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Why Medical Assistants Have a Better Job Than CNAs

MA medical assistant vs. CNA certified nursing assistant job outlook

Christiaan Triebert / Flickr / CC BY

You’ve probably seen medical assistants (MAs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in your physician’s office, moving around hospitals, or caring for senior family members at assisted living facilities. Though MAs and CNAs may have similar job descriptions, they’re incredibly different careers once you get past the basics.

In this article, we compare training and job opportunities for medical assistants (MAs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs), so you know exactly what you can expect from each career.

Whether you already have hands-on experience in healthcare or are considering a career change, our list will provide the necessary information to apply to either your medical assistant training course or CNA training with confidence.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Assistant

Medical Assistant What Are Job Responsibilities Duties

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

What does a medical assistant do? It might be easier to ask what a medical assistant doesn’t do! As an MA, you’ll be in charge of preparing patients to see a doctor. This could involve assembling a patient’s medical chart, drawing blood, sanitizing exam rooms, and sterilizing and organizing medical equipment.

Other common duties can include checking vital signs and performing basic physical examinations. What truly differentiates a medical assistant from a nursing assistant (certified or otherwise), however, is their ability to handle desk duties and administration.

A clinical medical assistant may be asked to answer the phone, schedule appointments, fill out medication and allergy information from the patient, and also document and compile charts for the doctor to work from. This tends to take MAs away from hands-on patient care, which comprises the majority of a CNA’s daily routine.

What Does a CNA Do?

As the name suggests, certified nursing assistants work less with doctors and directly support nurses. This is why they’re also referred to as nursing aides. All of their tasks relate directly to hands-on care and patient support, but they wear many hats throughout any given working day.

CNA Certified Nursing Assistant Job Responsibilities Duties Patient Care

Faculty of Medicine NTNU / Flickr / CC BY

A typical shift may involve responding to patient calls, providing direct care (e.g. toileting, bathing, feeding), changing linens, helping patients with physical activities, reviewing food consumption, and tracking inputs and outputs.

CNAs are responsible for taking preventative measures (like repositioning patients to avoid bedsores) but are required to report to their overseeing nurse if they encounter any medical changes like blood pressure and urine output. These medical professionals are responsible for patient safety, which means they must closely observe and monitor patients’ pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and even behavioral changes.

How Do MA and CNA Training Programs Compare?

Accredited 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. Both careers offer numerous training opportunities.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

CNA nursing medical assistant MA certification education

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

On-the-Job Training

Prospective medical assistants might be able to work without any formal education, and can receive on-the-job training from their employer. Each state has its own medical assistant requirements, however, this will likely result in lower future salary offers.

Medical Assistant Certification

The most common method for becoming a medical assistant is to complete an MA certificate program. Accredited medical assistant training courses can take around 10 months to one year, and are held at thousands of community colleges throughout the country.

Some colleges may offer online medical assistant programs and nursing assistant programs, but accredited courses are recommended as they require the completion of a guided internship.

Medical Assistant Training Program in NJ - AIMS Education

Medical Assistant Associate Degree

Though an associate degree takes around 18-24 months to complete (and requires substantially more money than a certification program), graduates have more training and a much more competitive resume.

No Matter the Program, One Thing Is Certain

Whichever you choose, being exposed to different types of training can help you discover what your strongest skill sets are, and what you enjoy doing most in a medical environment. Investing time in your education means that you’re more likely to have greater job satisfaction.

Are There Specializations for Medical Assistants and CNAs?

Future MAs may not be sure if they want to specialize in a particular field (like OB/GYN, IVF, or cardiology), but experience typically informs these allied health professionals about the sectors that most appeal to them.

How to Become a CNA

First thing’s first: Each state has its own CNA training requirement, so be sure to check local regulations before enrolling in any CNA program. Technical schools, community colleges, local health providers, and the American Red Cross tend to provide CNA courses that last anywhere from one to four months.

After training, you’ll be required to take your state examination, which includes practical and clinical questions. Because you’ll be working with controlled substances and at-risk patients, your state may require a background check and annual education credits.

For the most competitive resume, choose a CNA course that requires a real-world internship. This will ensure that you have the necessary skills to show prospective employers that you can hit the ground running.

What Are Salaries and Job Markets Like for MAs and CNAs?

As of May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that the average income for medical assistants was $32,480, or $15.61 per hour. This is one of the higher-end salaries for allied healthcare careers. Conversely, the average certified nursing assistant pulled in around $27,500, or an hourly salary of just over $13 per hour.

The difference in these incomes is credited to the extended training that medical assistants go through, as well as the high demand for skilled workers. In fact, from 2016 to 2026, the medical assistant field is expected to grow by a whopping 29% compared to a healthy (but considerably smaller) growth rate of 11% for CNAs.

Where Do MAs and CNAs Work?

While CNAs generally work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospices, medical assistants tend to have a greater selection of job opportunities. Thanks to the huge demand for MAs, they are able to find a more work in a wider variety of work environments (like private practices and clinics, which provide the ability to work closely with practitioners).

If you prefer one-on-one learning, a smaller clinic may suit some MAs better than fast-paced hospital. These locales can also provide the ability to work in both the clinical and administrative fields.

It’s All About Who You know

Just like any workplace, the people you work with possibly have the greatest impact on your happiness and confidence.

If you prefer to work more directly with patients, a CNA role might be a great fit for you. While MAs also work with patients of all ages and health conditions, For people who prefer a slightly more unpredictable list of tasks each day, becoming a medical assistant might suit you better.

Always Weigh the Pros And Cons

Remember that both MA and certified nursing jobs are crucial to supporting patients who need your help. Whether you’re checking their temperature, writing up their records, helping them take their first steps after surgery, or helping them navigate the insurance process, it’s endlessly rewarding work.

Ready to Become a Medical Assistant?

If you’re certain that becoming an MA is the right choice for you, take the first step and check out our medical assistant certificate program today!

49 thoughts on “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

          • Lisa says:

            I was curious .. what is the proper certification needed to work as a patient care tech in a hospital?

        • Eileen Chmielewski says:

          I will be taking the CNA state test sometime in August, and I am scared to fail. Seriously. It’s daunting to me, since my other classmates all failed it! Wish me luck! Any suggestions? #NervousAsHeck

          • Bittany helleMaples says:

            Just make sure you know your skills and what the books says. Remember to choose best answer and do your best. If you dont know skip the question n come back to it.

    • 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.

    • Tristan Lacy says:

      how much do you make?

    • Joanah Keith says:

      I am a CNA and Dental.assistant slash Behavioral tech. It really comes down to what you really love to.dp, Im currently work as CNA, but I am a student as well I’m aiming to be a PT so I do CNA while studying to be a PT. That being said go for it if you love MA.

    • Ana says:

      I work as a Patient Care Associate at a hospital which is the same as a Nursing Assistant and I love it. We are busier though, but if you like hospital settings, this may be the job for you. We do get orders from the internal medicine doctors in the hospital like EKG’s, blood drawn, even if they feel like you should repeat a blood pressure. I get paid pretty well too and that’s why I would never work for anything that’s not a hospital. Anything that’s not a hospital is definitely lower pay. It definitely depends on where you work at. At my job I was trained for EKGs, blood draw, bladder scans etc. We also do some secretary work like answering the phone and helping with patients discharge papers. But if you work in a nursing home which I did once, you are literally just cleaning the patient in many forms and helping them eat. If you chose CNA you just have to work hard to get in a hospital, but once you get into a hospital, you are set. Many hospital also do financial reimbursement if you are continuing your education

  • 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.

    • Mk says:

      I’m only a CNA for 3 years in Oregon the pay was pretty good $18.75 an hour

      • Rosanna says:

        Wow,that’s really good pay.

      • Tabitha says:

        In Texas cna make low pay here i feel need pay more they basically work more than lvn and rn so i feel they pay cna more than anything instead working double for less pay

        • Anna Marie Jackson says:

          I totally agree thehighest i know is 14.00 as a CNA but it also has to do with where you are working at its hard work and majority of time we not appreciated one bit its the Nurses above us that get it

  • 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.

    • Ana says:

      Your are so wrong. I’m an MA or medical tech in an urgent care facility and we can administer medications, administer injections, draw blood, give IVs, take X-rays, do lab orders, run flu and strep tests, ekgs, etc. as well as the administrative work. MAs actually can do way more than what a CNA can do with minimal supervision primarily working along side physicians rather than nurses.

    • Wendy Gray says:

      I am a MA and can give meds. Injections. draw blood. assist on procedures, prescriptions, vaccinations. I have a Associates Degree and will take the CMA

  • 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.

      • Kia says:


      • G Johnson says:

        Yes, a good nursing assistant is worth their weight in gold. I’m an LPN retired. I wish I had continued my education to become an RN. If you’re one of two nurses in a nursing home of 105 patients, you need attentive, caring, compassionate CNAs. I ended y career making 26.50 an hour in 2013. Go to college to be an RN. The opportunities are so much more available for advancement and variety.in any of these positions you have to be compassionate, caring, and skilled

      • Joanah Keith says:

        I do agree it’s the hardest job I ever had in my life, I doing it for a meantime until I graduate in PT program.

  • 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

  • Keith says:

    What is the difference if any from a Patient Care Technition P.C.T. and a C.M.A. as i have borh certifications .. Just recently graduated abs an lookibg for work.

  • Tysha Smith says:

    I been a CNA since 1997, I worked as an Administrative Assistant for 20 yrs before that. I make more money now as a CNA. 3 reasons I’m a CMA #1 I believe you reap what you sow, so I help the elderly and sick now and someone will help me when I become the elder. #2 I pretty much determine how much money I want to make weekly #3 income earning is unlimited with all the Overtime and Bonuses Education Reimbursement. I am a 50 year old Mother of 3 going back to school to be an LPN for free. I make anywhere from $1000 to $2000 weekly depends on how much OT I want to pick up. #CNAByChoice

  • […] worker might discover that he excels in certain sectors or possesses skills he never knew he had. Medical assistants often go back to school to pursue higher paying careers, and it’s also quite common for future pharmacists to work as […]

  • Christopher Dixon says:

    I have been a CNA for 15 years and depending on where you work whether it’s Home Care, Agency ALF Nursing Home or Hospital determine what you can practice also having extra certification like phlebotomy EKG Admin Medication certificate and Telemetry get you in certain fields of nursing and better pay tell me how many MAs have their CPR/BLS/AED? Don’t worry I’ll wait……. CNA EMT PCT can act in a emergency situation to save a life MAs can’t that’s why when you call the office it says if this is a medical emergency please hang up and dial 911 lol….. The difference between PCT and CNA they are the same PCT maybe a little advance with extra certification like phlebotomy EKG in most Hospital we are called PCT because hospital offer that extra training which now makes a CNA into PCT in a Nursing home or rehabilitation center we are called Nurse Tech, Life Skills Tech in a ALF we are are called Resident Aide Med Tech I work at a Hospital in FL I make $17 and 2 dollars extra on weekends or night shift my 2 bedroom is $725 month in the hospital a CNA is more valuable than a LPN they draw blood I may have 20 patients and a RN has 4 or 5 of my patients RNs are required to check and change patients every two hours answer the lights it’s called primary Care I do my 3 days a week 12 hour shift appose to MAs have to work Mon thru Friday 8 hours a day to maintain full time CNAs can work holiday for a bonus and time in a half MAs don’t they just be off I recommend if your going to be a CNA make sure you get your phlebotomy EKG CPR/BLS and Telemetry certificate that will get you in the hospital fast Google what Telemetry you will be amazed what CNA can do Oh yeah CNA now carry a licensed which means we can start our own practice able to get paid from clients insurance company one site is called Consumer Direct it’s a site where you can refer patients who need your level of care you can advertise on that website and work independently MAs can’t do that and if your going to take MA for 10 months or more I recommend you to take LPN course that’s only 11 months it’s way more money you can work in Dr office or nursing facility rehabilitation center or some hospital outpatient office a LPN can be a DON at a ALF I hope this help some CNA is a lot more clinical depending on education one more thing CNA can work in a Dr office too and getting a job in a Dr office is who you know and appearance

    • Danielle Peters says:

      Thanks so much Mr. Dixon for the info. I am 48 years old and about to do a career change. I have been at my current job for 15 years and headquarters called and all employees meeting to let us know that some of our jobs will be outsourced to India. So I was part of the outsourcing. I know there is a Blessing in disguise that will come out of this situation. The knowledge that you dropped will help me figure out which route I need to take. I will be new to the nursing field and hoping for the best.

  • Nancy Traveler CNA says:

    Have a CNA CA certificate and also have worked as MA. Prefer the CNA and the salary is much better and prefer the 12 hour shifts.Right now working as a “Traveler CNA” 13 week contract paying $322.00 per 12 hours plus benefits and housing stipend includes groceries. MA do not have the opportunity working as as Traveler plus all the perks. Love traveling meeting new people, best part stay out the politics go.home happy. Weekly pay checks are greats sometimes offer daily pay if you need emergency check.

  • Keisha says:

    Hi I need some advice please!!!
    I am a certified medical Assiatant I did the course in 2010 but due to pregnancy the only experience I obtained was during externship.I tried applying for jobs,and did a phlebotomy workshop but was still unsuccessful in my job search.Every employer kept asking for experience. I even volunteered a little at the hospital but still no luck!!!.I am thinking about enrolling in a CNA program to get my feet back in the medical field.I switched careers for a little bit but now desire to get back into healthcare.Is doing a CNA course a good idea,since I am already MA certified?My biggest concern is refreshing my skills and gaining some experience.

  • Suzanne Rosenbaum says:

    Thanks for all the input. I am getting close to retirement and have been a Medical Assistant for 12 years. I am tired of the paperwork especially the hurdles insurance put you through getting a prior authorization for a medication IE: insurance doesn’t want to pay for a medication that the provider thinks patient should be taking. I miss the interaction with patients in rooming and am thinking I should go back to school to get my CNA. I am a little nervous as I am making 26.00 per hour and work monday through friday. Honestly I am feeling prestige as a MA, am I wrong? Hate the paperwork, love the patients.

  • Linda says:

    Hi I’m currently waiting to get into a Nursing program, although the wait is super long. In the mean time I want to get some experience and not sure what program to do. I’m thinking either MA or CNA can anyone give be any input please ? 🙂

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