through only a few month’s training.

The medical assistant (MA) and certified nursing assistant (CNA) fields are two examples of this. And yes, despite the similarity in their names, both jobs are quite distinct. In case you would like to give either of these fields a chance but are confused by what exactly they entail, you don’t have to worry.

Below we take a deep dive into each, outlining their scopes, differences, salary, job outlook, and educational requirements among others.

Medical Assistant versus Certified Nursing Assistant - Overview

Who is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants play a key role in healthcare as they are one of the few healthcare workers who get to work in both direct patient care and administrative duties.Many consider medical assistants to be the link between patients and doctors, and their role in both areas reflect this sentiment.Among other things, they help facilitate communication between doctors and patients, record vitals, and prepare blood samples. Administratively, they help schedule appointments, maintain records and record new information.

Who is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

A CNA’s job is geared completely towards direct patient care, with very little to no administrative commitment required of them. Among other things, you can find a certified nursing assistant helping a patient take a shower, have their bath, eat their meals, get dressed, or get transferred from a bed to a wheelchair and vice versa.

Medical Assistant versus CNA - Roles & Responsibilities

Many confuse both roles as being synonymous to each other thanks to the similarity in their nomenclature. In reality, however, medical assistants and certified nursing assistants only share a couple of tasks, which are:• To take and record vital signs and• To support other healthcare staffGenerally, this is where the similarities end in terms of duties. Of course, respective employers may include additional shared tasks depending on the facility.

Duties & Tasks

Tasks & Duties of a Medical Assistant

While the specific duties of a medical assistant may vary depending on the specific facility and location in which they work, generally a medical assistant is expected to perform the following task in a healthcare environment:

  • Maintain and update medical records
  • Educate patients on the appropriate information they have to know
  • Oversee the preparation of examination rooms
  • Help doctors with minor procedures
  • Help administer medications to patients on doctor’s orders
  • Help administer vaccines to patients
  • Help collect blood samples
  • Help make arrangements for lab work such as x-rays and tests when ordered by the doctor

A medical assistant must also be prepared to take on assignments given by the doctor during the course of the day.

Tasks & Duties of a CNA

The tasks and responsibilities of a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) can vary depending on the specific facility in which they work. However, there are some duties that are commonly expected of CNAs in most healthcare settings. These may include:

  • Helping patients through various daily living activities (ADLs) which typically include having their meals, moving from one place to another, having their baths, and getting dressed.
  • Helping patients who are unable to move independently to transfer between beds, chairs, and other locations
  • Serving meals and assisting with feeding for patients who are unable to do so on their own
  • Organizing supplies and noting shortages or low levels of supplies
  • Observing patients for changes in mood or other signs of distress and reporting any concerns to the nursing staff
  • Maintaining a clean and orderly environment, including changing linens and cleaning patient rooms as needed.

Work Environments

Medical Assistant Work Environment

Medical assistants are often found working in a clinic setting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 57 percent of medical assistants work in a physician’s office. 15 percent of them work in hospitals, while the rest are found in outpatient facilities and chiropractors’ offices.

Incidentally, the majority of the facilities wherein medical assistants are found operate mainly during the day. For this reason, it is rare to find medical assistants working night shifts or during holidays.

Certified Nursing Assistant Work Environment

Certified nursing assistants are typically found in any healthcare facility, but are more notably concentrated in those where patients stay for a long time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 37 percent of certified nursing assistants work in nursing care facilities while 11 percent work in assisted living facilities.

An even fewer percentage can be found in home healthcare. An interesting fact to note is that certified nursing assistants are more likely to be found in hospitals than medical assistants.

Also, thanks to the round the clock nature of their duties, certified nursing assistants are more likely to work overnight, on the weekend, and during holiday shifts.

Education Requirements

Education Requirements for a Medical Assistant

As mentioned earlier, one of the most appealing factors of being a medical assistant or certified nursing assistant is that you don’t have to study for four years to begin a career in any of these fields.

For those looking to become a medical assistant, you’d be glad to know that you don’t even need a postsecondary degree. It should be said, however, that most employers prefer candidates who at least have undergone a medical assistant training program.

These programs teach the fundamentals of healthcare provision including familiarizing students with important medical terminologies. Also, they may take between 9 to 12 months before completion, with only a handful taking up to 2 years.

Education Requirements for a Certified Nursing Assistant

To become a certified nursing assistant, you also don’t need to have a four year bachelor’s degree, but you will have to become certified - as the name implies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prospective applicants will also need to gain experience through clinical work.

CNA training programs must be approved by the state and usually last for six (6) to twelve (12) weeks.

Once the education is complete, a state-mandated competency examination must be taken and passed before certification becomes official.

Licensing and Certification

There are no licensing requirements for either medical assistants or certified nursing assistants. As mentioned earlier, however, there is a certification requirement for CNAs.

Medical assistants don’t need to earn certification but may choose to do so if they please. Also, despite the fact that states don’t require certification for medical assistants, it isn’t rare for an employer to do so.

Generally, there are two forms of certifications for medical assistants. The first is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential, which applies to MAs who have completed an accreditation course from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

The second, the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential, applies to MAs who have completed on-the-job training in the military or as part of a formal medical assistant training program.

Skills Requirements

Any field in healthcare requires the acquisition of new technical and medical skills. Below are some of the skills we have identified as being the most essential for MAs and CNAs.

Skill Requirements for a Medical Assistant

  • Measurement of vital signs
  • Injection administration
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Familiarity with EKG (electrocardiogram)
  • Administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

Skills Requirements for a Certified Nursing Assistant Skill Requirement

  • Assistance with daily living activities (ADL)
  • Measurement of vital signs
  • Home health assistance
  • Ability to facilitate and maintain clean environments

Job Outlook and Salary

Medical Assistant Salary and Job Outlook

While salary alone does not make a good job, it is nonetheless an important factor to consider. Those interested in working as medical assistants will be glad to know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a growing job opportunity rate in the field faster than the national average.

The annual median wage for medical assistants was $32,160 as of 2020.

CNA Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the median annual wage for a certified nursing assistant was $30,850. Those who worked in hospitals earned $32,160 while those who worked in government earned slightly higher at $37,240.

Bottom Line - Which Job is Right for You?

As we’ve seen above, there are huge upsides to pursuing a career as either a medical assistant or a certified nursing assistant. Both jobs offer growing opportunity rates and are easy to get into without spending years attaining postsecondary degrees.

While the upsides of both are obvious, deciding between them is a little less so. Ultimately, the path you choose to follow depends on you, but there are certain dispositions and qualities that may help you gravitate towards one over another.

A career as a certified nursing assistant, for example, is usually more appealing to those who desire a fast-paced, hands-on experience as a healthcare provider. It is also great for those who are solid team players, or those who aspire to a LPN or RN role in the future.

Conversely, those who possess great communication and organizational skills, are great with technology, and prefer being parts of small teams rather than large ones may be more comfortable becoming medical assistants