A career as a Medical Assistant (MA) or a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is ideal for stepping into healthcare.

Medical and nursing assistants play vital roles in the smooth functioning of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings.

A Medical Assistant (MA) is a healthcare worker that provides support services to physicians. The main roles and responsibilities of a Med Assistant include both clinical & administrative tasks, such as recording patient medical records and checking and recording patients’ vital signs.

A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is a healthcare worker who provides daily patient care and support. A Nursing Assistant is more hands-on and works with patients who need help with daily activities like bathing, physical therapy, etc. CNAs are usually supervised by nurses and report to them.

Read: 12 Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant

Even though both professions sound and seem similar, there are several key differences between them.

In this guide, we’ll look at the similarities between MAs and CNAs and the key differences. We’ll also have a look at the salary & job outlook for the two careers.

Ultimately, this will help you decide which of the two careers will suit you.

Medical Assistants: Roles and Responsibilities, How To Start a Career as a Medical Assistant

At some point, you’ve probably wondered what is a medical assistant.

Medical Assistants assist physicians or other healthcare professionals according to their requirements, which usually include clinical and administrative tasks.

Generally, Medical assistant job duties include the following:

  • Scheduling appointments according to the physician’s schedule
  • Checking and recording patient’s vital signs
  • Maintaining patient history and medical records
  • Assisting patients with insurance claims
  • Assist the physicians with specimen collection for sample testing
  • Assisting physicians with basic clinical testing
  • Prepping the examination rooms both before and after each patient visit.

An advantage of pursuing a career in medical assistance is that no specific degree is required. You can enroll in medical assistant training, which is available both online & offline.

A training program helps you gain important medical assistant skills.  Before enrolling in a program; the only requirement is a GED or high school diploma (Also see: Medical Assistant Educational Requirements).

Also read: Is Medical Assistant Degree Required?

After you complete your training, you can sit for your certification exam, and once you do that, you’re a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant. Getting your certification is required by more & more employers.

Medical Assistants usually work within various healthcare settings such as physician’s offices, outpatient care clinics, hospitals, etc.

Since their primary duty is to assist healthcare professionals and maintain the overall smooth functioning of the clinic, MAs typically work full-time.

(Read More: Medical Assistant Vs Nurse)

Certified Nursing Assistants: Roles and Responsibilities, How To Start Career as a Nursing Assistant

Certified Nursing Assistants help patients with their day-to-day needs and assist in providing optimum care delivery for them. They generally work near patients within various healthcare settings.

The key roles and responsibilities of a CNA include the following:

  • Assisting patients with basic needs, such as bathing, grooming, helping them with going to the restrooms, among others
  • Assisting patients by timely feeding them as well as helping them with accurate consumption of medications
  • Helping patients in repositioning and moving
  • Assisting patients in maintaining their physical health
  • Recording and maintaining patients’ health records.
  • Recording and maintaining the vital signs of the patient
  • Maintaining the hygiene of patients’ rooms.

To pursue a career in nursing assistance, you will generally be required to complete an accredited nursing assistant program and pass a competency or certification exam.

Then, you have to register with the state, and following that, you can seek employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Note – The legal requirements for CNAs vary from state to state. So check your local regulations before you look for jobs.

A typical work setting for CNAs is an inpatient care environment since they have to work closely with patients regularly.

These settings may include nursing homes, and hospitals, among other places. CNAs can work part-time and full-time, and their timetable differs according to the patient’s needs throughout the day.

Also see: Medical Assistant Scope of Practice by State

Basic Similarities Between MAs and CNAs

You see, both Medical Assistants and CNAs interact with patients. Let’s look at a few things which are similar to the two –

Responsibilities: The roles & duties of the two can sometimes overlap. For example, both CNAs and MAs are usually required to maintain and record patient medical health records and vital signs.

Providing Support: Both CNAs and Med Assistants provide basic support services for healthcare professionals that help in the overall smooth functioning of the workplace. Their ultimate goal is aligned with all other healthcare professionals, to provide optimum care for all patients.

Need to be familiar with basic medical terminology: Since both CNAs and MAs, in a way, act as liaisons between patients and physicians, it is required that they are familiar with basic medical terminologies for better comprehension and relaying of information.

Start Your Career Faster: Almost all other careers within the healthcare field require a minimum of a specialized bachelor’s degree. That’s not the case with MAs and CNAs, as you get your training with an accredited certification program. Both professions require a minimum of a certification, completion of training programs, and a high school diploma or a GED.

This means you can complete your training faster and start your career within months, unlike other professions in healthcare.

See: Accelerated Medical Assistant Program

Major Differences Between MAs & CNAs

Even though medical and certified nursing assistants seem like similar careers, some key differences set these two professions apart. Some of these differences include:

Workplace Setting: Generally, Medical Assistants work within outpatient care settings, such as outpatient or private clinics. On the other hand, Certified Nursing Assistants generally work within inpatient care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. (For information on medical assistants, check out – Where Can Medical Assistants Work?)

Patient Care: Even though MAs and CNAs are involved and interact continuously with patients, CNAs are generally more directly involved and work near the patients than MAs. This is because a CNA’s usual tasks involve feeding, grooming, and moving the patients.

Degree of Autonomy: Since the tasks of both MAs and CNAs require assisting physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals regularly, they both generally work under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Yet, CNAs tend to have a greater degree of autonomy while performing their duties than MAs, who usually have to work under the supervision of healthcare professionals.

Amount of Physical Efforts: Compared to Medical Assistants, a CNA’s duties involve more physical effort. This is because their duties usually include moving and repositioning patients, which typically requires them to exercise strength.

Also see: CMAA vs CCMA

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MAs vs. CNAs: Salaries and Job Outlook

The job outlook for both MAs and CNAs is generally positive, with statistics stating that both professions are expected to see a substantial increase in the number of jobs in the next ten years.

See: Medical Assistant Job Description Plus Job Post Template

Medical Assistants

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a Certified Medical Assistant’s salary is $37,190, and the number of jobs is set to rise by 16% annually. A career as a medical assistant is a gateway into healthcare.

Read more on: Is Medical Assistant a Good Career?

After working as an MA and gaining some experience, you can choose to study and start your career in specialized roles like a physician or a nurse.

Often students are confused about how long does it take to become a medical assistant? The short answer is it can take 6-8 months if you opt for an online training program.

Also see: How to get Medical Assistant jobs with no experience

Certified Nursing Assistants

The job outlook for Certified Nursing Assistants is also fairly positive, where the U.S. BLS reported the mean annual average salary to be $ 30,290. Though the job outlook for CNAs is lower than that of MAs, the statistics also report that these jobs are expected to increase by 5% in the next few years.

The opportunities for advancement in this field are endless. For example, you can go to a nursing school, get your education, and become a registered nurse.

Since you already have experience working as a CNA, studying to become a nurse would be easier. The experience of working as a CNA will be helpful when you’re looking for nursing jobs.

Also see: Medical Assistant Job Outlook

Training and Other Requirements for MAs vs. CNAs

Both of these professions have their specific training as well as education requirements.

However, it is to be noted that these requirements are subject to differ depending on the location of employment.

Medical Assistants

Generally, no relevant degree or formal education/training is required in the field of medical assistants.

The procedure of becoming a medical assistant typically requires the completion of a medical assistant program from a legitimate and authorized institution.

These programs are available either online or offline and can be obtained from either community colleges, technical schools, or online programs.

The overall costs of medical assistant programs range from $2,500 to $50,000, depending on the type of education and program you choose.

Also see: Medical Assistant Programs Cost

The certifications required for you to be a certified medical assistant are usually authorized by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

After you complete your training, you can sit for the certification exams, and once you clear the exam, you’re a Certified Medical Assistant. If you’re confused about which certification you should go for, check out which medical assistant certification is the best.

Certified Nursing Assistants

Becoming a certified medical assistant requires obtaining a license or a certification, usually issued by the state where you practice. (Also read: Are Medical Assistant Licenses Required?)

The procedure typically includes completing an approved nursing assistant program and a competency exam.

The duration of such programs is typically six to twelve weeks, wherein the ultimate aim is to provide you with the necessary experience as well as prepare you for the competency exams.

The competency exam is further divided into two types: a practical skills section and a knowledge-based section.

Upon finishing the program and taking your competency exam, you must undergo a background check and register through your state’s verified nursing assistant registry.


In this article, we went in-depth on Medical Assistants & CNAs. You now have a clear idea of the similarities, significant differences, and educational requirements for the two.

Ultimately, if you’re willing to work more directly with patients and assist them, you can choose to become a Nursing Assistant.

But if working directly with a physician sounds more exciting, then you can study to become a Medical Assistant.

Also see: Medical Assistant Certificate Requirements

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