Medical assistants and nurses are both known to play an important role in patient care. Even so, there are some significant duties between the two that are important to recognize if you are considering a career as either one. Here are some things you should know about a medical assistant vs nurse that will help you understand the difference.
Scope of Duty
While a medical assistant does provide direct patient care, he or she may also be responsible for a wide range of administrative duties that include answering the phone, scheduling appointments, and billing. Nurses on the other hand tend to have very few administrative duties, and instead are focused more on direct patient care. In addition, medical assistants may also be limited as to the type of patient care they can perform.
Nurses tend to have wider leeway when it comes to administering medication, starting IVs or assisting with surgery, as medical assistants are sometimes prohibited from doing those things. Other duties a nurse may perform that a medical assistant would not are:
- Inserting and removing catheters
- Administering injections
- Creating care plans
- Assisting with major surgery
No formal education is required in order to become a medical assistant, aside from a high school diploma or GED. As such, many medical assistants learn their trade by undergoing an on-the-job training program. Others may obtain an Associate’s degree or career certificate from a technical or trade school. There are generally no prerequisites needed to enter a training program.
Nurses must complete at least an Associate’s degree; however, most go on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The prerequisites for attending nursing school vary from one school to the next, and may include:
- Demonstrating proficiency in science or mathematics through formal testing
- Prior certification and/or employment as a Certified Nurse’s Aide (CNA)
- A clean criminal history
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency
Licensing is not required for medical assistants. Even so, a good number of medical assistants elect to become certified by taking a qualifying exam offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or American Medical Technologies (AMT). To be eligible for one of these exams, you must first graduate from an approved training course.
Every state requires licensing for nurses. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers tests for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) in all fifty states. Upon passing the appropriate exam, you will then be allowed to apply for a license through your state’s board of nursing.
The salary of medical assistants and nurses varies widely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the annual median wage for a medical assistant was $29,370 per year in 2012. The salary for a registered nurse is much higher, with the annual median wage for RNs being around $65,470. The fact that nurses have more complex job duties and require more education than medical assistants is what accounts for their higher salary.
The job outlook for nurses is expected to be around 19% by the year 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. The job outlook for medical assistants is expected to be approximately 29%, which is much higher than average for all occupations. Both occupations will experience an increase in demand due to an aging population that has greater health care requirements.
Medical assistants and nurses may have overlapping duties, but nonetheless perform very different functions within a health care facility. Both are well trained and highly respected professionals who play an important role in ensuring public health. To find out more about a career as a medical assistant or nursing professional, please feel free to contact us.