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Medical Assistant vs. CNA: What’s the Difference?

Some people may assume that medical assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) have the same job with different names. However, while both are entry-level positions in the health care field, these are actually two distinct careers.

Both medical assistants and CNAs provide support in medical settings, but each one makes the lives of patients, nurses, and doctors easier in their own essential ways. Becoming a CNA or a medical assistant are both good ways to join the medical industry, yet you should know exactly what each job entails before you decide which position is right for you.

What is the difference between a medical assistant and a CNA? Read on to discover the roles, duties, work environments, requirements, salaries, and job outlooks of a medical assistant vs. CNA.

What Are the Roles & Duties of a Medical Assistant vs. CNA?

medical assistant vs cna

Both medical assistants and CNAs play a supporting role in health care settings. However, in spite of some similarities, there are crucial differences between the two positions.

What Is the Job of a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants commonly perform clerical, administrative, or clinical tasks to assist doctors and patients. They are important members of health care teams since they contribute to the improvement of patient care, according to the Academic Medicine journal.

The daily duties of a medical assistant usually include the following:

  • Organizes and updates health records by inputting patients’ diagnoses, treatment plans, medical history, and personal information
  • Schedules doctor’s appointments and medical tests for patients
  • Submits medical forms and insurance claim forms
  • Makes arrangements for hospital admissions
  • Performs billing and bookkeeping duties
  • Answers and makes phone calls
  • Assists doctors during patient checkups and examinations
  • Takes vital signs of patients, such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, weight, height, etc.

Most medical assistants work in doctor’s offices (57%), while some are also employed by hospitals (15%), outpatient care centers (8%), and chiropractor’s offices (4%).

What Is the Job of a CNA?

CNAs, a.k.a. “nursing aides,” typically provide basic health care and regular assistance to elderly or long-term care patients under the supervision of Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). They are vital members of medical teams because they play a central role in providing direct care to patients, according to the Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing.

The daily tasks of a CNA commonly include the following:

  • Helps patients with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, and grooming
  • Serves meals to patients and assists them in eating and drinking
  • Monitors vital signs of patients, including blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, etc.
  • Regularly turns and repositions patients to prevent bedsores
  • Finds out the health concerns of patients and reports health information to nurses
  • Transports patients from their beds to wheelchairs and vice versa
  • Maintains the supplies inventory, cleans the surroundings, and changes bed linens, if assigned to do so
  • Administers certain medication and treatments, if qualified and authorized to do so

Many CNAs work in skilled nursing facilities (37%) and hospitals (27%), yet some are employed as well by assisted living facilities or continuing care retirement communities (11%), home health care agencies (5%), and government organizations (4%).

How Do You Become a Medical Assistant vs. CNA?

The requirements for becoming a medical assistant and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) are generally not as demanding as that of other jobs in the health care industry.

If you are planning to work as a medical assistant, you will probably need at least a high school diploma to apply for the position. However, you can gain an advantage over other candidates if you also complete a postsecondary education program on medical assisting from a community college, vocational school, or university.

To level up your qualifications, you may pursue certifications, such as the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credentials from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Not all employers require certifications, but official credentials can help prove that you have the necessary skills for the job.

If you are considering becoming a CNA, you need to complete a state-accredited educational program on nursing principles and clinical work. CNA training programs are usually offered by community colleges, vocational schools, nursing homes, or hospitals.

While the specific requirements may differ with each state, you will typically need to take a competency exam to earn CNA certification. Once you are hired as a CNA, you may also go through on-the-job training if your employer provides it. Read our Clipboard Academy article on how to become a CNA for more details.

How Much Does a Medical Assistant vs. CNA Earn?

While both positions are entry-level jobs, medical assistants have the potential to earn a slightly higher salary than CNAs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Medical assistants have an average annual salary of $34,800. Those who work in outpatient care centers and hospitals tend to earn more than those who are employed by doctor’s offices and chiropractor’s clinics.

On the other hand, CNAs have a yearly average salary of $29,660. Individuals who are employed by the government and by hospitals are likely to earn more than those who work in nursing care facilities, home health care services, assisted living facilities, and continuing care communities.

Whether you decide to become a medical assistant or CNA, your exact salary will depend on a variety of factors, such as your employer, qualifications, skills, and experience.

Either way, there is room in the health care industry for more medical assistants and CNAs. According to the job outlook information from BLS, the demand for medical assistants is projected to rise 19% from 2019 to 2029, while the need for CNAs is expected to grow 8% within the same time frame.

Which Position Is Right for You: Medical Assistant vs. CNA?

It’s a smart idea for you to pursue a career as a medical assistant or a CNA, whether you simply wish to enter the health care industry or if you need a stepping stone to other positions in the medical field.

Medical assistants and CNAs play equally significant roles in the medical industry. The two positions are also fairly similar when it comes to the amount of education and training you need to prepare for the job.

So which position is more suitable for you: medical assistant vs. CNA? It basically depends on your own preferences and inclination in terms of the type of job, tasks, schedule, and work environment.

Once you are ready for the position of your choice, head on over to Clipboard Health to find per diem shifts and start your journey as a medical assistant or a CNA.

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