Registered Nurse smiling at a patient

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse

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

Registered Nurse smiling at a patient

Medical Assistants (MAs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) can often be found working together within the same healthcare facility. They both provide invaluable support to the healthcare team and strive to provide the best patient care possible.

Medical Assisting can offer a great entry point into the healthcare field, however, some may choose to advance their career by becoming a Registered Nurse. Becoming an RN opens the door to many specializations, growth opportunities, and leadership roles. Although they fill different roles, Medical Assistants and Registered Nurses are both crucial members of the healthcare team.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or RN but need more information regarding these careers, continue reading to learn about their daily tasks, educational requirements, annual salaries, and job outlooks.

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

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse: Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants are dynamic healthcare professionals that are involved in many tasks that ensure offices, clinics, and laboratories run well. Depending on their location and practice, some Medical Assistants may also coordinate prescriptions, prepare lab specimens, sterilize medical instruments, and prepare patients for X-rays.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

Registered Nurses help doctors and other members of the healthcare team provide care to their patients. Not only do RNs complete clinical tasks, but they provide their patients with comfort and security. On the job, they may oversee Licensed Vocational Nurses/Licensed Practical Nurses, Medical Assistants, Certified Nursing Assistants, and Home Health Aides.

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistants are the glue of the healthcare team. Not only do they complete administrative and clinical tasks in medical offices, but they assist physicians as well as other members of the healthcare team. Their duties can vary depending on the location of their practice.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered Nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care. They also educate patients and the public about various health conditions. In addition, they provide advice as well as emotional support to patients and their families.

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse: 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

Registered Nurse Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Registered Nurse include:

  • Assessing patients’ conditions
  • Recording their medical histories and symptoms
  • Observing patients and recording these observations
  • Administering medicines and treatments
  • Setting up plans for patients’ care or contributing to existing plans
  • Consulting and collaborating with doctors or other healthcare professionals
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Helping perform diagnostic tests, analyze the results, etc.
  • Educating patients and their families on how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Describing what to do at home after treatment

Nurse monitoring equipment

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

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

Where Do Registered Nurses Work?

Registered Nurses perform their valuable services in a wide variety of settings, such as hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, nursing and residential care facilities, government, and educational services.

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

While some Medical Assistants learn through on-the-job training, many MAs earn a postsecondary education with a certificate of completion. Keep in mind that education or certification requirements can vary depending on your state.

Educational Requirements for Registered Nurses

Most Registered Nurses usually take one of three education paths: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered Nurses must also be licensed.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

If you choose to seek a postsecondary education, it will likely take a year or less to enter the field of Medical Assisting. For example, you can complete the Medical Assisting program at Unitek College in as little as 9 months.

The MA program at Unitek focuses on administrative and clinical skills. To prepare you for this unique profession, Unitek MA courses include comprehensive instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and more.

While researching each school, it’s important that you consider admissions requirements, program curriculums, financial costs, and length of each program.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

The length of your RN training will depend on the path you have chosen. For instance, an associate degree can usually be completed in two years, while a bachelor’s degree often requires four years. At Unitek College, you can complete our BSN program in less than three years.

Our hybrid program will equip you with the skills you’ll need to excel as a Registered Nurse. Throughout the program, you will learn how to work in various healthcare settings, such as: complex and critical care, acute care, long-term care, community health nursing, school nursing, and home health.

Once you have graduated from a nursing program and earned your degree, you will then need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam so you can become a licensed Registered Nurse.

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is about $17.00, with an annual average salary of about $36,000. However, M.A.s  that 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 Registered Nurses Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for a Registered Nurse is about $36.00, with an annual average salary around $75,000. However, RNs that earn salaries in the top 10 percent can earn more than $116,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Registered Nurses

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

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing $ 44.29 $ 92,110
Outpatient Care Centers $ 42.93 $ 89,300
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $ 39.27 $ 81,680
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals $ 37.14 $ 77,250
Home Health Care Services $ 36.48 $ 75,870

Highest Paying States for Registered Nurses

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

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $ 57.96 $ 120,560
Hawaii $ 50.40 $ 104,830
Massachusetts $ 46.27 $ 96,250
Oregon $ 46.27 $ 96,230
Alaska $ 45.81 $ 95,270

Highest Paying Cities for Registered Nurses

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

Location Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $ 71.73 $ 149,200
San Jose, CA $ 70.61 $ 146,870
Vallejo, CA $ 68.34 $ 142,140
Sacramento, CA $ 64.59 $ 134,350
Salinas, CA $ 63.54 $ 132,160
Santa Rosa, CA $ 60.02 $ 124,840
Modesto, CA $ 58.21 $ 121,090
Stockton, CA $ 55.70 $ 115,860
Los Angeles, CA $ 54.38 $ 113,120
Redding, CA $ 53.78 $ 111,860

Medical Assistant vs. Registered Nurse: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

The field of Medical Assisting is booming! According to the BLS, overall employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 19 percent by 2029. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

Registered Nurse Job Outlook

The BLS has reported that employment of RNs is projected to grow 7 percent by 2029, which is also faster than the average for all occupations (4%). Registered Nurses will always be needed in every community’s healthcare facilities.

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

Medical Assistants who would like to advance their careers may want to consider Registered Nursing. Not only will their pay increase, but so will their opportunities and leadership roles.

Medical professional in a lab coat

Jumpstart Your Career by Earning a Medical Assistant Diploma

By earning your Medical Assistant diploma, you will gain valuable experience and start a path toward various job opportunities. In some cases, your unique education may act as a stepping stone towards a career as a Registered Nurse. Some may enjoy lifelong careers as Medical Assistants, while others use their experience to apply for 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.