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Medical Assistants vs. Nurses: What’s the Difference?

When exploring a potential career, the educational requirements are some of the main considerations you need to consider. But before you enroll in a program, it’s also prudent to look into the career’s potential for growth. One of the fastest-growing industries is the healthcare sector. From 2021 to 2031, it’s projected to reach a job growth of 13 percent, opening as many as two million jobs in the course of 10 years. 

Two of the most common positions in the healthcare industry are medical assistants and nurses. From taking care of patients to managing staff and finances, many aspects of being a medical assistant or a nurse seem similar. But there are some key differences. How do you know which one is best for you?

The Differences Between Medical Assistants and Nurses

Both medical assistants and nurses work with doctors to help them provide the best care possible for patients. Which opportunity is right for you? Here are some things to consider:

Education and Training

The first difference between medical assistants and nurses is education. Medical assistants often only need to have a high school diploma to land a job. However, their opportunities may be limited due to their lack of formal education in the healthcare field. Some states require that medical assistants earn additional certifications, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED).

Nowadays, most medical assistants get a medical assisting diploma they can complete within 10 months, where they also get basic training in CPR and AED.

For a more successful career as a medical assistant, it’s best to complete a certificate or diploma program to increase your employability. This training can be completed in many different settings and formats, from classroom-based courses to online programs. While they may also have clinical rotations, most of their training will focus on basic patient care. 

Nurses must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Before they can start their practice, they must be licensed by the state. Licensing requirements vary, so it’s best to check official resources. For Florida, visit the Florida Board of Nursing website.

Nurse training is more extensive than that required for medical assistants. Beyond learning the basics of anatomy and physiology, they will also learn pharmacology, surgical techniques, and advanced patient care to prepare them for a higher degree of responsibility in the workplace. 

In addition to earning an associate’s degree from an accredited college or university, nurses must also pass both professional and practical exams and complete clinical externships under the supervision of nurses. Once they graduate, they become certified by passing the written exam (NCLEX) and the practical exam (patient care encounter) and earning clinical experience with approved schools or hospitals.

Roles and Responsibilities

A medical assistant can perform many of the same tasks as a nurse, but they’re generally not licensed to prescribe medication or administer injections.

In terms of specific duties, a medical assistant will typically help with various patient care and administrative tasks, such as:

  • Taking the patient medical history and recording symptoms
  • Explaining procedures
  • Preparing patients for examinations
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Answering phones
  • Entering patient information into databases
  • Checking out supplies from pharmacies or ordering new ones
  • Tracking medical records

A nurse typically has more training than a medical assistant, so they’ll be able to perform all the above duties, as well as provide more hands-on care in the clinical setting. They may also have additional certifications necessary to practice in certain specialty fields like pediatrics or psychiatric settings.

The following are some of the roles of nurses: 

  • Handling and monitoring patient vital signs
  • Administering medications via infusion
  • Inserting catheters
  • Doing diagnostic procedures
  • Administering vaccinations 

Career Advancement

In addition to the general benefits of a medical assistant, you can advance your career by becoming a nurse. A medical assistant can become certified as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN), through a bridge program, which allows them to skip over the basics and fundamentals they learned while becoming an MA. 

Advancing their education allows medical assistants to take advantage of higher salaries offered in most states. This is especially true if they have earned their Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) designation.

Nurses who have earned their associate’s or bachelor’s degree can complete additional educational training to specialize in certain areas, such as pediatrics or geriatrics. They can earn their master’s degree and become certified as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist.

They can also enter the academic field and become nursing professors or trainers or take on managerial roles by taking up hospital management courses. 

Medical Assistants vs. Nurses: Which Career Is Best for You?

Both medical assistants and nurses offer supplemental care alongside doctors. But, these two careers do have some major differences, from education and training to daily tasks and job outlook. 

If you want to start working sooner, a career in medical assisting may be the best choice. However, if you’re looking for faster career advancement, studying to become a nurse may help you achieve your goals. 

HCI College has course offerings that will help you succeed in your career – be it as a medical assistant or a nurse. 

Explore our programs today to weigh your academic options. 

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