Exploring the option of healthcare careers can be worthwhile. This is because healthcare typically offers good job security and competitive wages. The work carried out in the healthcare profession can also be very rewarding.

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If you are contemplating further education, it is essential that you choose the right career path for you. Understanding the differences between roles can make your decision easier.

This article will explore the main differences between medical assistants and nurses. We will explore the job roles and potential settings for these careers. We will also explore the options for further education in both fields.

Introduction To Medical Assistants And Nurses

There are many roles in healthcare that may seem similar at first. Understanding the differences between them can help students take the right steps for their desired career path.

This section will explore exactly what medical assistants and nurses are.

What is a medical assistant?

A medical assistant is a trained professional that can carry out clinical and administrative tasks in a medical setting.

Medical assistants are essential to the smooth running of healthcare facilities. This is because they carry out a number of roles.

The role is more tailored to administrative tasks and assisting physicians than patient care. Although, patient care is sometimes included in specific tasks.

What is a nurse?

A nurse differs from a medical assistant as they are more centered on patient care.

They provide support and education to patients and carry out a range of clinical tasks.

Nurses can specialize in certain healthcare areas. This can include:

  • Oncology
  • Critical Care
  • Pediatrics

Nurses provide compassionate care to patients. They also support physicians and healthcare providers with a range of tasks and responsibilities.

Keep reading to learn more about the key responsibilities of both nurses and medical assistants.

Medical Assistant School Vs Nursing School

Medical assistant school

Medical assistants can complete a formal training program to become certified medical assistants, but some employers do offer on-the-job training. Medical assistant programs are run by accredited institutions. They provide diplomas, associate degrees, and certificates to graduates.

Education options suitable for a potential career as a medical assistant include medical assisting diplomas and an Associate of Applied Science Degree in medical assisting.

A certification exam will be carried out at the end of the program, and most employers require certification from accredited institutions.

High school diplomas or GEDs are typically all that is required to enter medical assisting programs. However, different schools may have different eligibility prerequisites.

A medical assistant program will usually take anywhere between ten months and two years to complete. This will depend on the program being taken and whether flexible learning options are offered.

The stages typically involved in medical assistant program courses include:

Classroom Work

Classroom work covers the theory of certain activities. It will also cover a lot of the administrative work that is essential to the role, such as organizing medical histories.

Medical Assistant Duties

Learning in labs is required when studying medical assistant duties. Duties include wound care, injections, and other procedures.

Lab Work

Topics such as hematology, pharmacology, and urinalysis will be covered by carrying out lab work.

Work Experience

Work experience is carried out in a medical setting. This allows the student to gain valuable experience.

Becoming a certified medical assistant (CMA) is beneficial. This is because an employer typically prefers to hire a certified medical assistant, instead of someone without qualifications.

Nursing school

You must become a registered nurse to work as a nurse in the U.S. To do this, you will have to complete a formal education. This can include:

  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • An Associate Degree in Nursing
  • An approved nursing program

Getting certification from an accredited registered nurse program will be your first step toward becoming a registered nurse.

You will then have to sit the nurse licensing exam. After obtaining your license you will be able to apply for a nursing position. Further education opens up a range of specialized nursing positions that can include:

  • Cardiovascular Nurse
  • ICU Nurse
  • Neonatal Nurse
  • Occupational Health Nurse
  • Public Health Nurse

A degree to become a registered nurse can be completed within two years. Further education may be required for specialized positions.

Roles And Responsibilities Of Medical Assistant Vs Nurse

The differences between the roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant and a nurse are fairly significant.

Roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant

The role of a medical assistant is to support other healthcare workers including doctors and nurses.

There are many responsibilities a medical assistant will be tasked with. These include:

Clinical Duties

A medical assistant will be responsible for a wide range of clinical tasks. This can include:

  • Recording the patient’s medical histories
  • Checking vital signs
  • Preparing patients for examination
  • Preparing patients for procedures
  • Assisting physicians during examinations
  • Assisting physicians during procedures
  • Carrying out laboratory tests
  • Collecting specimens
  • Preparing medical equipment
  • Providing patient education
  • Instructing patients on aftercare
  • Administrative duties

Medical assistants also play an important role in ensuring administrative records are up-to-date and accurate.

The administrative duties involved in healthcare can often be complicated. They can cause issues for departments or patients if they have not been accurately completed.

Administrative duties that a medical assistant might be tasked with include:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Updating electronic health records
  • Verifying health insurance information
  • Handling and processing billing
  • Handling and processing payments


Communication is a huge part of healthcare. It’s essential that patients receive the relevant communication to give them the information they need. This can include health advice, recovery information, or details about billing and insurance.

Strong communication skills are required to deal with patients by phone, email, and in person. Delivering the news to patients or families can often be difficult. It will be your responsibility to deliver the required information clearly and empathetically.

Communication between healthcare professionals is also essential. This improves efficiency and minimizes the risk of mistakes occurring.

Infection Control and Safety

Safety and infection control protocols are essential in all healthcare settings. A safe, healthy environment must be maintained for workers and patients.

Following the proper sanitary procedures and protocols as well as the disposal of medical waste is an important part of the role.

Equipment Management

Managing medical supplies and equipment is very important. This ensures they are in good working order. It also falls under the remit of a medical assistant’s responsibilities.

The sterilization of equipment and handling protocols must be met. Checking and maintaining equipment will help to identify issues that can be resolved.

Professional Development

Medical assistants participate in ongoing education. This ensures they are up to date with current advances in medical technology.

Roles and responsibilities of a registered nurse

A registered nurse is essential to the smooth running of healthcare facilities. They have a range of responsibilities that are mostly centered around patient care.

These include:

Care Coordination

A registered nurse will play a significant role in the coordination of patient care. This involves collaborating with other healthcare professionals including doctors and pharmacists. It is then possible to ensure the patient receives the care required in a timely fashion.

Patient Assessment

Registered nurses are often tasked with assessing the physical or mental health of a patient. They will then provide a detailed report to the healthcare team.

Patient assessments include:

  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Administering medication
  • Tracking the progress of patients

These skills will be taught during training for the role in programs and in practice.

Patient Education

The job of a registered nurse requires them to educate the patient in a number of ways. This can include informing them about their condition and what it means. It will also cover any medication that is required and potential side effects.

Registered nurses will also have to educate patients’ families in some cases. This may cover good nutrition and disease prevention.

Medication Management

The management of medication is essential to the recovery of a patient. Ensuring the right doses are taken as and when they are required is part of a registered nurse’s job.

They must also ensure that patients aren’t pretending to take medication.

Monitoring Patient Progress

Patient progression must be monitored to ensure treatments are working as they should. Registered nurses note important information in patient files and pass these on to the healthcare team.

Patient Advocacy

Another important role that people might know about is ensuring patients’ rights are met. Registered nurses are responsible for ensuring the patient gets the best care available.

Infection Control

Registered nurses are responsible for maintaining clean and sterile working environments. This is the case for most healthcare professionals.

Implementing proper hygiene controls and procedures, as well as wearing the correct PPE, are all involved in this process.

Professional Development

Registered nurses have to maintain their development. This helps them keep up to date with the latest research and technology.

Continual education programs are needed to improve skills and knowledge.

Leadership and Management

Some nursing positions require management skills. This can include being responsible for other members of staff, dealing with budgets, or planning staffing and rotas.

Work Settings And Environments

Registered nurses will have a range of workplace settings to choose from. These include

  • Hospitals
  • Doctors’ Offices
  • Nursing Facilities
  • Clinics
  • Government
  • Education

The vast majority of registered nurses in the U.S. work in hospitals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that around 60% of nurses in 2021 worked in hospital environments.

Medical assistants are most likely to find work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Clinics
  • Physicians’ Offices
  • Other Healthcare Facilities

Patient Interaction And Care Nurses Vs Medical Assistants

Both nurses and medical assistants provide basic patient care. However, nursing requires you to complete higher-level patient-focused tasks.

Medical assistants are more likely to focus on administrative tasks in medical offices. This can include maintaining patients’ medical records.

Registered nurses tend to conduct patient examinations and carry out other patient care tasks.

Career Opportunities and Advancement

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a growth rate of 16% is projected between 2021 and 2031 for medical assistants.

Medical assistants can expect job growth that is significantly higher than the average for other occupations. Medical assistants in the US can also expect an annual wage of around $37,190.

Medical assistants also have lots of career progression options. They can look into healthcare management and administration roles. Alternatively, they can look to specialize in certain fields and train to become a nurse.

The job outlook for nurses isn’t as high as that of medical assistants. A 6% growth is projected between 2021 and 2031.

The average annual wage for a nurse in the U.S. is around $77,600. There are also lots of avenues to explore for career advancement. This can include further education to become nurse anesthetists, nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners.