Medical assistants play a very valuable role, but they are NOT nurses !
Medical assistants play a very valuable
role, but they are NOT nurses !

Is Medical Assisting Nursing?

While both medical assistants and nurses are qualified health care professionals, medical assistants are not nurses. Duties between the two professions often overlap in the medical office. And, medical assistants may be considered part of the ‘nursing staff’ at their place of employment. Because of the similarities between nurse and MA, people may think they are interchangeable. However, just as there are shades of gray between MAs and nurses, there are also unique differences.

Education Differences

Medical Assistant:

Education plays an important role in the differences between medical assistant and nurse. Medical assistants generally attend an MA program for two years, one year or nine months. An Associate of Applied Science degree in medical assisting takes two years, and is the most in-depth option for medical assisting training. Diploma and certificate programs are also available and take 12 or 9 months to complete.

Medical assistant programs are similar to a first-year nursing program. Both teach anatomy and physiology, biology or chemistry, lifespan and disease and pharmacology, depending on the program. Medical assisting programs also include broad administrative training, whereas nursing school does not. MAs learn to handle medical insurance claims, file medical records and make appointments.


Nurses usually have the option to complete one year of nursing school and earn their licensed practical nurse (LPN) degree. If desired, students may then complete an additional year of schooling to earn the registered nurse designation (RN). Two year nursing schools offer an Associate of Nursing, while a four-year Bachelor’s degree earns the Bachelors of Nursing (BSN) designation.

Nurses who complete a BSN degree may progress into a master’s degree. A Master of Science Nursing degree allows an RN to teach nursing at colleges and universities, and also take additional courses to become a nurse practitioner.

Scope of Practice:

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work directly under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor or in some cases, a registered nurse.

The scope of practice for medical assistants includes direct patient care, including obtaining basic health histories, administering medications, assisting with minor surgery, basic patient education and administrative procedures. Each medical facility can also designate additional responsibilities to medical assistants. Some medical assistants with advanced certification may be able to start intravenous lines and assist with emergencies.


Both the licensed practical nurse and registered nurse work under their own individual license.

This allows them to have a wider scope of practice then a medical assistant. Nurses perform most of the same duties as a medical assistant. Because nurses receive deeper training than medical assistants, they are able to take patient care to an advanced level. They provide advanced medications, like chemotherapy, allergy testing and blood products. Nurses start intravenous lines and other invasive forms of care when needed. Registered nurses may specialize in specific areas of medicine, like cardiology, emergency medicine or oncology that allow them to perform advanced skill. Nurses are also in-depth patient educators.

Article Written by Elizabeth Otto

Elizabeth Otto is a freelance writer specializing in medical and health articles. Otto has worked as a certified medical assistant in specialty practice since 1994 and is also a nationally registered emergency medical technician.


2 Responses to “Is Medical Assisting Nursing?”
  1. Theresa Coleman says:

    Hi, I have a question. I am working at a small college. The Allied Health Coordinator is a CMA. I was ask to teach some of the medical assistant courses. I became a medical assistant back in the 70’a after finishing high school. I went back to school and became an RN, ADN. I was ask to teach some of the medical assistant classes but was told by the AHC that i couldn’t teach because it had been too long since I had been a CMA. She also said that the AAMA doesn’t allow RN’s to teach medical assistant classes unless they go through the CMA program and that I would have to go back through the CMA program and get recertified as a CMA. Is this true? I worked as a CMA for many years in several different MD offices. I would think I was more qualified being an RN.

    Thanks for any help you can give me.


  2. Marilyn genovese says:

    I am a current student in a degree program for medical assistant and almost all of my instructors are RNs…none of them are CMA certified

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