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  • Writer's pictureHollywood Institute

Medical Assistant vs. CNA vs. LPN: How Medical Assistant Training Compares

You know you're ready to move forward with starting your career in the medical field. Now it's time to select a certification program to gain the skills you need to launch your career. Should you become a CNA, LPN or medical assistant? With so many careers in the medical field, how do you know which path is right for you?

Each medical certification program and profession has its own challenges and advantages. We're taking a closer look at each of these careers and certifications to help you decide which is the best fit for your future.

The Different Kinds of Careers in the Medical Field

Understanding the daily responsibilities of each medical assistant profession can help you know which certification program to choose. You want to make sure your classes and certification will land you in a career you love.

What does a medical assistant (MA) do?

Medical assistants, or MAs, complete both administrative and clinical tasks in physicians' offices, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. There are more than 700,000 MA jobs in the United States. A MA has a versatile career because their responsibilities can include working in a front office answering calls, scheduling appointments, working in the exam room taking a patient's medical history, taking vitals and even performing some lab procedures like drawing blood, administering vaccinations and suturing.

What does a certified nurse assistant (CNA) do?

A certified nurse assistant, or CNA, helps patients with their daily life activities. There are over 1.5 million CNAs in the United States. Most CNAs work in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals. CNAs report to LPNs or RNs and perform daily care activities for patients including taking vitals, bathing patients, preparing meals and transferring them to wheelchairs.

What does a licensed practical nurse (LPN) do?

A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, provides basic nursing care to patients. There are over 700,000 LPNs in the United States. Most LPNs work in hospitals, physicians' offices, extended care facilities, nursing homes and private homes. An LPN works as an assistant to registered nurses or physicians, taking patient's vital signs and providing clinical care.

Education and Training Differences Between Medical Assistants vs. CNAs vs. LPNs

Each medical profession requires its own kind of training and certification. Some programs require you to attend full-time while others offer evening or part-time options. Some can be completed in months while others take years. Knowing what the expectations of a program are can help you plan and prepare which one is best for you.

What are the requirements for becoming a certified nurse assistant (CNA)?

Not every state requires a CNA to have a certification, but all will require classes and passing a state exam. Most CNA programs take 6-12 months to complete and are offered at high schools or community colleges. Skills are acquired through classroom lessons, labs and hands-on learning experiences led by nurses.

What are the requirements for becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN)?

LPNs must have a high school diploma or GED and then complete a year of full-time nursing education. If taking evening or weekend classes, it can take several years to achieve your LPN. Skills are taught in classrooms, labs and clinical environments with patients. In order to be licensed, you must complete a board-approved program and then pass the NCLEX-PN Licensing Exam, which is a test that is given across the country.

What are the requirements for becoming a medical assistant (MA)?

There are two options to become an MA—a certificate program that can take as little as eight months or an associate degree that usually takes two years. Both options equally qualify you to work as a medical assistant. Training consists of medical education in the classroom, labs and hands-on patient experiences, as well as education on office and administrative tasks to prepare you to work in healthcare offices. Medical assistant programs that end with a certified clinical medical assistant certification offer the added benefit of also providing students with certifications in additional healthcare skills like EKG, phlebotomy and basic lifesaving.

Comparing Medical Assistants to Other Medical Careers: Other Considerations

Ultimately, you need to decide what you want, how much versatility you wish to have in your career and how much time you want to spend in training. Below are answers to common questions that can help you decide which profession is right for you.

Job Duties: Nursing Assistant vs. Medical Assistant

A nursing assistant or CNA performs tasks related to daily living activities of patients, like bathing, taking vitals and preparing meals. A medical assistant performs clinical tasks like taking patient vitals, medical history and performing lab procedures, as well as works in medical offices answering phones, scheduling appointments and managing files.

Salary: Medical Assistant vs. CNA

On average, a medical assistant makes $35,000 per year while a CNA makes $30,000 per year.

Employment Outlook: Medical Assistant vs. LPN

Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 19 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while employment for LPNs is projected to grow 9 percent from 2019 to 2029. There will be a growing demand for medical assistants in the next decade with increased job opportunities.

Time in School: Medical Assistant vs. Physician Assistant

You can complete a medical assistant program in as little as eight months. To become a physician assistant, you must have a bachelor's degree (typically completed in four years full time), and then complete a physician assistant graduate program (another two years in school). Finally, you must pass a series of tests. All of these medical professions tend to range between those two extremes.

Career Paths: Medical assistant vs. Nurse

A nurse either has a four-year college degree and nursing certification or completes a program to receive their registered nurse qualification (RN). A medical assistant program can be completed quickly. Often, those interested in the field may start as a medical assistant and work upwards. If you are a medical assistant and wish to further your education, you will have a solid knowledge and experience base to prepare you for nursing school.

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