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Medical Assistant vs Licensed Practical Nurse

LPN and Medical Assistant

Have you been thinking about studying to be a medical assistant (MA) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN)? While there is some overlap in terms of responsibilities, these medical careers demand totally different requirements.

With countless paths to choose from, learning more about prospective salaries and career opportunities will help you find the perfect career for you.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

MAs are an integral part of any medical team, liaising between patients, nurses, and doctors. Their administrative and clinical duties ensure that their workplaces run smoothly.

Administrative duties can include reception work (e.g. answering phones, greeting patients, filling out medical records), organizing admissions, assisting with laboratory services, purchasing equipment, handling billing information, and scheduling appointments.

MA’s clinical duties

NTNU medisin og helse / Flickr / CC BY-NC

An MA’s clinical duties may include recording patient medical histories, taking vital signs (e.g. temperature, pulse, blood pressure), collecting specimens for laboratory tests, guiding patients through treatment procedures, and preparing patients for examinations.

Sterilizing supplies and cooperating with physicians in the examination room are additionally important parts of any medical assistant’s job.

What Does an LPN Do?

LPNs often work in clinics, nursing homes, and for private patients who need individual care. You may also see LPNs at businesses and schools providing basic care for employees and students alike.

What Can a Nurse Do That a Medical Assistant Can’t?

Each state has its own specific nursing laws that define what licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and practical nurses are allowed to do. That said, like MAs, LPNs take vital signs, collect specimens and administer medicine. They are trained, however, to provide more hands-on treatment.

An LPN might change dressings, perform CPR, provide nasogastric and gastrostomy tube care, observe patients in critical condition, manage 12-lead EKGs, and communicate with patients and their families. LPNs are not trained to make assessments about a patient’s health nor are they legally allowed to admit or discharge patients. The final say belongs to either a physician or registered nurse (RN).


MAs vs LPNs: Similarities and Differences

AirmanMagazine / Flickr / CC BY-NC

The Difference Between LPNs and RNs

Registered Nurses (RNs) are usually the direct supervisors of LPNs, nursing aides, home care aides, and even medical assistants. They are trained to administer blood transfusions and medication, develop and delegate patient care among staff members, perform physical and diagnostic tests with analysis, and pronounce death with an NP/MD order.


How Long Does It Take to Become an RN?

Because of their lengthy, more thorough education, RNs can be found in every healthcare environment like clinics, health centers, and schools, as well as prisons, sports events, and summer camps.

Medical employers typically require RNs to hold a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Depending on the employer, an associate degree might suffice. Current RNs with associate degrees can enroll in 2-3 year programs, and applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in other fields can apply their general education credits to a BSN program (that can take anywhere from 12-18 months to complete).


Pros and Cons of Becoming a Medical Assistant


Pros and Cons of Becoming a Medical Assistant

PAHO / Flickr / CC BY-ND

One of the biggest benefits of becoming a medical assistant is how quickly and affordably that dream can be realized.

Most employers require a high school diploma, formal training, and a medical assistant certification. While some employers may hire medical assistants without certification or formal training, finding a job and higher-than-average pay will be more difficult.

Many community colleges and technical schools offer medical assistant training that takes less than a year. A certificate program is a great option for those with a tight schedule and small budget, but it’s important to remember that some certificate program classes won’t transfer to future college credits.

Medical Assistant Associate Degrees

Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and medical assistant associate degrees take around two years to complete. A major benefit of pursuing these degrees is being able to apply completed credits to future educational opportunities. That said, associate degree programs are more expensive and take longer to complete.

Regardless of whether you choose a medical assistant training program or an associate degree, MAs are able to join the workforce much faster than many other medical careers.

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Working Environment

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC

MAs aren’t licensed, so they usually work under a physician’s or healthcare facility’s license. This typically means that state-funded nursing homes and long-term care facilities can’t hire them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic MA careers in the US (say, in pediatric wards or neurosurgery practices). Though some shifts might involve occasional nights and weekends, most MAs rely on steady, dependable hours.

What Is an Average Medical Assistant Salary?

In 2018, the median salary for MAs was $33,610 , but the top 10% of earners made around $47,000. While it’s not the highest-paying allied healthcare career, this field is excellent for workers looking for excellent entry-level job opportunities.

Upward Mobility

Just like any other industry, a medical assistant salary will improve with time and effort. Many MAs receive additional on-the-job training and pursue higher education, leading to a variety of future career opportunities in fields like sonography, nursing, and healthcare administration.

Pros and Cons of Becoming an LPN


Pros and Cons of Becoming a LPN

Amine Ghrabi / Flickr / CC BY-NC

To be accepted into an LPN certification course, you’ll first need your high school diploma or GED. Depending on the course, you may also need nursing assistant certification and/or the successful completion of prerequisite courses like English, math, and science.

The bulk of LPN courses take one year, though accelerated programs aren’t unheard of. Classroom courses are taught in tandem with hands-on experience to fully prepare future LPNs for their careers. After completing their accredited courses, students need to pass the NCLEX to receive their LPN certification.

What Is the Average Licensed Practical Nurse Salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median salary for LPNs was above $46,000 with the top 10% of earners raking in $62,000. With an increasing elderly population, this career path is set to grow exponentially over the next decade. What’s more, this career rewards ongoing education, and specialized skill sets and administrative experience will result in higher wages.

Upward Mobility for LPNs

LPNs can start their careers much faster than registered nurses, providing more financial freedom. If becoming a registered nurse is something that appeals to you in the future, you’ve already got a great start (assuming you’ve completed your BSN and specialty certification).

Kickstart Your Allied Health Career Today!

Whichever career path you choose, you’ll find a rewarding job to be proud of. As a member of the allied health or medical sector, you’ll be in high demand for decades to come!

If you’re living in the New Jersey area and thinking about starting a medical assistant certification program, contact an AIMS Education representative to get the ball rolling!

16 thoughts on “Medical Assistant vs Licensed Practical Nurse

  • Amanda Friend says:

    I’m not sure where the research was done for this article, but it definitely missed the mark.
    I am an LPN in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and have been since June of 2005.
    An example of an error in your article of the LPN’s job description—I am trained to assess a patient’s onxition. I’m also trained in venipuncture, I can start a peripheral IV to administer fluids and medications (via bags, not syringes), insert a catheter, drop an NG tube, change a g-tube, perform complex wound care, a 12-lead EKG, administer any and all medications. While it is true that I am not employable in every area of healthcare, the fields I have worked in do—long-term care, corrections, and mental health. And in order to work in a specialty, I would have to complete my BSN and get specialty certification. That doesn’t exist for LPNs.
    The RN’s basic scope of practice exceeds an LPN’s by four items—an RN may hang blood for infusion, start any IV, push IV meds via syringe, and pronounce death with an NP/MD order. Of course, every state is different, but there is a lot more to being an LPN than your article would make it out to be. CNAs (certified nursing assistants) are not just performing basic patient care anymore, they are more like MAs in job duties and description. Vital signs, finger sticks, collecting samples; they’re taking on more and more responsibilities, as are MAs. Your article did a great job reporting on MAs, although it is my opinion that CNAs should have been included as well, and have more in common with MAs, than MAs do with LPNs.
    LPNs work just under RNs as a general rule, although in my experience, we work right beside them, and sometimes, it’s the LPNs who end up doing some teaching.

    • Val says:

      Right on point

    • Nicole LPN says:

      Exactly! As the person before said the scope of practice for LPNs is far greater than what this article entails. There is no comparison really between a MA and a LPN. I have been in LPN for 20-plus years. My work history involves working mainly in hospitals, nursing homes and the corporate setting as a nurse analyst. I work alongside other RNs. LPNs are able to make assessments about patient care. I do patient assessments every single day I work.There is no way around it. Also assessments are one of the first things that LPN students learn. I can’t speak too much on the job of MA but I know that in MA is not qualified to do any job that I’ve ever had as an LPN.

      • Lynda Politsopoulos says:

        I’m located in Massachusetts a y programs in my area

      • Adriana says:

        You can do “assessments” as LPN but on the book and legally it the RNs final word assessment. Our scope of practice does not allow assessments. Collecting data – yes. The mere fact that LPN cannot do admissions and discharge speaks enough about those assessments. Yes, we assist in that process but at the end it’s the RN signature on the book.

    • yoshiko White says:

      your statement is absolutely true as a LVN my self I have trained to do extensive procedures that some RN’s have never done.

    • Trina Davis says:

      I agree with you. I have worked with LPN and RN. I was the CNA. MA are the medical secretary.

    • Eileen FLynn says:

      So right you are LPNs do just as much as an RN except for those four things

    • Linda says:

      Couldn’t have said it better. As an LPN in LTC I also orientate new RN’s. Also do assessments for MD.

    • Darlene says:

      This is so true. LPN’S do a lot more than what they give us credit for.

  • Debra Coleman says:

    I would like information on the licensed practical nursing courses. I am a CNA but my certification has expired. Please send me some information.

  • Susie says:

    I could feel the hostility jump off the pages with the comparisons. This was an in general article. As someone who was once a MA whom at the time could run circles around any LPN or RN in a clinic office setting trained MAs are far than mere medical secretaries. At the end of the day YES the RN signs off on the duties task work of an LPN but that doesn’t mean that LPNs aren’t as competent as the RN nor is the RN less capable of completing TASK. Each level from MA to LPN and LPN to RN are all compensated for their additional education. Period. Skills can be taught. It’s the education and licensure that sets each apart. Currently in the role of leadership and management health disparities are impacted by the expressed belittling of each lower level of education. Healthcare is a Team effort!! These responses are the very reason why employers are now requiring RNs to have additional Leadership training.

  • […] licensed practical nurse) has completed additional training and is licensed by a national board. LPNs work more hands-on, patient-facing jobs and earn a national average salary of […]

  • E. Watkins says:

    I agree with Susie. I’ve worked as a CNA in a nursing home and in the hospital. I have also been a secretary. I am now a CMA. I’ve worked closely with RN’s and LPN’s who I have gave them medical advice as I have learned from them. The office I work at now I am responsible for numerous jobs that if an RN or LPN worked their we would do the same task. The health care team involes everyone. There is never one that’s higher or smarter than the other. Everyone role is defined.respect helps all around.

  • Angie L. says:

    I have a degree in medical assisting and a diploma in practical nursing. To me, medical assisting school was much more difficult, maybe because I did that first. In a doctor’s office, the difference between jobs is almost non-existent. IMHO, the difference in pay is unfair to medical assistants. In a hospital or skilled nursing setting, a medical assistant would not have the clinical skills needed. The difference in pay between LPNs and RNs (if you find a hospital that still hires LPNs) is ridiculous, also very unfair. I recently saw someone who attended practical nursing school with me. She now has a doctorate and is a nurse practitioner. She was by no means the most intelligent or even really good at clinical when we were in school together. The fact that she can diagnose and prescribe medications is kind of scary.

  • Heidi says:

    I think it really depends on the state and individual place you live/ work in. Where i am i was a CNA for over 15 years for the state, basically our LPNS at my location only did med passes and paperwork…tons of paperwork. It was the RNs who hade the heavier load. CNAs could not do any meds or finger sticks etc here. I went back to school and got my glorified MA..which is a NRCMA and i make a whole dollar more than i did as a state CNA..whhhhhhhoo..and my job duties have increased 100 fold. They even told us in school, the main difference here is an RN can do IV injections while basically an MA and LPN here are pretty much equal..but LPNs get paid more bc its an actual license. But..i do injections, draw blood, do meds, fill Rxs, billing,insurance,orders, assessments (which i was doing those as a CNA tho along with vent and trach care) run labs etc you name it..just NOT IVs. And i dont work under an LPN or an RN anymore at all. Just the Dr. Which means i just do whatever he tells me bc its all under his supervision anyway. I think the main thing in deciding bx any of them tho boils down to personal needs..if you need to make over 20 an hr? Go LPN or RN. Expect long hours at any given time tho. If you are able to afford the cost of the college required? Go ahead do LPN or RN. Go for it! In my case i had the option of LPN paid for thru the state bc i was vested but..i didnt want the 12s and 16s and never a holiday off anymore. My daughter turned 18 and i felt like i missed everything. I didnt want to miss any of my boys still at home. Plus i dont need to really need to make a whole lot, my house is paid. All i have are basic bills. And im almost 40..i didnt want any more debt in the event i had to suppliment what the state paid. So..i went MA bc its a decent enough amount to survive on in this area. Plus i have my first ever M-F 8-5 job. And i love it. I love what i do and my Dr that i work huge loans to repay. And i was done with my year long program in 4 months bc i doubled my classes. Just have to kinda consider every factor specific to your individual needs/goals and location.

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