Differences Between CNA and Medical Assistants

Medical assistants (MA) and certified nursing assistants (CNA) are health-care careers that involve working with patients of all ages and physical condition, providing them with high quality patient care. They both assist doctors, nurses and other health-care providers with treatments, procedures and tests. Both careers require certification and a state license. That however, is where the similarities end. Working as a medical assistant is quite different from working as a nursing assistant, also known as a nursing aide. Job duties of a medical assistant focus more on patient assessment, evaluation and helping doctors with patient care and treatment. A nursing assistant’s job duties involve more direct patient care. Direct patient care refers to hands-on care associated with activities of daily living (ADL), such as performing a bed-bath, assisting with mobility or cleaning a patient with incontinence.

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MA Training
MA training involves the successful completion of an accredited medical assisting program. Available both on-line and in the traditional classroom setting, medical assisting programs take one to two years to complete. Community colleges, technical schools and universities across the country offer medical assisting programs. Training involves learning both bookwork and hands-on care experience. As a student future MAs are required to perform a set amount of clinical time as well as in-class instruction. During clinical time, each student learns how to perform patient assessment and provide care.

CNA Training
CNA training programs last from six weeks to several months. Locate programs on-line, through a community college or at a technical school. Programs teach students how to perform direct patient care, educate them about patient safety and documentation. Clinical time is also required for CNA training. Systematic instructions are taught for each type of care the certified nursing assistant performs.

Scope of Practice

MA Scope of Practice
The MA scope of practice explains the care, assessments and procedures performed by a MA. The scope of practiced is determined by each state in accordance with the skills and knowledge learned during training. It includes their protocols which are detailed instructions how to perform specific care and procedures. Drawing a blood sample for laboratory testing is an example of a procedure listed within the MA scope of practice. Types of patient assessment, such as a preliminary physical exam and instructions for obtaining vital signs, are included as well.

CNA Scope of Practice
Each state determines the certified nursing assistant scope of practice, which is a list of all care and treatments provided by certified nursing assistants. The care performed by a CNA is based upon the skills and knowledge learned during the CNA training program. Included within the scope of practice, a CNA’s protocol provides how to instructions for care they perform. Examples of instructions for care provided by certified nursing assistants included within the protocols are bathing, feeding and toileting.

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Article Written by Rachel Dennis

Rachel Dennis works as both a professional writer and health care provider. She has been a licensed health care provider since 1998, with work experience as a medical assistant, certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician. She has been writing since 1994 and has been published both on-line and in print.

5 Responses to “Differences Between CNA and Medical Assistants”
  1. Julia says:

    I am currently a CNA in the state of Idaho. There is an open position at the local medical center for a “medical assistant”. Even though I am a CNA could I still work as a MA?

    • Debra says:

      I was a CNA. I am currently in school for CNRMA (Certified Nationally Registered Medical Assistant) as as a CNA you clean up and take care of the elderly (at least I did) now I am in school for an MA. It is completely opposite. We draw blood, give injections, take medical histories from patients for the physician’s, remove sutures, assist in procedures and surgery and so so much more including office and administrative work. I believe MA’s are like LPN’s. There obviously are some things that MA’s can’t do that LPN’S do. But the duties are basically the same.

  2. Angie Riester says:

    I have worked as a CNA for 28 years, I work as a tech along side of physicians, I schedule surgeries,take out sutures. Only thing that I am not allowed to do i give injections. Would I still need to take the whole course?

  3. Barbara Hunter says:

    Ma’s and CNA’s do not have a scope of practice, they have a certificate that identifies they have specialized training, but scope of practice is specific to a person that holds a license, such as an RN or LPN.

    • Carmen Ford says:

      MA’s do hold a medical licenses, and we do have a scope of practice. not just a cert. Maybe you should go back to school to learn this, since you know so much in the medical field.

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