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Medical Assistant vs CNA

Telling the difference between a Medical Assistant and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) can be confusing . After all, these two roles both involve supporting healthcare professionals like nurses and physicians while providing important care to patients.

medical assistant vs cnaIf you’re thinking about a career in one of these two areas, you should be able to tell the two roles apart. We’ve got you covered with some key distinctions between Medical Assistants (MAs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

 Medical Assistant vs CNA[i] 

Pursuing a career as a certified nursing assistant or a medical assistant may seem like similar career paths—they’re both assistants that work in the medical field, right? Nope! Actually, there are plenty of differences between these two roles. CNAs usually report to nursing staff and perform tasks like bathing and feeding patients, changing bed linens, and transporting patients. They may monitor patients’ dietary intake and restrictions, as well as record daily food intake, vital signs like temperature and blood pressure, and more. Finally, it’s important for a nursing assistant to be responsive to patients’ requests and respond to their needs.

Medical Assistants, on the other hand, usually report to the office manager of the medical practice or directly to a physician. They do tasks like prepping patients for exams, keeping exam rooms clean, administering medication, and completing office duties like keeping patient records. Medical Assistants may also prepare blood for laboratory tests, or even give patients injections under supervision.  

Preparing to pursue a career as a CNA or MA

As you may have guessed, preparing for a role as a CNA is a little different from training for a Medical Assistant career. CNAs typically complete a state-approved education program to learn the basics of the job. You may even be able to find a CNA program at a local high school, community college, vocational or technical school, hospital, or even a nursing home. After earning an education in nursing principles and completing some supervised clinical work, Nursing Assistant candidates often receive some on-the-job training before they’re ready to get to work.[v]

Medical Assistants may have to undergo slightly more training than CNAs, and employers may prefer MAs who have completed postsecondary certificate or diploma programs from a community college, vocational/technical school, or university. These programs typically take about a year to complete, though in some cases MAs opt for a two-year program in order to earn an associate’s degree.vii Medical assistants study useful topics like medical terminology and human anatomy, and programs usually involve laboratory work. Unlike CNAs, Medical Assistants could also have the opportunity to specialize in an area of the healthcare field, like Ophthalmology or Podiatry.[vi]

Career Paths and Outlook for CNAs and MAs

So where do these two healthcare professionals typically work? CNAs and MAs can both be found in hospitals. CNAs may also work in nursing homes and other places that provide patient care, whereas MAs could pursue opportunities in physicians’ practices and clinics, even specializing in areas of medicine like Podiatry.

These two roles may also have some pay differences, though remember that salary varies depending on experience, geographic location, and other factors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants earn a median salary of $29,370 per year, or about $14.12 per hour.[vii] Nursing Assistants have a median salary of $24,400 per year, or $11.73 per hour.[v]

The good news is that both Nursing Assistants and Medical Assistants provide valuable services appreciated by nurses, doctors, and patients alike. What would the healthcare field do without them? Now that you know some of the differences between these two careers, it’s up to you to decide which role is may be the best fit for you.

Medical Assistant vs CNA Skill Sets

While the tasks of a CNA vs Medical Assistant may be different, the skill set required to accomplish those tasks are quite similar. In order to function as a successful CNA or MA one should have good active listening skills, being aware of others reaction to thing and why they may react as they do, coordination, monitoring your own performance and always looking to improve, critical thinking (is this the right path to accomplishing a goal, how else could i get there) and reading comprehension.

Medical Assistant vs CNA Job Titles

Certainly a big difference between the two positions are the job titles you would hold. A CNA is often referred to as these additional names: Certified Medication Aide (CMA), Certified Nurse Aide (CNA), Certified Nurses Aide (CNA), Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA), Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), Nurses' Aide, Nursing Aide, Nursing Assistant, State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA). While a Medical Assistant typically would be referred to as these titles: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), Chiropractor Assistant, Clinical Assistant, Doctor's Assistant, Medical Assistant (MA), Medical Office Assistant, Registered Medical Assistant (RMA).


[i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-2, onetonline.org/link/summary/31-1014.00, onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9092.00, bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-2 | [v] http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm [vi] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm

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