Should I Go for Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Medical Assisting?
You want to work in healthcare, but may be confused whether to choose a career as a medical assistant or licensed practical nurse. In the past decade, positions for licensed practical nurses have changed dramatically. Where once LPNs were dominant in physician offices, the profession is mostly found in nursing homes and hospitals. The medical assisting profession has stepped into traditional LPN roles in physician offices and ambulatory care centers.
Like nurses, LPNs have to take and pass an exam in order to get the license to practice their craft. Their training is like that received by RNs except for the fact that LPN programs take shorter times to complete, may involve only a certificate or diploma and no college degree at all. RNs, on the other hand, must have a minimum of an associates, although many today have at least a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
LPNs have had to struggle to establish and keep their place in the medical playing field. Because they are viewed by some people as merely a downplayed, easier to get version of an RN, some people want to get rid of the LPN profession. Until that happens, though (if at all), it must be said that LPNs serve a very useful role, especially in nursing homes, which hire them because they work for less than RNs.
Despite sharing similar duties, a pay difference remains between the two professions. This may discourage medical assisting students who realize they may perform more for less. However, some key differences exist between LPNs and medical assistants beyond pay.
So, how do you decide between the professions? Here are some tips to help you make an informed choice:
What Are Career Differences Between an LPN and Medical Assistant?
Understanding differences between an LPN and medical assistant is important to making a career choice.
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.
Where to find work
Most LPN jobs exist in hospitals, nursing care facilities and home health care. These positions often consist of night, weekend and holiday shifts and may be full or part time. LPNs working in these settings often care for the elderly and infirm, or patients hospitalized due to illness or surgery. In some states, LPNs are allowed to assist in childbirth and infant care. LPNs may care for patients with long-term and end-of-life needs.
Medical assistants are mostly employed in physician offices and ambulatory care centers, like outpatient surgical centers and radiology clinics. These positions often consist of daytime shifts and may include some holiday and weekend shifts as well. Medical assistants provide general patient care for a variety of illness, surgical and non-invasive procedures and yearly health exams. Medical assistants generally care for patients with short-term care needs.
What are the Salary Differences?
Salaries for both LPNs and medical assistants depend on many things, including location, the type of medical facility in which you’re employed, the job description and experience. Some positions ask for either an LPN or medical assistant because the job description is the same for both professions. There may not be a pay difference between the professions in this case.
However, some jobs may demand an LPN because specific nursing duties are required and a pay difference will exist. Pay also widely depends on location, as some areas of the United States pay higher than others.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2017, the median annual salary for an LPN was around $43,000. Top salaries were around $60,000 while the bottom ten percent of LPNs earned less than $30,000.
Medical assistant salaries:
The median earnings for medical assistants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were $33,500 in 2017. The top 10% earned almost $40,000 and bottom 10% around $28,000.