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Here’s Why Medical Assistants Have a Better Job Than CNAs

MA medical assistant vs. CNA certified nursing assistant job outlook

Christiaan Triebert / Flickr / CC BY

Medical assistants have seen a whopping 30% job growth rate in their sector in the past decade. We’ll compare training and job opportunities for medical assistants (MAs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs), so you know exactly what to expect from each career.

You may note similarities between medical assistant courses and CNA training, but once you get past the basics,  the two jobs are incredibly different.

Here’s everything you need to know about both careers, and the top five reasons we think the medical assistant route is the better choice.

Top 5 Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant

Becoming a medical assistant is a great career path to choose if you’re just starting your education.

1. You’ll Have the Power of Knowledge

Medical assistant schooling covers a variety of skill sets, which opens more doors.

2. Your Skills are in High Demand

There are more job opportunities available for MAs than for CNAs in the current job market.

3. Choose the Field You’re Most Excited About

If you want to specialize in a particular area, medical assistants have more flexibility in choosing specialties.

4. No Two Days Are the Same

If you’re interested in both administration and patient care, MAs have the opportunity to get involved in both areas.

5. Rewards for your Hard Work

As a medical assistant, you’ll be paid more, but it’s important to recognize that both medical assistants and CNAs are entry-level jobs. In order to work your way up the ladder, you’ll need to complete further training. Also, medical assistant pay may vary depending on the state.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

CNA nursing medical assistant MA certification education

Rowan University Publications / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

You can receive CNA certification in as little as one or two months, but medical assistant training  can take 9 months or longer. Some colleges may offer online medical assistant programs and nursing assistant programs.

It’s also important to note that the medical assistant salary is higher than a CNA salary, even if the nursing assistant is certified.

The extended training helps explain the higher pay rate, but job satisfaction isn’t all about the salary. By being exposed to different types of training, you can discover what your strongest skillsets are, and what you enjoy doing most in a medical environment. Investing time in your education and learning means you’re likely to have greater job satisfaction in the long run.

How Do the Training Programs Compare?

You can train to be an MA or CNA at a community college or technical school, or you can go to a 4-year college to obtain a medical assistant degree.

Most MA and CNA programs include classroom education as well as hands-on training. Both training programs also place an emphasis on practical experience and therefore include clinical internships for students.

A Medical Assistant’s Jobs and Tasks

Medical Assistant What Are Job Responsibilities Duties

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND


What does a medical assistant do? A better question is what doesn’t a medical assistant do! As an MA, you’ll be trained to prepare patients so they’re ready to see a doctor. This may involve assembling a patient’s medical history, drawing blood, sanitizing exam rooms, and preparing medical equipment. Common duties also include checking vital signs and performing a basic physical examination.What truly differentiates a medical assistant from a nursing assistant (certified or otherwise) is the involvement in desk duties and administration.

A clinical medical assistant may be asked to answer the phone and schedule appointments, which takes them away from hands-on patient care. MAs take information on medication and allergy information from the patient, but also document and compile charts for the doctor to work from.

A CNA’s Jobs and Tasks

As the name suggests, certified nursing assistants work less with doctors and more with nurses. CNAs directly support nurses, which is why they are also referred to as nursing aides, and all of their tasks relate directly to hands-on care and support for the patient.

CNA Certified Nursing Assistant Job Responsibilities Duties Patient Care

Faculty of Medicine NTNU / Flickr / CC BY


A typical working day may involve giving bed baths, changing linens, helping patients with physical activities, and tracking inputs and outputs. CNAs can take preventative measures that assist patients, such as turning them in bed to avoid sores, but any medical changes or developments are reported to the nurse.

CNAs are responsible for patient safety, which means they must closely observe and monitor patients.

Welcome to the Workplace

Course syllabi and job descriptions can’t always prepare you for working life, and a description of responsibilities may sound alien to you at this stage.

Therefore, it’s important to visualize what kind of working environment you would enjoy on a day-to-day basis. You can compare this with how you prefer to study, what you like to do in your spare time, or how you interact with your own family and friends.

CNA vs. medical assistant hospital clinic

Lawrence Sinclair / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND


If you genuinely struggle to imagine what life as a medical assistant or CNA might be like, you can always seek out volunteer opportunities to gain more experience in the field.

The Setting

Medical assistants can work in a variety of work environments, as they generally have more job opportunities than CNAs. Many choose smaller clinics or doctors’ offices, which means working closely with practitioners.

This environment may suit you better than a hospital setting if you prefer one-on-one learning opportunities, a quieter work environment, or you hope to specialize in a particular area.

Not everyone enjoys a busy environment with lots of people moving around, particularly when you are new to a job or trying to find your feet in the medical world. Consider your own health and well-being as well as the patient’s. If you get stressed out in the hustle and bustle of a city hospital, this anxiety will transfer to your patients.

The Team

Just like your work setting, the people you work with have a great impact on your own happiness and confidence.

If you prefer to invest all your efforts into the patient, a CNA role is well suited for this desire. It’s not uncommon for CNAs to further their education to become nurses later on.

Working in a team of junior assistants can be a great opportunity to learn and grow alongside your peers before deciding on a further course of action for your career.

The Duties

CNA vs. clinical administrative MA job duties patient care

Tulane Public Relations / Flickr / CC BY-NC


Medical assistants may be expected to work in the back office or at the front desk, as well as in the clinical environment. As a medical worker, you may feel comfortable giving injections or helping a patient to the washroom, but much less confident on the phone.

However, if you like the variety of duties an MA has and you’re willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone, confidence is one thing that’s easy to work on. Talk to other people who already work in healthcare to find out what they struggled with when they first started out. You might be surprised to learn they once had the same fears as you do.

The Focus

You may not be sure yet if you want to specialize in a particular field, like OB/GYN, IVF, or cardiology. If you aren’t, weigh your options – who you’d like to work with and where – and this will help determine which path you want to pursue.

While CNAs generally work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospices, MAs can move into clinics that cover a specific area, as well as urgent care.

Keeping up to date with medical journals and medical news will help you determine what excites you the most. Check out what leading practitioners are doing – is their work something you’d like to be involved in? Information like this could lead you to your dream job.

Weigh the Pros And Cons

If you haven’t yet picked a program or started training, it’s tough to decide whether an MA or CNA role might be best for you.

Remember that both MA and nursing jobs are crucial to supporting a patient who needs your help. Whether you’re checking their temperature, writing up their records, emptying a bedpan or talking with their relatives over the phone, it’s rewarding work.

Medical assistants and certified nursing assistants work with patients of all ages and with varying degrees of illness. Either way, you’ll be working alongside colleagues who share the same care and compassion for others.

The rest is determined by your own personality and career aspirations.

Ready to Become a Medical Assistant?

Are you set on becoming a medical assistant now? Take the first step and check out our medical assistant certificate program!

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