How to Go from Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse

In the growing healthcare industry there are so many different careers from which to choose. Many go for medical assisting because it is an easy path with minimal training and education requirements. However, the responsibilities and room for growth in this career are limited.

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If you are a medical assistant looking to get a little more out of your career, you may want to consider becoming a registered nurse, or RN. There is unfortunately no easy or quick way to make this career change, but knowing how to become an RN can help you make the best choices.

How Are RNs Different from Medical Assistants?

A medical assistant plays an important role in the healthcare setting. Most work in physician offices where they have a range of duties: greet patients and prepare them to meet with the doctor, maintain and keep patient records, take vital signs, assist physicians during exams, operate the reception desk, and take calls and schedule appointments.

While medical assistants do get to work hands-on with patients, they have more limited responsibilities as compared to nurses. An RN has received extensive medical training and can evaluate patients, administer medications and treatments, observe patients and communicate observations to physicians, operate medical equipment, teach patients how to manage conditions, and perform diagnostic tests. Most RNs work in hospitals.

Salary Differences

With differences in training and licensing requirements as well as job responsibilities come big differences in salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a medical assistant in 2018 was $33,619 per year. For a registered nurse it was $71,730.

In both careers there are opportunities to earn more. Salaries vary by state and employer; more years of experience can lead to higher salaries, and those with more areas of specialty likely earn more. But, you can always expect that an RN will make significantly more than a medical assistant in any setting or state.

Bridging to a Career as a Registered Nurse

Unfortunately, there is no simple, easy way to go from being a medical assistant to an RN. To become a nurse you must meet the requirements set by the state in which you will be working. Requirements vary by state but generally include completing a nursing degree, often a bachelor’s degree, passing the NCLEX-RN exam for certification and applying for licensing through the state’s nursing board.

If you earned an associate degree to become a medical assistant, you may be able to use some of those credits toward your nursing degree. This will shorten the time it takes to complete all the RN requirements. Another option is to test out of certain prerequisite courses for the nursing degree. You can find online programs that will prep you for these tests and administer them. If you pass out of a few courses it will take less time to complete your degree. Depending on your situation, it will likely take between two and four years to go from working as a medical assistant to being a licensed RN.

A career as a medical assistant can be rewarding and interesting. Maybe you got into this career because you couldn’t afford the time or money to earn a nursing degree. Now is a great time to make that leap. Take courses toward a new degree and soon enough you can be earning and doing more as an RN.

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