What’s the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant?

In any hospital or healthcare setting, every job is important. Each job is unique and has a specific role that ensures a medical facility is running smoothly and that patients are properly cared for. Medical assistants and nursing assistants are two entry-level healthcare professions that are becoming increasingly popular and are in high demand within the industry. Both occupations are a great way to enter the medical field without spending years and thousands of dollars on school. Many medical and nursing assistants choose to further their education and become a registered nurse, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

Even though they may seem similar, there are quite a few differences between medical assistants and nursing assistants including daily duties, work environments, salaries, and even the amount of education and training needed to become certified. If you are considering pursuing a career as a medical assistant or nursing assistant, here are a few key differences between the two that will help you understand these professions.

What are the Daily Duties for Medical Assistants?

Medical assistants’ daily duties depend on what type of medical facility they are working in, level of experience, and whether their focus is on administrative work or clinical work. An administrative medical assistant will usually spend most of their workday at the front desk answering phones, greeting patients and scheduling appointments. This role is key to the organization and management of a medical office. Other administrative duties include filing patient medical records, managing billing and filling out insurance forms.

A clinical medical assistant works more closely with the healthcare facility’s patients. Clinical duties include explaining procedures to patients and families, taking medical histories, and helping patients prepare for examinations. In some cases, if a medical assistant is certified, they will also perform laboratory tests, draw blood, and take a patient’s vitals. Medical assisting is known to be one of the most versatile jobs among allied health professionals, due to the wide-range of daily tasks that they perform.

Daily Duties for a Nursing Assistant

Nursing assistants work under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse and aid nurses by providing basic patient care. Daily responsibilities depend on the type of facility they are working in but generally include answering patient call lights, cleaning up patient rooms, reporting any changes in a patient’s medical condition, and checking patients’ vitals. In nursing homes and assisted living facilities, nursing assistants are often the principal caregivers to patients. In this role, nursing assistants will clean, bathe and dress patients, help patients use the toilet, measure patient’s vital signs, and help patients eat.

Work Environments and Schedules

Medical assistants mainly work in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and chiropractors’ offices. Wherever a physician is present, there is a need for medical assistants. A full-time medical assistant will typically work a regular 9-to-5, 40-hour work week. However, there are part-time medical assistant positions offered, which may be a good option for those who require flexible schedules. Medical assistants that work in hospitals or urgent care facilities may need to work nights, weekends and holidays.

 Nursing assistants work in hospitals, nursing homes, home or community healthcare service providers, and government healthcare facilities. Due to the nature of their work, nursing assistants usually work full-time and often will need to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

 Employment Outlook

Medical assistants’ pay depends on location and experience but is generally $16.16 per hour with an average salary of $33,610 a year. As one of the fastest-growing career tracks in the healthcare profession, employment has a projected growth rate of 23% by 2028, which is higher than the average for all occupations.

 Certified nursing assistants’ (CNA) salaries will vary depending on location. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for CNAs is $28,540, or $13.72 per hour and the growth rate of this profession will increase by 9% by 2028. In 2018, there were 1,564,200 nursing assistants in the United States and this number will increase as the need for patient and elderly care continues to grow. 

Education, Training and Certification for Medical Assistants

Education and training programs to become a medical assistant vary depending on whether a student plans to be part-time or full-time. Standard programs to become a medical assistant from a community college or technical school take from nine months to a year to complete, whereas an in-depth program or an Associate of Applied Science degree takes two years to complete. Training to become a medical assistant includes hands-on training through clinical externships and lectures on:

  • standard medical practice
  • medical law and ethics
  • medical record keeping
  • medical communication
  • insurance
  • basic lab procedures
  • testing
  • patient care

After graduation, medical assistants also can become certified by taking the American Association of Medical Assistants (AMMA) certification exam. Even though it is not required by the state or federal law for medical assistants to become certified, due to the increase in growth and competition in this profession, many employers have begun to make it a requirement.

Nursing Assistant Training and Education

Nursing assistant training and certification programs can take as little as one month, and only require a high school diploma or GED. Once a nursing assistant has completed a 4-12 week training program and received the necessary number of hours, they are then required to pass their state’s competency exam to receive their CNA credentials. If you are considering furthering your career in healthcare, becoming a nursing assistant is a great way to gain real-world experience.  


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