Medical Assistant vs. Nurse
As the baby boom generation begins to fill hospitals and doctor’s offices, and the number of patients increases in response to the rise in insured citizens, the demand for workers also rises.
There are many different professions available in healthcare; from nurse to administrator the list is nearly endless. Medical assistant is one career that is often misunderstood by patients, as they may appear to perform the same duties as a nurse or nursing assistant. However, medical assistants and nurses perform very different functions in hospitals and doctor’s offices. This page will clarify some of the distinctions, particularly between Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Medical Assistants (MAs).
Here is a brief breakdown of the typical duties of an MA and a LPN:
- Patient scheduling
- Insurance coding
- Surgical assistant
- Patient consulting
- Administer IV medications
- Monitor blood pressure and other vitals
- Treat bedsores
- Perform catheterizations
You may find that there is some overlap in the duties of a nurse and an MA. In a doctor’s office, the MA often receives patients and takes their vital signs. Checking blood pressure, drawing blood and administering diagnostic tests such as an EKG are things that nurses can, and often do, perform. LPNs may also be the first face a patient sees upon entering a hospital, and LPNs are often tasked with taking vital signs, administering medications and inserting catheters.
Nurses, however, are licensed to take over at that point, and administer higher-level tests and to even treat wounds. Medical assistants may also treat minor wounds, but they are more likely to show a patient how to change a wound’s dressing or how to apply a healing salve. Medical assistants also are more involved with administrative tasks. It’s been said that MAs need to focus on computer skills, while LPNs need to focus on their counseling skills and knowledge of psychology.
Education is a primary difference between a medical assistant and a nurse. An MA does not necessarily need any education, though they can complete either a one-year certificate program, or a two-year associate’s degree to begin their career. Similarly, an LPN can complete a professional program in approximately one year. LPNs are then required to pass a licensure examination, while MAs do not have this requirement.
Once in the field, the two professions often work in different facilities, and the one facility they have in common is the hospital. Otherwise, LPNs are more often in long-term care facilities, while MAs are found in clinics, private practices, hospitals or outpatient care (also known as ambulatory care).
MAs also take care of more administrative tasks than their LPN counterparts. An MA might wear a number of hats over the course of a day. At some time, they may be focused on clinical work and direct patient care. Other times may find them doing insurance coding or working with healthcare software packages and managing the patient database. LPNs, on the other hand, exclusively work in direct medical care.
Similarities Between Nurses and Medical Assistants
The two professions do share a fair amount in common. They both can be attained with a one-year program, and both are heavily involved in patient contact, and each is supervised by a practicing RN or doctor. But in the end, a Licensed Practical Nurse is at a nursing job level that is most similar to that of a medical assistant in the healthcare field.
Both professionals work under either a doctor or a Registered Nurse (RN) and perform assisting duties on top of their autonomous tasks.
Since the healthcare industry is enjoying a boom, the job outlook for both professions is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the field will expand by 12 percent through 2026 for LPNs. MAs, on the other hand, will find their field expanding at a far greater rate: 29 percent for the same time frame, which is much faster than average for all career fields.
Job Outlook Through 2026
Licensed Practical Nurses
And, since medical assistants have both administrative and clinical experience, they may decide to specialize in one or the other later on. Some may prefer to move into clinical work with a specialty certificate, where others might decide they prefer administrative roles and become a medical office manager or learn medical software technology.
LPNs may pass the NCLEX-RN and become a registered nurse, then earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree and specialize as a Nurse Practitioner or move into a nurse manager role.
Both positions can be attained with a one year certificate program. LPNs must follow up their education by passing an examination. MAs, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to pass an exam and become certified. Both can opt for either a one-year certificate program or an associates degree.
In terms of the content of their individual curriculum, the LPN’s education focuses primarily on clinical duties. An MA, on the other hand, is trained to handle both clinical and administrative duties. It is also important for both to do some work on communication, as both need to work closely with patients.
Barriers to Entry
There are few, if any, barriers to becoming an MA.
You don’t need a special degree or certificate to work as a medical assistant. However, employers may prefer to hire those with an education and most do opt for at least a one-year certificate that teaches them the wide range of duties required on the job.
LPNs, on the other hand, must complete a training program and then pass an examination.
Since LPNs must pass an exam, they must be certain to attend a state-approved school for their education. MAs also have an examination process to attain their Certified Medical Assistant credential, but this is not a requirement for employment.
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