The Difference Between a Medical Assistant and CNA

When you’re first looking into a career in the healthcare field, a lot of terms might seem interchangeable. A CNA is short for a certified nursing assistant. You might think that is the same job as a medical assistant. In some ways it is, but they have many differences.

A number of different qualifications, classes, and certifications are needed depending on which career you are interested in pursuing. There are also some differences in what a typical day might look like and the compensation you might receive. When you get deep into the comparison, it becomes clear just how different these jobs are.

It is important to consider the differences when deciding if one of these career paths is a good fit for your lifestyle. Below we will cover what a medical assistant is vs CNA to help point you in the right direction.

1. Who They Assist

They are both as straightforward as their names suggest. While medical assistants act in the service of doctors, a CNA acts in the service of nurses.

As a medical assistant you may have both clinical and administrative responsibilities. You will have more interpersonal interactions with patients, such as explaining diagnoses and treatment options, as well as scheduling patients and checking them in for appointments. If you are socially inclined you will likely thrive in this role. You’ll also have to give people bad news at times, so you need to be able to handle this aspect of the field.

As a CNA you’ll generally work directly in delivering patient care. Certified Nursing Assistants help patients with a wide range of basic needs, such as eating, bathing, grooming, mobility and more. CNAs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, and long term care facilities.

2. Certifications

Any path in the medical field is a huge commitment. The necessary qualifications and certifications might be different depending on where you live, but the basic requirements are similar.

Requirements to be a medical assistant:

• A high school diploma or alternative equivalent

• Graduate from a medical assistant program, either an associate degree or certificate program (usually takes 9-12 months to complete)

• Medical assistant certification (this will need to be renewed every five years)

Requirements to become a CNA:

• A high school diploma or alternative equivalent

• Completion of an approved CNA program at a hospital or CNA school

• Between 75 and 180 hours (varies by state) of training

• Pass a Nurse Aide Competency Exam

3. Job Descriptions and Other Qualifications to Think About

When selecting a heath care career, It’s important to visualize yourself in each job’s daily environment to see if you could (and would want to) do all of these things each day.

Common responsibilities of medical assistants:

• Front desk and administrative responsibilities

• Working with health records

• Assisting doctors with exams

• Providing test results to patients

Common responsibilities of CNAs

• Transporting patients

• Handling medical equipment

• Checking vitals

• Feeding and grooming patients

• Assisting in emergency procedures

The roles of CNAs can be very physically demanding. Each shift you’ll be required to move, push, and lift patients. You may also be required to complete tasks that aren’t always fun, such as cleaning up bodily fluids and changing soiled linens. It’s important when deciding if you want to enter this field to understand some duties are not desirable. On the other hand, you have a direct impact on patient health and comfort which many people find rewarding.

Whether you choose a career as a medical assistant or CNA, it’s important to be passionate about medicine and patient care.

4. Salary

There is a slight difference between the salaries of the two roles. A medical assistant generally makes about 20% more. This is generally because medical assistants need more education so the training program takes longer to complete.

Salary is an important consideration, so when considering both careers think about the following things:

• Where you plan to live geographically

• Your lifestyle preferences

• Do you have adult or child dependents

• How does your support system relate to your time constraints

These are all questions to consider. Their answers will determine the nature of your needs.

5. Geographic Versatility

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics both jobs are in demand all over the United States as are most healthcare careers. This means you can make your decision about where to live almost solely upon your preferences and you can feel secure in knowing if you move your job prospects are good. You still need to consider your commute to work when choosing where to live. Your day will also be much busier if you live in a larger city.

6. Downsides

The downside for these jobs are similar. Often times you will be required to work occasional weekends and may need to work evening shifts. Sometimes schedules change so you need to be flexible. There is also the possibility of catching an airborne infection from a patient. You’ll go through a rigorous training in your medical assistant classes or CNA classes about how to handle equipment without injuring yourself, but make sure to keep it fresh in your mind.

Medical Assistant vs CNA

While there are many similarities when it comes to being a medical assistant or a CNA, the differences matter.

A medical assistant is less hands-on in the way of patient care but more verbally interactive with patients. You’ll generally earn a higher salary but will need to spend more time in school. CNAs can have some duties that are less than desirable, but many people get satisfaction with providing direct patient care.

While Great Lakes Institute of Technology does not offer a CNA training program, we do offer a 10 month Medical Assistant program which is an excellent way to enter this field. Our program provides the knowledge and hands-on skills required to gain certification as well as provide career services such as resume building and job placement assistance.

Learn about the Medical Assistant Program