Differences Between A CNA and A Medical Assistant

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and medical assistants (MAs) are both in the business of helping people. These two career paths may have some similarities, but they are also different in many ways. Kind of like police officers and firemen- they both wear uniforms and help people, but the job description and responsibilities are uniquely different.

The medical community can sometimes be confusing to the general public; patients see a person in scrubs wearing a name tag with an acronym and are often unsure what the person does. To help shine some light on the differences between CNAs and MAs, let’s take a closer look at these two careers:

CNA Overview

CNAs work under the supervision of registered nurses and are on the frontline of patient care. On a daily basis, they perform tasks such as:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Bathing patients
  • Grooming patients
  • Helping patients walk
  • Providing emotional care to patients
  • Acting as liaison between patients and the nursing staff

MA Overview

MAs generally report directly to medical office managers, doctors and other health care practitioners. They typically work in a medical office setting or clinic and are responsible for duties such as:

  • Updating patient’s medical records
  • Completing insurance forms
  • Arranging laboratory services for patients
  • Scheduling hospital admissions for patients
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Handling bookkeeping
  • Answering telephones

In clinical settings, MAs will sometimes also help take patient vital signs, obtain patient medical histories and are responsible for preparing exam room instruments and supplies.

Quick Tip: Find out how to get free CNA classes in Fl Florida


Both certified nursing assistants and medical assistants must work with the public. In this capacity, they need to act professional at all times. In a medical setting, they will be exposed to a wide variety of emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and apprehension daily.

CNAs and MAs are also subject to the following healthcare regulations:

  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO)
  • Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act (HIPAA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Differences: Health Care Setting

Medical assistants are required to work in facilities where a doctor is present, such as a clinic or doctor’s office. Conversely, certified nursing assistants can work under the supervision of an RN or LPN. This allows them to work in many diverse settings to include:

  • Nursing homes
  • Community care facilities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Home healthcare settings

CNAs also have more freedom when it comes to patient care due to their certification. During the course of their career, CNAs have the opportunity to take on-going certification classes. This will afford them the opportunity to have additional responsibilities.

Differences: Training

Depending on the state’s requirements, CNAs undergo between 100 to 180 hours of training. The coursework includes class room training and hands-on clinical applications. At the conclusion of their training, prospective CNAs are required to successfully pass a CNA certification exam that tests the student’s competencies.

Medical assistants are trained in medical terminology, clinical and diagnostic procedures as well as typing, accounting and insurance processing. Training programs are regulated by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

Formal training for MAs is not always required; some medical assistants receive on-the-job training. MAs that begin their career this way will typically attend training sessions and work directly with an experienced medical assistant.


The job forecast for CNAs and MAs is positive due to the increased need for healthcare workers in America. The lowest paid medical assistants earn approximately $20,000, while the highest-paid MAs make just over $30,000, notes the US Department of Labor.

A CNAs income ultimately depends on where they work. The highest-paid CNAs usually work in hospitals and nursing homes, while CNAs working as home-health aides are typically paid the least. The pay ranges from around $20,000 to just over $30,000 depending on location.

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