What’s the difference between a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a medical assistant? Both professions involve working closely with patients, doctors and nurses. However, the specific job duties and workplaces can vary dramatically. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some key differences and a few similarities.
Medical Assistant vs CNA Comparison Chart
|Common Duties||Clean and bathe patients, help patients with daily activities, measure vital signs, log patient health concerns||Chart patient history, measure vital signs, assist doctors and nurses with examinations, schedule patient appointments|
|Entry Level Education||Certificate||Diploma|
|Projected Job Growth||11% through 2026[i]||29% through 2016[ii]|
|Certification Required||Varies by state||Varies by state|
|Where they work||Nursing care facilities, home care, hospitals||Medical or doctors’ offices, hospitals, other healthcare facilities|
What Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants Do
A medical assistant performs a wide range of job duties to assist physicians and nurses in diagnosing and treating patients.[iii] Typical job duties include:
- Asking patients about their medical and personal histories
- Assisting physicians with patient examinations
- Measuring vital signs
- Guiding patients to the examination room
- Preparing samples for laboratory tests
The job duties of a medical assistant will vary based on work environment and state regulations that determine which tasks medical assistants are and are not allowed to perform.
A certified nursing assistant works with patients who need help performing daily routine tasks.[iv] These job duties include:
- Cleaning or bathing patients
- Transfer patients between beds or into wheelchairs
- Measure vital signs and log health complaints
- Help patients eat
A CNA can expect to work primarily with elderly patients or those with disabilities who need assistance with the daily functions that most people take for granted.
Medical Assistant vs CNA Salary Differences
Nationally, the median annual wage for medical assistants was $32,480 in May 2017[v]. Certified nursing assistants earned a median annual wage of $27,520 in May 2017[vi]. Both salaries will vary based on state, level of experience and scope of job duties. Please visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for more salary information.
Where do Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants Work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half (57 percent) of medical assistants work in physicians’ offices.[vii] The rest work primarily in the following places:
- Outpatient care facilities
- Chiropractic offices
The most common work environment for CNAs is different than medical assistants, with nearly half (40 percent) of all CNAs work in nursing care or elder care facilities, and opposed to physicians’ offices.[viii] Nursing assistants also work in the following settings:
- Home healthcare
- Retirement communities
How to Become a Medical Assistant or CNA
Most medical assistants received some type of postsecondary medical assistant training to earn a diploma or certificate. Nursing assistants may receive on-the-job training, but many also choose to attend a vocational or career school nursing assistant training program.
Those who graduate from a vocational training program have the entry-level training and skills that employers often look for when hiring. In addition, graduates will be better prepared to pass any state-required certification exams.
Your state may require additional exams and certifications to enter either profession. Read more about how to become a medical assistant.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant or CNA?
Medical Assistant Program Requirements
A medical assistant training program often does require more time to complete than a CNA or BNA (basic nursing assistant) course. At Delta Technical College, for instance, medical assistant training takes nine months to complete.[ix]
Nursing Assistant Course Requirements
Training to become a certified nursing assistant or basic nursing assistant can be done in less time, but may also come with a lower starting salary in most cases. CNA training programs typically run anywhere from one month to 12 weeks.
At Delta Tech’s sister school, Midwest Technical Institute, training to become a basic nursing assistant will take seven weeks.[x]
Should you become a CNA or a Medical Assistant?
If you’re looking for a versatile and challenging career that’s growing rapidly, medical assisting is a great choice for you. The industry is growing rapidly with opportunities in a wide range of clinical settings. If this sounds like an option for you, request more information about how to apply to Delta Technical College or schedule a campus visit.
On the other hand, if you enjoy helping patients perform daily, routine tasks and want a faster path to the job market, becoming a nursing assistant just might be the right path for you.
*Not all programs and courses are available at all campuses.