Medical Assistant vs Nurse – Similarities and Differences

The health care industry is constantly expanding. Choosing a job in the health care industry provides individuals with ample opportunities to find employment in a variety of environments. Two popular career choices in this industry include medical assisting and nursing. Although they share some similarities when it comes to job duties, work environment and schedules, medical assisting and nursing are two very different careers.

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Patient Care

Providing patient care is one job duty shared among medical assistants and nurses. Providing patient care includes assisting patient with activities of daily living, such as hygiene and feeding, wound care and preparing patients for diagnostic testing or procedures. MA and nurses are both responsible for preventing the spread of infection and illness by providing patients with a clean environment where they receive their care. This includes changing bed linens, cleaning non-disposable equipment and disinfecting areas that are shared by patients.

Job duties

Although they share some similar job duties there are a large number of differences between the duties performed by a medical assistant and those performed by a nurse. MA are typically assigned a variety of responsibilities including patient care and administrative duties.

Job duties for nurses typically focus on patient care and include a minimal amount of administrative duties. Medical assistants follow a doctor’s orders and only perform the type of care expressed directly by the physician. Nurses also follow doctor’s order; however they are also trained to write patient care plans.

Another difference in job duties for MA and nurses include administrative duties. MA often perform administrative duties such as scheduling patients, answering telephones and medical billing. Administrative duties performed by nurses include documenting a patient’s condition and writing care plans.

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.


Education is an area in which there are many differences between a medical assistant and nurse. Training is necessary for an individual to successfully work as a MA. Although recommended, medical assistants are not required to go through any type of formal training program in order to work as a MA.

A career in nursing requires the completion of an accredited training program as well as certification/licensure through the state in which they intend to work. Nursing programs are found at universities and colleges across the country. There are several types of nursing programs that offer varying degrees that range from licensed practical nurse to nurse practitioner.

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.

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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.

11 Responses to “Medical Assistant vs Nurse – Similarities and Differences”
  1. Cristiano says:

    Everyone knows it is very hard to take care of your children and also balacne that with taking care of your parent as well, but it can be done. In Leviticus 19:32, Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.’

  2. Lerato says:

    If I’m doing Medical Assistance is it possible to further my studies in the field of nursing?

    • M.A says:

      Yes you can, I graduated as Medical Assistant in 2009, now I doing an RN job Almost, I`m doing BD , IV`s, Pts education and more duties to list.

      • bebop says:

        As to M.A’s comment, I hope the doctor in your office knows it’s their license they can lose if a MA does anything outside of their training .Impersonating a nurse is against the law.

        • Proud CMA (AAMA) says:

          I don’t believe she said she was posing as an RN but she was performing duties similar to what an RN would do in an office. CMAs have been replacing nurses in physician’s office for decades because of our skills, training, abilitiy to perform clinical (comparable to an LV/PN) and administrative (nursse not trained in school) skills. Alas, we are not recognized in monetary compensation. Additionally, we are trained in an actual Law and Ethics course (unlike nurses) about laws such as the legalties of practicing outside of our scope of training. Respondeat Superior! In order to use the credential CMA (AAMA) you MUST be licensed through the AAMA which has strict requirements to sit for their exam. You can’t just walk in off the street into an office and work utilizing this designation. I so wish, nurses would get off their high horse and stop feeling threatened and realize they are not the only ones that can give high quality care. I work with some wonderful nurses with educational degrees that actually recognize me as an equal and we teach together, however we still have the sows that think they are better. :-(

    • Christina says:

      Yes, you can go back to school and obtain additional degrees or take certification classes to expand your knowledge and potentially your scope of practice. However, you cannot legally call yourself a nurse unless you are a RN or LPN/LVN and hold that license in your state.

  3. anahi says:

    I’m a recent high school graduate. I’m taking a pre-nursing consent for a AGS its going to take me 4 years to complete it, but there’s a medical assistant program that’s only 2 years should I stay with the pre-nursing program or go for the medical assistant program? I don’t know much on the difference between the two so I’m a little lost. My eldest sister is taking the medical assistance program and says I should just drop my pre-nursing classes and transfer to the medical assistance ones

    • Amber says:

      No. Start with nursing. A medical assistant certification holds practically no value. Amd you will make less than half of what a nurse does. If you want to be a MA, then just walk into the employer n ask to be one. You don’t need a degree. The issue is you can make nearly as much being a cna.

  4. Experienced CMA (AAMA) says:

    As CMA (AAMA) I am still baffled that a person just walk right off the street and work as a “medical assistant” without any schooling or proper training. I take my credentialing seriously and non CMA workers make our credentialing look bad for the lack of education and skills they have. This has been a hot topic at multiple state House of Delegates meetings. Maybe our pay would mimic more of an RN’s salary if it was mandatory for clinics to only hire trained CMA’s. LPN’s go to school half the amount CMA’s do and they are thought of as “superior” to CMA’s. In reality, they have no lab or administrative background, and have to be taught by other CMA’s how to do these things. Yet, LPN’s get paid more and know less. This has been a very frustrating topic in CMA circles around the country. I previously worked at a family practice clinic for 6 years with all CMA’s, no RN’s or LPN’s. We had a CMA quit and an LPN replaced her. No previous work experience, fresh out of school. We taught her everything we knew. She made $12 more an hour starting than we did after years of dedication to the same practice. All because she was a “nurse.” Personally I think they should do away with LPN’s and 2-year RN programs. If they can’t compensate credentialed MA’s for there schooling, why should it differ from nurses?
    I will say I am currently a nursing student, and will be graduate next year. Have I learned anything different? Not yet. Same core classes, same clinical labs, same body parts. I will learn how to place IV’s and catheters, which does differ from a CMA, but as a Tech, I did these routinely in the ER. I’ve yet to learn anything new. I’ll keep you posted.

  5. EMT/RN says:

    LPNs are definitely in school longer than MA programs. LPN is at least one year of prerequisite classes and then one year in nursing school. The degree to which pathophysiology, pharmacology, and A&P is very different. Nurses take a whole year of A&P… I’m not saying MAs arent important in healthcare, but they are nowhere close to RNs when it comes to formal training, critical thinking, legal liability, etc. If youd like to be a nurse, go to an accredited nursing school. MAs are not nurses and their scopes of practice are of course very different.

  6. CMA/LVN says:

    First of all there are different kind of MA’s. A CMA is certified and I have my CCMA-AC which is California Certifying Board for Medical Assistants. I took the test to the boards just like a LVN takes her NCLEX. I know exactly the process for both because I have both. You can not just get any Medical Assistant off the street. The medical assistant you hire with out being certified and just by experience is only doing clerical duties and not Clinical functions. I work for LA County and there are requirements upon hiring for CMA’s. This is true that you can not go from CMA to LVN because there is no credit to going from CMA to LVN. Although as a CMA going into nursing you can add the patient experience on your resume when you are finish with whatever nursing degree you get upon hiring. Also, CMA programs vary like mine took as long as a LVN because I had math and English prerequisites.

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