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

Difference between a Medical Assistant and Licensed Practical Nurse

Medical assistants and licensed practical nurses are both valuable members of the healthcare team. Both LPNs and MAs are sought to work in ambulatory care centers and physician’s offices because of their diversity of skills and valuable abilities. In some cases, the responsibilities of an MA or LPN may overlap. Though these professions may seem similar, there are distinct differences between the two.

Medical assistants do not earn a license!

A medical assistant may choose to become certified or registered upon completing an approved medical assisting program. Certification and registration are different than a license, and are not interchangeable. Practical nurses may sit for a licensing exam after graduation from nursing school. Earning a license allows the practical nurse to practice skills under her own license—though most states require that an LPN be supervised by a registered nurse when performing certain assessments or skills.

Medical assistants do not practice independently. They work under a physician’s medical license. Essentially, a licensed medical doctor must approve a medical assistant’s ability to practice, and then agree to allow the MA to work directly under his or her medical license.

Because medical assistants cannot earn a license, they are often not allowed to work in state-funded nursing homes or long-term care facilities. LPNs; however, may.

LPNs learn far more clinical skills

Skills performed by MAs and LPNs may overlap; however, there are differences in skills performed by both. Skill differences may vary due to state laws that govern how LPNs and MAs practice. However, LPNs learn some clinical skills during nursing school which are not taught in medical assisting programs.

An LPN may be trained to place an intravenous line (IV) and provide select medications via an IV. Antibiotics, electrolytes and fluid replacement are some medications an LPN may be able to give through an IV. While a select few states allow MAs to obtain intravenous line certification, it is not a skill routinely taught during MA school or allowed for practice.

LPNs also learn other skills that an MA may not have learned, or be allowed to do by state law. Inserting urinary catheters, including Foley catheters and giving certain medications by injection, like antibiotics or narcotics are some skills that may vary between both professions.

LPN programs have more depth

Licensed Practical Nurse programs are often grouped in a nursing program that offers both LPN and RN degrees. All students, regardless if they are seeking the LPN or RN designation, obtain the same first-year nursing curriculum. After one year, and successfully meeting education requirements, students may take the LPN nursing exam, or choose to continue on a second year to complete the registered nurse program.

The LPN program offers a wider look into the human lifespan and care through the ages than many medical assistant programs do. An LPN program may include learning in-depth patient assessment techniques, how to create care plans, pain management techniques including therapeutic touch therapy and ergo-dynamic techniques and how to care for the terminally ill and dying patient. Critical thinking skills are also a foundation skill taught in nursing school. These skills allow the LPN to function at a patient’s bedside in a hospital, hospice or long-term care facility setting.

LPNs earn more

Medical assistants and licensed practical nurses both frequently work in ambulatory care, or a clinic setting. Despite skills and responsibilities that may overlap and similarities in responsibilities, LPNs generally earn more than MAs do.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that practical nurses working in physician’s offices earn about $35,000 per year. Medical assistants working in a similar capacity earn about $25,000 per year. Earnings will vary based on where you live, your experience and education earned beyond your LPN or MA degree.

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.

Comments
6 Responses to “Difference between a Medical Assistant and Licensed Practical Nurse”
  1. Robbie says:

    This article makes sense for the most part… except that your headers are certainties but you show examples of how they are not in fact certainties within the description. You’re contradicting yourself. You shouldn’t put down “LPNs learn far more clinical skills” then leave a single example of IV placement with the annotation of “While a select few states allow MAs to obtain intravenous line certification, it is not a skill routinely taught during MA school or allowed for practice.” and then also “LPNs also learn other skills that an MA may not have learned, or be allowed to do by state law. Inserting urinary catheters, including Foley catheters and giving certain medications by injection, like antibiotics or narcotics are some skills that may vary between both professions.”. So in other words LPNs have “far more clinical skills than SOME MA’s in MOST states.” There are examples like that throughout this entire article. Here in Denver, there are several facilities that are getting MA’s instead of LPN because of the simple fact that they are CHEAP and know a huge amount that LPNs do in fact learn, maybe not in school, but most certainly on the job. We have hospitals (great ones I might add) that use MA’s more than LPN, including in urgent care and ER settings. The amount of clinical care the LPN and MA learn is not impressive and it totally makes sense that they are more interchangeable than people give them credit for.

  2. Fawn Becker says:

    I am a CMA in the state of Washington. I am required to have a state license. I went to a 9 month program and then I had to go through the state to be licensed. This may not be the case in every state. However you should say that instead of giving inaccurate information. I can post the Washington state department of health website requirements of you would like. Please provide accurate information.

  3. Lola Pea says:

    Medical Assistants work hard and is under paid. In a few setting Medical Assistants has Insert urinary catheters. Medical Assistants are well rounded people. They do ekg, injections, PFT, draw blood, urine, rapid strep, rapid influenza testing.They take vitals and gather the information for the doctors. Before the patients office visit the medical assistant has to prep-charts get lab results, consults, and hospital records and they don’t get down time to prep charts. How about ear flush, wound care, take out stitches, and finger sticks for diabetes or children to check for lead.They does all the doctors paper work in a clinical setting and a physician office. They serve as the doctors right hand person. Some times they do referrals and place medications on hold for the doctor to send electronically. The RN sits in a office and eat all day and pass her work to the Medical Assistant. The LPN have limitations they don’t do ekg, PFT, and the paper work for the doctors.
    I can go on and on about a Medical Assistant and their job duties. My point is they don’t get the credit and praises they deserves. Doctors are hard to please and they take a lot of crap from them and the lazy RN. My opinion a RN and a LPN is not needed in a clinical settings nor in a doctors office. They get paid to do nothing. They don’t triage the medical assistant does it. Calls from the pharmacy and other physicians office the medical assistant take care of it. So, don’t down play medical assistants because they are the hardest workers in the medical career. They deserve more money.

    • P. Robinson says:

      Shame on you for putting down LPN’s and RN’s. We, including MA’s, are all considered a “Health Care Professionals”. Stop bashing one another.

      • Vincent says:

        I agree with you P. Robinson. I am a LPN in a doctors office and I do all that Lola mentioned and more. I also assist with actual surgery in the OR with my doctor. We are ALL needed and should respect each other. It’s the individual that is lazy not the “Title”. We all studied hard for our “Title” and should be proud of our accomplishments. It hurts me when I hear ugliness of what seems to be jealousy…if one wants the pay or “Title” of a nurse then go back to school and earn it. Each of us-MA/LPN/RN made a choice of what “Title” we wanted when we attended school. My point is this: We MA’s/LPN’s/RN’s should work together as a team to take care of our patients!!! After all isn’t that WHY we went into this field??

        God bless :)

        • Melissa says:

          AMEN Sister!! RN’s and LPN’s do not sit around all day doing nothing and get paid more for it! LOL!! I whole heartedly agree with your statement “Each of us made a choice as to which title we wanted when we attended school.” Instead of being jealous, go back to school and earn the “Title” you want!!

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