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Medical Assistant vs Licensed Practical Nurse

LPN and Medical Assistant

If you’ve considered studying to be a medical assistant or a licensed practical nurse, you may have already given thought to a variety of careers in the medical field.

There are so many paths to choose from, and education, salary, and career trajectory are crucial. With the right research, however, you’ll find the perfect job that will offer you the chance to change and save lives.

Medical Assistant Main Responsibilities

A medical assistant (or MA) is the link between patients, nurses, and doctors. MAs are an integral part of any medical team, and their administrative and clinical duties ensure that the offices and clinics in which they work run optimally.

Their administrative duties can include reception work (answering phones, greeting patients, filling out medical records and insurance forms), organizing admissions, laboratory assistance, purchasing equipment, dealing with billing and bookkeeping information, and scheduling appointments.

MA’s clinical duties

NTNU medisin og helse / Flickr / CC BY-NC

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

In addition, sterilizing supplies and cooperating with physicians in the examination room are incredibly important parts of an medical assistant’s job.

Licensed Practical Nurse Main Responsibilities

While each state has its own specific laws defining what licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses, or practical nurses are allowed to do, LPNs are a respected part of any medical team.

LPNs work in clinics, nursing homes and for private patients who need individual attention outside of hospitals. You may also see LPNs at businesses and schools to provide basic care for employees and students.

Like medical assistants, LPNs take vital signs, collect specimens and administer medicine, but they are trained to do more hands-on treatment. On any given day, an LPN might expect to change dressings, perform CPR, insert and care for nasogastric and gastrostomy tubes, observe patients in critical condition, and communicate with patients and their families. LPNs are not trained to make assessments about a patient’s health.

MAs and LPNs are supervised by both physicians and registered nurses.

How Are Registered Nurses Different from LPNs?

Registered Nurses (or RNs) are usually the direct supervisors of LPNs, nursing aides, home care aides, and often medical assistants. They are trained to administer treatment and medication, develop and coordinate patient care among staff members, perform physical and diagnostic tests with analysis, and are trained to make critical decisions about patient health.

Because of their lengthy, all-encompassing education, RNs can be found in every healthcare environment such as clinics, health centers, and schools, as well as prisons, sports events, and summer camps.

Most medical employers require RNs to have completed a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Though–depending on the employer–holding 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 the BSN for a 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 most obvious benefits of becoming a medical assistant is how quickly and affordably you can make that dream a reality.

Most employers require a high school diploma, formal training, and a medical assistant certification. While some employers may hire medical assistants without formal training or certification, it is harder to find a job and the pay will most likely be less.

Many community colleges and technical schools offer medical assistant training, which takes about a year to complete. A certificate program is a great option for those with a tight schedule and small budget, but be aware that some certificate program classes aren’t transferable to future college credits.

Future MAs seeking an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree are usually expected to complete liberal arts classes such as math and English. Although students may be able to apply these completed credits to future educational opportunities, associate degree programs are usually more expensive and take longer to complete.

Medical Assistant Associate degrees are available from most community colleges and some technical schools, and programs typically take around two years to complete.

Regardless of whether you choose a certificate program or an associate degree, medical assistants can consistently join the workforce much faster than those in other medical careers.

Working Environment

Working Environment

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC

MAs are not licensed, so they usually work under the license of the physician or healthcare facility that employs them. Because MAs aren’t licensed, state-funded nursing homes and long-term care facilities typically cannot hire them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic career opportunities available!

Perhaps you’ll work in a pediatric ward, or maybe you’ll work under a neurosurgeon. Though some shifts might involve occasional nights and weekends depending on the location, most MAs rely on steady, dependable hours.

Another excellent element of gaining work as a medical assistant is that you can work in any U.S. state, assuming your paperwork and educational requirements are recognized by the hiring party. This means you can search for great opportunities throughout the U.S. that fit your needs and aspirations.

Medical Assistant Salaries

The median salary for MAs in 2015 was $30,590, but the top 10% of earners were making more than $43,000. While it’s not the highest paying allied healthcare career, it offers a great option to students who are looking for a relatively short-term program with tremendous job opportunities.

Upward Mobility

Just like any other industry, your salary can improve with time and effort. In addition, the experience a medical assistant gains in the healthcare field can lead to other great opportunities. Many MAs receive additional on-the-job training or decide to further their education. This can lead to a variety of future career paths including sonography, nursing, healthcare administration, and more.

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 need a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the course, you may also need nursing assistant certification, or the successful completion of prerequisite courses like English, math and science.

In fact, most LPN certification courses require prospective students to pass a test that showcases these basic academic skills, though these questions are limited to LPN-based skills only.

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

Licensed Practical Nurse Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2015 median salary for LPNs was well above $40,000 and the top 10% of earners received nearly $60,000. With an increasing elderly population, this is a career path set to grow exponentially over the next decade. This career rewards ongoing education, and salaries can easily increase with specialized skill sets and administrative experience.

A higher salary in the medical field often reflects strenuous and emotionally difficult elements. Being on your feet and physically active for 40 hours a week can be very demanding, as can having daily personal interactions with ill and dying patients. Being able to separate your work from home life is key.

Upward Mobility

LPNs can start their careers much faster than registered nurses, which helps give them a lot more financial freedom. It’s a great way to get your foot in the medical door, as there are a glut of entry-level jobs. If becoming a registered nurse or a doctor is something that appeals to you in the future, you’ve already got a great start.

MAs vs LPNs: Similarities and Differences

MAs vs LPNs: Similarities and Differences

AirmanMagazine / Flickr / CC BY-NC

MAs and LPNs are fundamental parts of the healthcare community, and often the first faces a patient sees upon being admitted. They rely on great patient care skills and are in contact with people from all walks of life throughout their working day.

MAs and LPNs are known to handle a myriad of duties at any time, and their time management skills are unparalleled. This ambition often helps MAs and LPNs to further their education and develop their skill sets in a medical field that will remain in demand for the foreseeable future.

Whichever career path you choose, it’s tough but rewarding. You’re a member of lifesaving teams and you’ll be in high demand for decades to come!

If you live in the New Jersey area, you can learn more about allied healthcare training opportunities near you!

8 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.

  • 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.

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