Both work in a hospital or doctor’s office, both make sure patients are comfortable and cared for, and both are relied on for the smooth operation of a medical office. But medical assistants and nurses are two distinct professions, each with a slightly different focus. What are the similarities and differences?
Patient care: Medical assistants and nurses work to care for patients, making their stay in a hospital or their visit to a doctor’s office as easy and comfortable as possible. For both, this can include duties like changing bandages, cleaning bed sheets, preparing patients for examinations, or assisting patients with eating or dressing.
Light procedures: Medical assistants’ clinical duties roughly parallel those of a nurse aide or licensed practical nurse, consisting of administering medication under a physician’s instructions, taking and delivering samples for testing, taking vitals, and in some cases drawing blood.
Work environment: Medical assistants and nurses may both work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, nursing homes, and the offices of specialists such as chiropractors, podiatrists and dentists.
Supervision: medical assistants are also supervised by many of the same professionals who supervise nurse aides and LPNs, including physicians, health specialists, registered nurses, and other managing nurses or medical assistants.
Basic education: Medical assistants and nurse aides have fairly similar educations, comprising of around 1 year of schooling for a certificate or associate degree. Subjects covered in training typically include anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, patient care, medical law and other subjects.
Administrative duties: Contrary to nurses, some medical assistants specialize in administrative roles. These administrative medical assistants perform primarily office functions such as billing, bookkeeping, scheduling, answering phones and completing insurance paperwork rather than focusing on patient care.
More involved procedures: Unlike nurses, medical assistants don’t perform more invasive procedures such as administering IVs, administering internal anesthesia, or operating medical equipment – unless they specialize in a field such as optometry or ophthalmology. Only specially trained medical assistants may draw blood, and only certain states allow medical assistants to administer injections.
Health care planning: While registered nurses and LPNs work with patients to build short and long-term care plans, medical assistants only provide short-term care to patients, carrying out instructions given to them by higher medical personnel.
Specialties: Though some medical assistants specialize in fields like podiatry and optometry, most medical assistants don’t specialize beyond their work environment, such as nursing homes, doctor’s offices or hospitals. On the other hand, registered nurses may specialize in a variety of fields, such as anesthesia, public health, childbirth, trauma, or they may become nurse practitioners.
Advanced education: Unlike medical assistants, some nurses can pursue further education to advance in the field and specialize.
Work schedule: Medical assistants typically work set schedules, such as a regular 40-hour week or a part-time schedule, and may only occasionally be required to work evenings or weekends. Many nurses work irregular schedules, such as three 12-hour shifts per week, and may be on call depending on their specialty and work environment.
Pay: The majority of medical assistants earned between $21,000 and $31,000 annually in 2007, a roughly comparable wage to a nurse aide or orderly, according to the US Labor Bureau. Meanwhile, LPNs earned between $31 and $43k per year, and most RNs earned between $47 and $69k or higher. The pay difference is mostly due to the increased responsibility and higher educational requirements in the nursing field (see: medical assistant salary).