What’s the Difference Between a CNA and MA?

Many people want to start a career in the healthcare field, and for a good reason. The healthcare industry continues to grow rapidly, and the variety of jobs available is expanding as well. Working in healthcare also gives you the chance to help people and make a difference in their lives when they need it most.

There are so many opportunities to begin a healthcare career that it can be confusing to try and figure it out on your own. With this in mind, we’re going to help by explaining the difference between a certified nursing assistant and a medical assistant.

Career Outlook


The career outlook for medical assistants is promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for medical assistants in the United States from 2019-2029 is 19%, well above the 4% average growth rate for all occupations. This means that there will be even more medical assistants needed in the future, and employers will need qualified people to fill these positions.

For certified nursing assistants in the United States, the BLS estimates that the growth rate will be 8% between 2019 and 2029. This is still more than the average rate of 4% but not anywhere near as high as the growth rate for medical assistants.

Skills Required

Medical assistants perform various duties while on the job, including both clinical and administrative tasks that focus on assessing patients and helping doctors with patient care and treatment. Skills a medical assistant needs to learn include taking vital signs, helping with examinations, giving injections, preparing lab tests, and handling patient information.

At United, medical assisting students have the opportunity to practice their hands-on skills in a real healthcare setting as part of an externship. This real-world experience sets students up for success as they begin applying for jobs and start their careers.

Certified nursing assistants focus more on direct patient care and help with daily living activities. Performing baths and cleaning patients, helping patients get dressed and use the bathroom, moving patients between beds and wheelchairs, feeding patients, and changing linens are all common necessary skills of certified nursing assistants.

Training Needed

To start a career in medical assisting, you will need specialized training that prepares you for this specific job. Most medical assisting degree programs can be completed in under two years and include classroom instruction and hands-on skills. It’s also a good idea to choose a medical assistant program that includes preparation for professional certifications, as many employers prefer candidates who have these credentials.

For example, in our Medical Assisting program here at United, students learn valuable knowledge and practice their hands-on skills in their medical assisting classes, labs, and externship. Students also prepare for healthcare certifications specific to being a medical assistant, including the National Certified Clinical Medical Assistant*, Certified EKG Technician**, and Certified Phlebotomy Technician** certifications.

To become a certified nursing assistant, specialized training is required for this career path, and it is usually completed in under six months. The training must be state-approved and typically teaches direct patient care, patient safety, and documentation. CNAs must also pass a competency exam and complete a number of hours of hands-on clinical training, which varies by state.

Work Environment

According to BLS data, medical assistants are most likely to work in physician’s offices, with 57% employed there in 2019. Another 15% is working in hospitals, and the rest in outpatient care centers and at chiropractors. Most medical assistants are full-time employees with 40-hour workweeks. Medical assisting professionals who work in medical facilities that are always open, like hospitals, may work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

According to the BLS, certified nursing assistants are more likely to work in nursing care facilities, with 37% working there, and hospitals, with 27% working there. The remainder of nursing assistants work in retirement and assisted living facilities, home healthcare services, and government. The job duties are more physically demanding and strenuous, as CNAs are on their feet a lot of the time and expected to lift over 50 pounds. Most certified nursing assistants work full time, but some work part-time. They may work longer shifts and more on nights, weekends, and holidays.

Get Started

Now you know the difference between medical assistants and certified nursing assistants! If you’ve decided to go with medical assisting for your career, we may have the perfect Medical Assisting program for you. With hands-on training, academic support, and career services, we can help you reach your career goals. Request information today to get started!

 

*Certification is contingent upon passing the corresponding industry certification exam. Required/included in tuition/fees.

*Certification is contingent upon passing the corresponding industry certification exam. Optional at own expense.

Kristen Ruby – Student Highlight

United Career Institute Mt. Braddock is thrilled to introduce you to our January Student of the Month, Kristen Ruby!

Prior to starting medical assisting classes at United Career Institute, Kristen was taking CNA (certified nursing assistant) classes and working at Cherry Tree Nursing Home, but she had bigger goals for her career in the healthcare industry. She had her sights set on being a nurse!

Kristen chose United Career Institute because of the small class sizes. She knew that having fewer students meant more one on one time with her instructors. United prides itself on keeping its class sizes small so that instructors can be sure to give each student the individualized attention they deserve.

Kristen has dreams of becoming a nurse, but wisely chose to start that journey In United’s Medical Assisting program. She knew that a practical nursing program’s rigor is made much easier when you have the base knowledge of a medical assisting program, so when she heard of United’s Nursing Pathway Program, she knew she found the right fit. This pathway program allows graduates of the United Medical Assisting program, who maintain a certain GPA and attendance percentage, to be exempt from taking the TEAS exam, the entrance exam used for nursing programs.

Kristen’s favorite part of attending United is “learning new things in the medical field and making new friends.” She also loves the instructors at United. “I would have to say that all my teachers that I have had so far are my favorite. I can’t pick a favorite one. My favorite class would have to be between med term and clinicals because they were both fun, and I learned new things,” she said.

After graduation, Kristen hopes to work in a doctor’s office to gain some experience but ultimately has her eyes set on becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. She also hasn’t written off the idea of continuing on to become a Registered Nurse!

Kristen says she would absolutely refer a friend to United Career Institute because “it’s a small school and has small classroom sizes and a lot of people like that. The staff is very helpful when they are needed.”

If your story sounds similar to Kristen’s or if you are interested in ultimately becoming a nurse, request information here!