Medical Assistants vs. Nurses


Medical assistants and some nurses play similar roles in health care. The parallels vary across the duties of licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants. A commonality is that medical assistants and nurses monitor patient vital signs and provide basic care. In comparison to nurses, the scope of responsibilities, authority and pay are typically most similar between LPNs and certified medical assistants.

Job Types

  • Both of these career fields have a range of positions. Medical assistants typically work in general administrative and clerical roles in hospitals or offices, though some specialize in areas such as optometry and podiatry. LPN is the closest nursing role to that of a medical assistant, according to Rasmussen College's School of Health Sciences. LPNs and assistants often work in similar types of facilities, such as doctor's offices, hospitals, medical clinics and nursing homes.

    People who want a nursing role but not the education and responsibilities of an LPN or RN can become a nurse's aide or certified nursing assistant, known as a CNA. CNAs aren't registered nurses, however. RNs also work where LPNs and assistants do, but they have additional responsibilities for working alone in patient care, such as with in-home health care.

Job Responsibilities

  • One primary difference in job responsibilities is that nurses are normally much more involved in patient treatment than medical assistants. Medical assistants do take vital signs, record basic patient information and sometimes administer shots. However, LPNs and RNs are able to complete more independent care tasks. LPNs and RNs also both advise patients on health care, while assistants do not.

    Another key distinction is that assistants are more involved in front-office duties. Assistants complete patient scheduling, along with record keeping and billing, which nurses normally don't do. Administering shots, bandaging wounds, assisting doctors during procedures, helping with diagnostic testing, and advising patients on home-based care are among the more involved health care treatments that can only be delivered by RNs.

Education and Training Requirements

  • The education and training required to become a medical assistant are minimal relative to LPN and RN requirements. Many people start as assistants with a high school diploma. They receive on-the-job training to learn the specifics of the role. You can complete your college education and become certified as a medical assistant to improve your career options and pay.

    On the other hand, the minimum time investment required to become an LPN is one year for a college certificate or diploma. The minimum for an RN is typically two years. You can become an RN by completing a nursing diploma program or earning an associate degree in nursing. Nurses who intend to advance into more senior-level roles or nursing management often complete a bachelor of nursing degree program.

Authority and Pay

  • As of May 2013, the average pay for medical assistants was $30,780 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nursing assistants earned $26,020 at the same point.

    In contrast, higher education and work requirements lead to LPNs making $42,910 per year. The average pay for RNs, whose jobs have even greater demands, was $68,910 per year as of May 2013.

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