Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant

Medical Assistant vs. CNA: How Do They Differ?

The fields of healthcare and medicine are extremely rewarding, maybe now more than ever before. With the current pandemic, there is an unyielding need for qualified care providers. There is also an unending respect for those within this field. Healthcare workers are making a difference every day. They are saving lives, putting smiles on faces, and making patients feel safe and comfortable. 

Right now, you may feel called to the healthcare field. You may want to dive into a career that involves helping patients in need, and making even the smallest difference in their lives. You may feel like now is the right time to get involved. As the demand for healthcare workers grows, more people like you are feeling called to step up. So, how can you get into a career you love – fast? 

Medical Assisting and Certified Nursing Assisting are two of the quickest entry-points into the healthcare field. Both careers can be obtained with just months of postsecondary training. Both careers will position you to work with patients, and to make a difference in people’s lives. However, there are many key differences between these two paths. As a leading healthcare school in Connecticut, Goodwin breaks down the roles of a Medical Assistant and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) below. 

Medical Assistants vs. Certified Nursing Assistants 

Medical Assistant is often seen as the backbone of a medical facility. This professional takes on a mix of clinical and clerical tasks. On one hand, Medical Assistants work directly with patients to get them set up for an appointment or exam. Other times, they can be found completing administrative office work.  

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), in contrast, work with patients all the time. Also called nursing aides, these professionals provide basic care and help patients with daily activities, such as bathing and eating. CNAs do not carry out complex medical tasks, but rather, ensure patients are comfortable and cared for. 

Medical Assistant vs. CNA Responsibilities: 

Despite the similar titles of a Medical Assistant and Nursing Assistant, the job duties differ significantly between these two careers. As noted above, Medical Assistants are responsible for both administrative and clinical tasks. Their duties will vary by state and by employer, but they can generally be found: 

  • Recording patient history and medical information 
  • Measuring patient vital signs  
  • Helping physicians with patient exams 
  • Administering medications (as permitted by state law) 
  • Scheduling patient appointments 
  • Greeting patients that enter the medical office 
  • Preparing samples for lab testing 
  • Other minor clinical tasks, such as removing stitches, drawing blood, changing bandages, and more 
  • Other clerical tasks, such as filling out patient’s insurance information 

Certified Nursing Assistants, meanwhile, are responsible for monitoring and assisting patients. They do much of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to patient care – pun intended! CNAs can often be found: 

  • Lifting and transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs 
  • Helping patients use the toilet and dress 
  • Feeding patients 
  • Cleaning and bathing patients as needed 
  • Measuring patient vital signs 
  • Listening to patients’ needs, and relaying them to a Registered Nurse (RN) 

The career path you choose will largely depend on what you are interested in. One thing to consider is the physical fitness needed for each career. While both career paths involve patient care, the Medical Assisting job duties are generally less strenuous than those of the CNA. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nursing assistants and orderlies have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers frequently move patients and have other physically demanding tasks. 

Medical Assistant vs. CNA Workplaces: 

The typical work environment of a Medical Assistant and a Certified Nursing Assistant vary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Medical Assistants work primarily in physician’s offices. They help ensure the office is running smoothly, and that patients are attended to. Medical Assistants can also work in hospitals and outpatient centers, assisting other members of the healthcare team. Goodwin MA graduates also find careers in specialized private practices (such as OB/GYN and Podiatrist offices), as well as ambulatory care settings, medical laboratories, and other health clinics. Learn more here. 

CNAs, meanwhile, can be found in a few different healthcare settings. They are primarily needed in nursing care facilities, such as nursing homes. According to the BLS, almost 40% of CNAs work in nursing care facilities. CNAs are also commonly found in hospital settings, or in continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly 

Medical Assistant vs. CNA Career Opportunities: 

Both Medical Assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants can expect a very bright job outlook in the years to come, however, Medical Assistants are currently in higher demand. This is because the demand for preventive and primary care is growing, along with the need for skilled professionals in this field of work. The baby boomer population is aging at record numbers, and the current pandemic has only added to the current shortage of medical professionals. According to national data: 

  • Employment of Medical Assistants is expected to grow a notable 23% between 2018-2028. This is more than four times the average rate for all occupations. 
  • Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) can expect employment to increase 9% between 2018-2028, which is slightly above the national average of 5% growth. 

Now you may be wondering, what about the salary potential? Which of these two careers will position me for the highest earnings? Which career path will give me the greatest return on my investment? In general, Medical Assistants can expect a higher salary potential than CNAs: 

  • Medical Assistants nationwide earn an average of $34,800 annually. In Connecticut, however, Medical Assistants can expect to earn over $40,000 per year across the state.  
  • CNAs across the United States have an average salary of $29,660 annually. In Connecticut, they can expect to earn $34,360 per year. 

Medical Assistant vs. CNA Requirements: 

Now the question remains, how do you enter into one of these career paths? As noted above, both the Medical Assistant and CNA career paths do not require years in medical school.  

To become a Medical Assistant today, you should have a postsecondary award under your belt, such as a certificate or an associate degree. Employers prefer to hire those with at least this level of education. Medical Assisting certificate programs typically take about 12 months to complete. An associate degree in Medical Assisting can take up to two years’ time, if you wish to advance your knowledge in patient care, pharmacology, office management, and medical terminology. At Goodwin University, you can complete an associate degree in as few as 16-20 months 

Certification for Medical Assistants is not usually required, but it can position you for success and make you stand out as a more qualified Medical Assistant. At Goodwin, graduates of the Medical Assistant program are immediately eligible to apply for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination and for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam.  

Like Medical Assistants, CNAs typically need to complete a postsecondary education program, approved by their state. They must also become certified through a state board exam. Although requirements vary by state, CNA training programs generally need to fulfill at least 75 hours of classroom training. This may take around 12 weeks to complete. CNAs must also pass their state’s certification examination upon graduation, which will add them to their state’s registry of Certified Nursing Assistants. 

Choosing Your Career Path: MA vs. CNA 

Medical Assistants and CNAs have a lot of common, as well as many differences. In the end, the career you choose should align with your professional goals. Where do you wish to work? What kind of work do you want to do? How long can you commit to school? Which path will give you the greatest reward, personally and financially? While there are many pros to a CNA career, Medical Assistants can expect: 

  • More job openings, due to the bright job outlook 
  • Higher salary potential 
  • A more comprehensive education 
  • Less physical demand on the job 

Here are many more reasons why you might become a medical assistant today. 

Goodwin University is a leader in healthcare education in Connecticut, with a comprehensive Medical Assistant program. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Medical Assistant, please do not hesitate to call 800-889-3282, or visit us online to request more information.