Healthcare is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an estimated 1.8 million jobs will become available each year between 2022 and 2032. If you are seeking a career in the healthcare field, now is the time to get involved.
Despite popular belief, not all healthcare careers require years of medical school. Today, you can find flexible and fast-paced programs that will land you an entry-level healthcare profession in just a couple of years. Two of the fastest and most popular pathways towards a healthcare career are that of the Licensed practical nurse (LPN) and medical assistant.
LPNs and medical assistants enjoy basic patient care duties in healthcare facilities, and each play an important role in supporting a larger medical team. However, these careers are quite distinct. If you are weighing your career options and wondering the difference between an LPN and medical assistant, you are in the right place. We’ll break down the LPN vs. medical assistant career paths below.
What is a Medical Assistant?
A medical assistant is a healthcare professional who supports physicians, nurses, and other members of the medical team. They typically work in outpatient settings such as medical offices and clinics, where their main role is to keep operations running smoothly within the facility. Medical assistants are usually responsible for a combination of clinical and administrative tasks, such as taking patient vital signs and scheduling appointments.
What is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?
A licensed practical nurse, more commonly known as an LPN, is an entry-level nursing professional who provides basic, essential care to patients in need. They work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses. The basic medical tasks performed by an LPN include checking patient vital signs, changing bandages, bathing and dressing patients, and more. LPNs typically work in nursing homes and residential care facilities but can be found in some hospitals and private practices, as well.
Interested in becoming a licensed practical nurse? Learn more about our LPN program to start your career today!
Medical assistant vs. LPN job duties
As you can gather, the job responsibilities of medical assistants and LPNs often overlap. For example, both professionals may assist with basic care duties like taking patient vital signs and preparing exam rooms. Both work under the direction of physicians, nurses, and other higher-level team members. However, there are some clear distinctions between what LPNs and medical assistants do.
Licensed Practical Nurses are exclusively responsible for direct patient care tasks. On a daily basis, you can find LPNs helping provide basic care and comfort to those in need. Responsibilities include:
- Monitoring patients’ health by checking body temperature, blood pressure, and other vitals
- Discussing care with patients and listening to their concerns
- Ensuring patients are comfortable and tended to, and reporting needs back to a doctor or nurse
- Documenting patient care and maintaining records
- Changing bandages
- Assisting with bathing and dressing
- Collecting laboratory samples and running basic lab tests
- Administering medication and IV fluids (in some states only)
Medical assistants, on the other hand, have a wider breadth of responsibilities. As described above, medical assistants often carry out both administrative and clinical tasks. This means they play a primary role in keeping the medical office organized (from maintaining inventory to scheduling appointments) as well as helping to make sure patients are welcomed and comfortable during their visit. Medical assisting responsibilities often include:
- Greeting patients as they enter the medical office, and checking them in
- Answering phone calls and scheduling patient appointments
- Entering patient information into medical records
- Helping patients complete forms
- Maintaining inventory of medical and office supplies
- Preparing examination rooms for patients
- Helping physicians with patient examinations
- Sterilizing medical equipment
- Measuring patient vital signs
- Collecting samples for basic laboratory tests
Both LPNs and medical assistants are both patient-facing professions within a medical facility. However, the main difference between their roles is the clerical side of medical assisting. Medical assistants enjoy a mix of clinical and clerical job duties, whereas LPNs are completely dedicated to hands-on, direct care.
LPN vs. Medical Assistant Training and Education Requirements
Whether you are an aspiring LPN or medical assistant, there is good news. Neither of these career paths requires years and years in medical school. Both offer short, streamlined pathways into the field, with just a few training and education requirements checked off.
Licensed practical nurses need to complete a state-approved LPN program. These programs are typically offered at the diploma or certificate level and take about one year to complete. In an LPN program, students learn the fundamentals of patient care, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology. All LPN programs include clinical experiences, where students also gain practical training in the field.
After graduating from an LPN program, all aspiring practical nurses must obtain licensure. This is done through the NCLEX-PN examination, which will grant them the official “LPN” credential.
Medical assistants do not have as formal of education requirements as LPNs. However, the vast majority of employers will require some level of postsecondary education, such as a certificate or an associate degree in medical a. In part with this program, hands-on training is important for securing a medical assisting role. Many medical assistant programs, therefore, require the completion of an internship prior to graduation. Depending on the program level, becoming a medical assistant can take between 12 and 24 months. At Goodwin University, our medical assisting programs can be completed in as few as 12 to 16 months.
Unlike LPNs, not all medical assistants are required to obtain licensure. Specific licensing and certification requirements will actually vary depending on the state. While some states, like Connecticut, do not require medical assistants to become certified, it is highly recommended. Certification can make you stand out in a competitive job market. Similar to the LPN license, it is earned via examination.
Students who complete Goodwin’s certificate and associate degree programs in Medical Assisting are immediately eligible to pursue the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination (administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants), the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination (administered by the American Medical Technologists), and the Medical Assistant Certification examination (administered by the National Healthcareer Association).
Check out our Medical Assisting Get Started Guide to discover which path aligns closest with your career goals!
LPN vs. Medical Assistant Salaries and Job Outlook
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports promising growth rates and salary potential for both medical assisting and practical nursing occupations.
As expected in healthcare, where there is a growing and consistent need for services, both LPNs and medical assistants can look forward to strong employment growth. LPN employment is expected to increase 5 percent between 2022 and 2032, with about 54,400 openings each year on average. Medical assistants, on the other hand, can expect 14 percent growth in employment, with a notable 114,600 job openings becoming available each year. So, while both careers have a bright outlook ahead, medical assistants can expect more than double the growth of LPNs.
However, LPNs can expect a slightly higher salary than medical assistants. Nationwide, LPNs earn an average of $54,620 annually. In Connecticut, the salary potential is even higher with LPNs earning $62,620 annually, on average, across the state. Meanwhile, medical assistants earn an average of $38,270 per year across the U.S. And in Connecticut, that annual wage increases to $43,920 per year.
Medical Assisting vs. Licensed Practical Nursing: Which is Right for You?
Medical assistants and LPNs both enjoy careers that support the larger healthcare team, and that can be achieved in just two years or less. LPNs are primarily patient-focused, providing essential care to patients who are in need of basic assistance. Medical assistants, meanwhile, keep the medical office organized and on top of patient visits, while also supporting doctors and nurses throughout the day.
Ultimately, the choice between an LPN and medical assistant career comes down to your interests and goals. Do you want to work more on the clinical side of patient care? Or, do you wish to have a more holistic role in the medical office? No matter what you decide, you can rest assured that you will secure a rewarding, in-demand career fast.
Goodwin University is a leading healthcare school in Connecticut. To learn about our certificate and degree programs – from Medical Assisting to Nursing – contact us today!