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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. Not to mention you can complete a medical assistant program in 1 year.

Here are the top reasons to become a medical assistant:

#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.

Medical Assistant Training Program in NJ - AIMS Education

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? If you’re in the New Jersey area, take the first step and check out our medical assistant certificate program!

Medical Assistant Training Program in NJ - AIMS Education

21 thoughts on “Here’s Why Medical Assistants Have a Better Job Than CNAs

  • KMM says:

    I am currently a CNA both at a nursing home and hospital setting. I just earned my CNA in April of this year so it hasn’t been that long since I have worked as one. Just as any job, there are days I contemplate whether I like being a CNA or if a Medical Assistant is more “me.” Being a CNA is not a bad job but sometimes we know ourselves enough to where maybe we’d be better or feel more comfortable in another role. Currently I am going to school for Diagnostic Medical Sonography at a local technical school and have to have completion of the CNA course before I can get into the program. If I don’t get in, I am thinking about doing an MA program until I can apply again. Please comment if you have MA or even CNA experience. Would love to hear input, pros, cons, etc.

    • Lauren says:

      I spent last year as a CNA in a nursing home, and I really struggled with it, honestly. It may have been the company I was working for, but we were chronically understaffed and I never felt I could give the level of care I wanted to. I went home completely wiped out every day and pretty soon I became miserable. Now, I work as a MA in a orthopedic clinic and the difference is truly night and day. I am so excited to go to work each day. I am entrusted with more and I feel I can give a superior level of care with less of an overwhelming load. I enjoy the balance of patient care with clerical tasks. My patients leave happier and I feel valued and productive. I would say a lot of this has to do simply with company culture, but some of it has to do with the scope of practice. If you prefer to take care of patients in a very hands-on way, CNA is probably the way to go. If you are a bit introverted like me, you may appreciate the reprieve of clerical duties to break up your patient interactions. I hope this helps.

      • Elizabeth B. says:

        Do MA’s typically earn higher pay? Also, I have worked as a NAC for the past 10 years. I work NOC in order to avoid the chaos. I want to do something that will allow for true advancement. I need advice from someone who knows. Thanks

        • Talisha says:

          Hello I am both and honestly where I live in NC the pay rate is the same depending on your experience $12 s the most in my town you’ll start making as a medical assistant and cna’s can start with as low as minimum wage. I’ve been a CNA for almost 5 years and graduated in June 2017 from the MA program. The doctors office I worked for as an MA I didn’t like it was extremely fast paced and cliquish so now I’m currently working as a patient care tech in a hospital.

          • Belinda says:

            Currently looking into this career, I also live in NC. Sanford NC, do you know what the pay rate is here?. Currently a Pharmacy Technician making $14.94 an hour

    • Brenda Warren says:

      I’m a CNA & a clinical MA in New Jersey. I haven’t worked as a CMA. The jobs are scarce when you haven’t actually been given a chance to work in the field. So I prefer CNA.

  • Erica Webb, CMA says:

    I understand this is a nursing driven article. A common occurance among the nursing field there is quite a bit of a status complex. So I’m here to clear up that some MA programs are not just some simple certification you can get. Some programs require just as much if not more education, task, and responsibility as any nurse aid or associates program. Associates are available in medical assisting and medical assistants going for their associates are also required to put up to 225 hours of internship work in before graduation, MA’s are also eligible to become state and nationally certified by the AAMA. So if you can accurately tell me the difference between a CMA and CNA… that would be more helpful. Thanks.

  • Katie Peters says:

    I have had my CNA since 2012. I have worked multiple facilities. Recently, I decided CNA wasn’t for me. I am waiting to get into an MA program. I have loved being a CNA, the work is hard but at the end of the day it felt rewarding. My struggles was with staff. Other aides or nurses. I do miss my residents.

  • Joe says:


    • Alana says:

      Actually, you’re wrong. CMAs can administer medication and can administer vaccines as well. Not to mention, CMAs can perform venipuncture. However, prescribing medication or administering IVs is not within the scope of practice for CMAs. There are several things that separate CMAs from CNAs,but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. I am currently in the process of completing my medical assistant program, so I’ve learned what my scope of practice is.

    • Tracy says:

      You are uneducated. I have been a CMA-AAMA for 9 years and I administer medications both oral and injectables including Biological drugs everyday. Standard pay starts at 18.00 an hour for a certified Medical Assistant in GA. You make more working in a specialty. I took the 2 year Associates degree program. Please stop misleading yourself when you do not know facts.

  • Augka0 says:

    Please i want to start an MA program. What’s their pay rate?

  • Ou says:

    The staffing make the job more harder I love to be cna I will miss my residents

  • Sharice says:

    I’ve been a CNA 10 years way too long. You are limited to where you can work basically its homecare, hospital, assisted living, or nursing home. You can’t give shots or anything of that nature. It is the crapiest job I’ve ever had in my life. If you like wiping people’s butts you are basically a certified butt wiper. I am currently in nursing school and I finish in August. Good luck with your choice if it were me. I’d just go all the way with no short cuts. But if I had to make a choice it definitely wouldn’t be a CNA never ever again.

    • Holly says:

      I like that answer.
      Been a CNA and wouldn’t ever go back.

    • Lee Ann Merrick says:

      Throwing in my 2 cents here..
      I’m a nurse. Many years ago I worked as a CNA….and I loved it. A LOT of nursing jobs involve hands on care. If you don’t enjoy being a CNA what makes you think that nursing is all that much different? The best nurses are the ones that not afraid to get involved and should NEVER ask a CNA to do something they wouldn’t do. The best CNA’s arent afraid to show initiative, are conscientious and attentive, and notify the nurse pf any changes in condition. They are worth their weight in gold. The best nursing care involves a teamwork approach with nurses and CNA’s working together. This is a very important component in providing optimal care. Best of luck in your nursing career!

      • Jackie says:

        Thank you for your comment it was perfectly said. I have been a CNA for 25 years and I am 50 years old. I love caring for my residents. Nursing is not for everyone it is hard work and you must have compassion. Whether you work in a hospital, assisted living, skilled facility or home health you need to be there to help and care for them, it’s not just a pay check.

  • Javier Sevilla says:

    MAs’ responsibilities can be tailored to the needs of a practice. They can manage front-office functions and patient flow and handle a wide range of tasks that would otherwise be performed by receptionists, practice managers, nurses and physicians. Many physicians are unsure of what tasks are appropriate to assign to an MA and do not help MAs work to their full abilities and potential. This article should help you to better understand the MA’s role

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