Medical Assistant vs. CNA: Explore the Differences

CNA vs. Medical Assistant

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

 CNAMedical Assistant
Common DutiesClean and bathe patients, help patients with daily activities, measure vital signs, log patient health concernsChart patient history, measure vital signs, assist doctors and nurses with examinations, schedule patient appointments
Entry Level EducationCertificateDiploma
Projected Job Growth5% through 202919% through 2029
Certification RequiredVaries by stateVaries by state
Where they workNursing care facilities, home care, hospitalsMedical 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. 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. 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 $35,850 in May 2020. Certified nursing assistants earned a median annual wage of $30,850 in May 2020. 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. The rest work primarily in the following places:

  • Hospitals
  • 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. Nursing assistants also work in the following settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Home healthcare
  • Retirement communities

How to Become a Medical Assistant or CNA

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant or CNA?

Medical Assistant Program Requirements

Nursing Assistant Course Requirements

Should you become a CNA or a Medical Assistant?



    Medical Assisting

    Basic Nursing Assistant