If you are interested in entering the healthcare industry, you might be interested in learning which career you can step into. Two such professions are medical assistance and nursing.

These careers allow you to work directly with patients within healthcare settings and offer a good job outlook.

So How Do You Decide Which One To Choose?

Read on to learn more about Medical Assistants, Nurses, the differences and similarities in these professions, the salaries, the educational requirements, and more.

What is a Medical Assistant? An Overview

A Medical Assistant is an allied health worker that provides support services to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

Their main roles and responsibilities include clinical and administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, recording patient medical health histories, and taking vital signs. (Read More: What is a Medical Assistant)

Medical assistants typically work under the supervision of a physician and within healthcare settings, such as outpatient care clinics, doctor’s offices, or hospitals.

The main advantage of becoming a medical assistant is that you don’t require a relevant degree. The minimum requirement is for you to get your high school diploma or a GED.

Also, medical assistants, unlike other healthcare workers and professionals, do not need to be certified or licensed (Also read: Are Medical Assistant Licenses Required?). (Although the majority of employers in 2023 prefer to hire certified medical assistants)

The main medical assistant job duties include:

  • Record patients’ vital signs
  • Schedule appointments
  • Assist patients with billing and insurance claims
  • Assist with medicines
  • Maintain patient health records
  • Assist physicians with procedures
  • Simple wound dressings
  • Clean and maintain examination rooms

Even though entering the field of medical assistance requires no degrees or certifications, you should note that employers prefer certified candidates compared to uncertified ones.

The first step of becoming a medical assistant is to complete your high school diploma or a GED.

After that, you will need to enroll yourself in an accredited training program, typically lasting from 4 months up to 2 years.

The next step after completing your course is to clear your certification exam and get certified as a medical assistant. There are different certifications available for medical assistants; however, the most popular ones are the CCMA exam held by the NHA and the CMA exam held by the AAMA.

After you clear the exam, you’re a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant.

What is The Role of a Nurse? An Overview

Nurses are healthcare professionals that generally work directly with patients. Their scope of practice is broader than medical assistants, and they can typically perform all the duties of a medical assistant, in addition to more advanced clinical tasks.

Nurses have to undergo much more training and must be licensed or certified, as opposed to medical assistants.

This ultimately results in nurses earning significantly higher than medical assistants, even though becoming a medical assistant is faster.

Nurses typically work in inpatient settings such as clinics and hospitals and have to often work on holidays, nights, and even weekends. Their job hours typically include rotating 12-hour shifts.

Also see: Medical Assistant Scope of Practice by State

The main responsibilities of a nurse include:

  • Wound care
  • Inserting catheters, IVs, and feeding tubes
  • Maintaining detailed health charts
  • Giving prescribed medications
  • Perform assessments

Nurses typically take care of a maximum of 5-6 patients at a time during their shifts and have to undertake the responsibility of interpreting the vital signs, monitoring patients’ responses to different medications, and assessing other patient data.

Also, Certified Nursing Assistants are different than registered Nurses. Here’s everything about CMA vs CNA.

Difference Between Nurses & Medical Assistants: At a Glance

Here are a few major differences between nurses and medical assistants.

Major Similarities Between Medical Assistants and Nurses

Despite the significant differences, nurses and medical assistants also share some similarities with respect to their duties within healthcare settings and others, like

Need to understand basic medical terminologies

Medical assistants (MAs) and licensed nurses (LNs) are usually required to work directly with patients. Since both of these professions often act as a liaison between patients and physicians, in order to minimize any risk of miscommunication, both MAs and LNs need to be able to comprehend basic medical terminologies.

Infection Control

It is a basic requirement for both MAs and LNs to comprehend infection control better. Nurses and medical assistants often come in contact with infectious diseases and therefore are required to be vaccinated to prevent further contamination and protect other patients.

Caring For Other Patients

Patience and compassion are two of the most important traits of both medical assistants and nurses.

This is because both of them usually have to take care of patients who are vulnerable, and hence they should be able to treat each patient with kindness and compassion.

Handling Body Fluids

Both professions require dealing with different types of body fluids, such as vomit, blood, and urine. Medical assistants and nurses must be prepared to deal with any situation.

Positive Job Outlook

Medical assistants and nurses are both careers that have prominent growth outlooks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses have an expected job growth of around 6% by the year 2030, while medical assistants have an expected job growth of around 16% by the year 2030.

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

Major Differences Between Medical Assistants & Nurses

There are also some key differences between both career choices, even though both these professions play a vital role in the smooth functioning of the clinic or hospital. Some differences are:

Scope of Practice

When compared, nurses have a broader scope of practice than medical assistants. This implies that nurses are allowed to perform more advanced tasks, and they usually have more responsibilities. (Also Read -> Where Can Medical Assistants Work?)

Salary

Nurses generally earn significantly more than medical assistants, with their salaries sometimes being twice as much as medical assistants.

Requirement for a license

While medical assistants are not required to get certified or licensed and can start working without any such requirements, it is not the same case for nurses.

Nurses are required to get licensed before starting to work, and they are often also required to undergo additional training even after they are licensed, depending on where they work.

Working schedule

Typically, medical assistants work full-time during business hours, that is, between 8 AM to 6 PM, 4 or 5 days a week. On the other hand, nurses tend to work 12-hour rotational shifts three times per week. This shift can also include weekends, holidays, and nights.

Salary & Job Growth (Medical Assistants Vs Nurses)

The demand for medical assistants and nurses is on the rise. And this is set to continue for the next few years.

However, in terms of salary, there is a significant difference.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary earned by a registered nurse is approximately $77,600, which comes to around $37.31 per hour.

Whereas the mean annual wage for a medical assistant, as reported by the U.S. BLS, is $38,190, which comes around to $18.36 per hour.

When it comes to job growth and employment opportunities, the BLS reports a 6% increase for nurses by the year 2030, while job opportunities for medical assistants are expected to grow by 16% by the year 2030.

Both of these professions are good entry points into the field of healthcare. Medical assistants can also continue their education further and become registered nurses or even a physician.

Similarly, nurses can continue their education and evolve further to become nurse practitioners or midwives.

Also read: Certified Medical Assistant Salary

Education & Certification Requirments (Nurses Vs Medical Assistants)

The requirement for training and education also have significant differences between a medical assistant’s and a nurse’s career.

  • The minimum requirement for a nurse to enter the workforce as a licensed or registered nurse is to complete an associate’s degree in nursing. After clearing the licensing exam, they can apply for jobs. An associate degree program takes up to 2 years, while some bachelor’s degrees may take up to 6 years. Nurses may undertake more training and certification courses, depending on the unit.
  • In comparison, medical assistants do not need a degree to start working. The minimum medical assistant educational requirement is to complete their high school diploma or a GED. They can then enroll in a medical assistant program, take the certification exam, and get certified. You can choose to enroll in a 2-year associate degree program. However, online training programs are recommended as you can complete them within 4-6 months. (Here’s More: How to Become a medical assistant)

Also read: Is Medical Assistant Degree Required?

A Day in the Life of a Nurse vs. Medical Assistant

Even though nurses and medical assistants typically work in close proximity to physicians, their duties are significantly different.

A day in the life of a medical assistant may include tasks such as answering calls, scheduling appointments, and completing administrative office duties. They may also assist physicians with clinical duties such as recording patients’ vital signs or taking blood samples. (Read More: Medical Assistant Skills)

Medical assistants usually take care of mildly ill patients or healthy patients who need checkups.

Medical assistants generally work during business hours, which is between 8 AM to 6 PM. Their work period can range from four 10-hour shifts or five 8-hour shifts if they work full-time. Otherwise, evening shifts and part-time jobs are also available for medical assistants.

In comparison, a typical day in the life of a licensed or registered nurse usually involves direct care for patients. Nurses may spend the majority of their day assisting patients with basic day-to-day activities such as getting to and from the washroom and feeding the patients or administering intravenous medications prescribed by the physicians.

Nurses also tend to care for patients who need more care and treatment. Also, nurses typically work three 12-hour rotational shifts per week. Depending on their work setting, nurses are also usually required to work night shifts, weekends, and holidays.

Additional FAQs for Nurses vs. Medical Assistants

Are Medical Assistants and Nurses the same?

To answer shortly, no. Medical assistants and nurses are two different professions. While medical assistants do not require a license or degree to work, nurses cannot start working without getting licensed by the state.

What are the differences between the duties of a nurse and a medical assistant?

In comparison to medical assistants, nurses do not need supervision in administering medications such as IVs, performing advanced wound care, and other advanced clinical activities that a medical assistant cannot do.

Is it harder to become a nurse than a medical assistant?

As mentioned earlier, becoming a nurse requires a lot more schooling and training than a medical assistant, so yes, becoming a nurse is harder than a medical assistant.

How long does it take to become a medical assistant vs. a nurse?

Becoming a medical assistant is very easy, and if you enroll in an online course, you can become one in as little as 4 months. On the other hand, it takes a minimum of two years to become a nurse. (Read More: how long does it take to become a medical assistant)

Who earns better? Medical assistants or nurses?

Nurses generally earn twice as much as medical assistants. The national average salary for medical assistants is $38,190, while the same for nurses is $77,600.

Can a medical assistant become a nurse?

Yes, medical assistants can choose to evolve their careers further by continuing their education and can even become registered nurses. A career in medical assistance is a great place to start if you want to become a nurse.

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