Doctor and Medical Assistant with a patient

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant

Learn the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Doctor and Medical Assistant with a patient

Medical Assistants (MAs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) often work together in a healthcare settings to provide their patients with the highest-quality care possible.  While MAs and CNAs both provide invaluable support to their medical team, they fulfill different roles and have their own unique job responsibilities, day-to-day tasks, job outlook, and earning potential.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or CNA but need more information regarding these careers, continue reading to learn about the key differences between these vital roles.

Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant: Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants are responsible for a wide variety of tasks that ensure medical offices, clinics, and laboratories operate at peak performance. Although their duties vary by location and practice, some Medical Assistants can also coordinate prescriptions, prepare lab specimens, sterilize medical instruments, and prepare patients for X-rays.

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Nursing Assistants provide patients with basic care and help them perform regular day-to-day activities. Most CNAs work in hospitals or nursing and residential care facilities. Because their job is physically active, they should be able to help lift or move patients.

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Not only do Medical Assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks, but they assist physicians, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team. Their tasks can range from scheduling appointments to assisting physicians during exams and measuring vital signs.

What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide basic care and help patients complete daily activities. CNAs also fulfill an important role on a patient’s healthcare team since they’re often responsible for take a patient’s vital signs.

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Medical Assistant include:

  • Recording patient history as well as personal information
  • Measuring vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Assisting physicians with patient examinations
  • Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physicians and as permitted by state law
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Preparing blood samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into their medical records

Certified Nursing Assistant Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Certified Nursing Assistant include:

  • Cleaning and bathing patients
  • Helping patients use the toilet and dress
  • Turning, repositioning, and transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs
  • Listening to and recording patients’ health concerns and report that information to nurses
  • Measuring patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
  • Serving meals and help patients eat
  • Dispensing medication (depending on location and training)

Medical team in a hospital hallway

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants can find employment in a number of different medical facilities. These include, but are not limited to, physicians’ offices, private healthcare facilities, hospitals, laboratories, health industry providers, and independent clinics.

Where Do Certified Nursing Assistants Work?

Certified Nursing Assistants usually work in nursing care facilities, hospitals, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities for the elderly, home healthcare services, government settings, and more.

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants usually graduate from postsecondary education programs. While most states do not have formal educational requirements for becoming a Medical Assistant, employers may prefer to hire candidates who have completed these programs.

Educational Requirements for Certified Nursing Assistants

Nursing Assistants typically complete a state-approved education program and pass their state’s competency exam. In some states, they are then called Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), but titles vary by location.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Earning your MA diploma will typically require a year or less of your time. For instance, you can complete the Medical Assisting program at Unitek College in as little as 9 months.

Our Medical Assistant program emphasizes administrative and clinical skills. Your MA courses include dynamic instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and more.

As you research potential schools for your educational needs, remember to consider their admissions requirements, program curriculums, financial costs, and program lengths.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Nursing Assistants usually need to complete a state-approved education program that teaches nursing principles and provides them the opportunity to gain clinical experience. These programs are often available in high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

In addition, CNAs typically complete a period of on-the-job training to learn about their employer’s policies, procedures, etc.

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is around $17.00, with an annual average salary of about $36,000. However, MAs who earn salaries in the top 10 percent can make more than $51,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $20.35 $42,330
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $18.37 $38,200
Offices of Physicians $17.59 $36,580
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $15.97 $33,210
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly $14.84 $30,870

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
District of Columbia $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

The BLS has reported that Medical Assistants earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

Location Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

How Much Do Certified Nursing Assistants Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for a CNA is around $15.00, with an annual average salary of about $31,000.  CNAs that earn in the top 10 percent can make more than $42,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Certified Nursing Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Certified Nursing Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $ 21.57 $ 44,870
Outpatient Care Centers $ 18.47 $ 38,420
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $ 16.18 $ 33,660
Nursing Care Facilities $ 14.90 $ 31,000
Continuing Care Retirement Communities $ 14.71 $ 30,600

Highest Paying States for Certified Nursing Assistants

As reported by the BLS, CNAs earn the highest average wages in these states:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $ 20.43 $ 42,500
New York $ 19.53 $ 40,620
California $ 18.89 $ 39,280
Hawaii $ 18.58 $ 38,650
Massachusetts $ 17.86 $ 37,160

Highest Paying Cities for Certified Nursing Assistants

The BLS has reported that CNAs earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

Location Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $ 23.28 $ 48,420
Santa Cruz, CA $ 21.13 $ 43,960
Vallejo, CA $ 20.29 $ 42,200
San Jose, CA $ 20.18 $ 41,980
Sacramento, CA $ 20.17 $ 41,950
New York, NY $ 19.48 $ 40,520
Anchorage, AK $ 19.45 $ 40,460
Glens Falls, NY $ 19.44 $ 40,420
Napa, CA $ 19.43 $ 40,420
Salinas, CA $ 19.40 $ 40,350

Medical Assistant vs. Certified Nursing Assistant: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the overall employment of Medical Assistant’s is expected to grow 19 percent by 2029! This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

Certified Nursing Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS projects that overall employment of Certified Nursing Assistants is expected to grow 8 percent by 2029. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

Why Is a Certified Nursing Assistant a Great Alternative Career Path for Medical Assistants?

Not only do CNAs make a difference in the lives of their patients, but they often encounter great networking opportunities, varied experiences, and various healthcare professionals. In addition, becoming a CNA may also be a stepping stone toward a vocational or registered nursing career path.

Woman in a medical mask making a heart sign

Advance Your Career by Seeking a Medical Assistant Diploma

With a Medical Assistant diploma, you can gain vital experience and start your career journey in healthcare. For some Medical Assistants, their education can help them pursue a career as a Licensed Vocational Nurse or a Registered Nurse. While many enjoy careers as Medical Assistants, others use their experience to apply to nursing school.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Medical Assistant diploma in as little as 9 months at Unitek College.

Click here to learn more about our Medical Assistant program.