Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: What’s The Difference?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Medical Assistants are the two positions that are often lumped together.

Many think this is the same role, but it’s not true.

Both professionals work with patients and physicians, and nurses in a medical setting, but the duties of a CNA are more specific.

To make the right decision for your future career, it’s essential to understand the difference.

Keep reading to learn more about each position and determine which one is right for you.

What Is A Certified Nursing Assistant?

A certified nursing assistant is also known as a CNA and has an important role in healthcare.

CNAs assist doctors and nurses by providing basic patient care, such as taking vital signs, bathing, and feeding patients.

CNAs act as a general caregiver for patients who may not need medical attention all the time but need some assistance with personal tasks between the procedures.

Even with a different level of education and licensing requirements, CNAs and medical assistants can work in similar settings and perform similar tasks.

CNAs’ duties may include:

  • Gathering Information: CNAs take patients’ vital signs, temperature, order blood tests, and have patients to make a dossier of information, so doctors or nurses could get straight to the point when they see patients.
  • Keeping Records: Billing and coding specialists are usually the ones in charge of maintaining records of patient information.
    But being the primary gatherers of some patient information, CNAs play an essential role in tracking medical data.
  • Bedside Patient Care: CNAs provide care for anesthetized or disabled people while they recover, sometimes continuously.
    Empathy and patience are essential skills for CNAs.

CNAs ensure the comfort and safety of patients in nursing homes and long-term facilities.

The relations between a CNA and their patients are essential since CNAs spend much time assisting them with daily activities and personal care.

Similarities And Differences Between CNAs And Medical Assistants

Many people have a hard time differentiating between the two positions.

Both share many of the same duties, but each has unique areas of expertise and responsibilities.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Nursing assistants, or nursing aides, provide basic care for patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

Depending on the level of training and the state in which they work, some CNAs may also dispense medication.

CNAs need to complete a state-approved training program where they learn the basics of nursing and gain some supervised clinical experience.

Such programs are offered at high schools, vocational and technical schools, community colleges, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Medical Assistant (MA)

Medical assistants are in charge of administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, physician offices, and other facilities.

Their tasks can vary depending on the specialty, location, and size of the practice.

Medical assistants usually take post-graduate education programs.

These are no formal educational requirements in most states, but employers prefer candidates who finished these programs.

CNAs usually work under the supervision of an RN or LPN, while medical assistants are supervised by an office manager or physician.

CNAs also need more training.

So they can advance their careers if they choose to, easier.

CNA training can be applied to nursing schools to partially transfer credits at many universities or colleges.

Medical assistants, though, would have to start a nursing program from the beginning.

The most significant difference between the two is that CNAs provide bedside care to patients while medical assistants are tasked more with administrative or procedural preparation and housekeeping duties.

Medical assistants evaluate patients and help physicians with the care and treatment of patients.

What Are The Credentials For CNAs And Medical Assistants?

Medical professionals need to have a certificate or credential which has to be renewed every few years, so they stay updated with innovations in the industry.

CNAs should complete 75 hours of state-approved training and pass an exam.

They should also complete the oh-the-job training hours to learn about the specific procedures and policies of their employer.

Medical assistants are also usually certified since employers seek candidates with some training.

Medical assistant programs are offered at vocational schools, community colleges, and universities.

They can take about a year to complete.

Students should also complete a lab component in medical terminology and anatomy.

You should remember that every state has its licensing and continuing education requirements for CNAs, and sometimes, for MAs.

If you know which state you are planning to work in, you should research the requirements before applying to a program.

The requirements include:

  • How many classroom hours are required?
  • How many questions are in the written examination?
  • How to renew the certification?
  • How much clinical time is necessary?
  • How long the written examination will last?

Again, in each state, the requirements are different, so you should know how to become an MA or CNA in your state, so you don’t have issues with state licensing and clinical placement.

Where Do CNAs And Medical Assistants Work?

Both CNAs and medical assistants can work in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and private clinics.

However, each facility may require CNAs and MAs to perform specific tasks:

  • Hospital Departments:
    CNAs aren’t required to choose an area of specialization.
    But if they want to become a nurse, the experience in a specific department can be highly useful.
    For example, if a CNA wants to become a midwife, working in an obstetrics department can help them gain valuable experience and learn more about the field.
  • Family Practices:
    Both CNAs and MAs can be vital additions to small family practices.
    There, one or two doctors work with many patients and need to be released of administrative or routine duties, such as taking vital signs, height, weight, etc.
  • Nursing Care Facilities:
    CNAs are commonly employed in nursing care facilities.
    Nursing homes are also known as assisted living centers for retirement and elderly communities.
    MAs may also be employed there.
  • Public and Private Outpatient Clinics:
    Some clinics provide a specific type of care, such as ambulatory surgery or reproductive health.
    They offer positions for both CNAs and MAs, where they can gain assisting experience in a particular field.
    It can be valuable for going back to school and trying to advance their careers to more prestigious ones.

Urgent care clinics are also becoming more popular and hire MAs and CNAs to assist busy doctors and nurses with their patients.

They may work in rehab programs or even at birthing centers, labor, and delivery departments at hospitals.

Which Role Is Right For Me?

If you aren’t sure which role is a better fit for you, you should learn as much as possible about various positions in healthcare.

MAs and CNAs are only some of the multiple available options.

If you want to work with more administrative duties, you may go with a medical assistant role.

If you are interested more in helping patients or working with the elderly, the role of CNA may be a better option.

When determining which position is a good fit for you, you need to keep in mind some essential traits CNAs, MAs, and other medical aides should possess.

These professions require stamina, patience, interpersonal skills, and some level of technical acumen.

Passion for helping others and project management skills are also essential.

The best role for you can be determined by the type of patient you enjoy helping and the amount of hands-on care you are willing to provide.

The education requirements, career advancement options, and pay increases also vary.

Below, we have listed the requirements and options for each career.

You can also pursue other types of medical aide careers, such as dental assistants, psychiatric aide, phlebotomists, home health care aid, and more.

MAs and CNAs in this list are included as a comparison to other medical assistant roles:

  • Medical Assistant:
    Medical assistants have a range of potential support jobs in medical establishments.
    Medical assistants don’t need a degree or training, but facilities can set their requirements for credentials and education for medical assistants they hire.
  • Certified Nursing Assistant:
    CNAs don’t need a college degree either.
    However, they have to complete 75 hours of training to gain their certification.
    The certification may have to be renewed every so often.
    With the state-approved training, CNAs have more responsibility and better pay than medical assistants or nursing aides.
  • Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides:
    Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) and physical therapist aides are supervised by physical therapists.
    They help patients recover from illnesses and injuries.
  • Nursing or Psychiatric Aide:
    Psychiatric aides provide care for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses and assist patients with their daily activity.
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technicians:
    Medical records and health information technicians handle and manage health information both electronically and in paper files.

You also want to take into consideration the demand and job availability for particular roles.

The information below represents the employment for large medical occupations, according to the BLS data of May 2017:

  • Registered nurses – 2,906,840.
  • Nursing assistants – 1,453,670.
  • Home health aides – 820,960.
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses – 702,700.
  • Medical assistants – 646,320.
  • Pharmacy technicians – 417,720.
  • Physicians and surgeons, all other – 355,460.
  • Dental assistants – 337,160.
  • Clinical laboratory technicians and technologists – 322,380.
  • Pharmacists – 309,330.

Medical aide positions are in high demand, nursing assistants especially.

If you choose to advance your education, you can become a registered nurse.

Then you will have even better job opportunities.


CNA Resources

cna skill test

CNA Skills Test Practice

After you complete a CNA training program, you have to sit for an exam to earn a license. To pass…

cna interview

CNA Interview Questions

After you complete a CNA program and receive your certification, you are probably excited to start working as a CNA…

cna resume

How to Write a Winning CNA Resume: Objectives and Skills

Whether you’re looking for the first job or changing jobs, you need a winning resume that will demonstrate to employers…

cna jobs

CNA Jobs

If you are studying to become a CNA or only considering this career, you made a great choice. After you…

Find a Program