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What’s the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant?

A Nursing Assistant and a Medical Assistant are shown in their different work environments, the first in a nursing home and the second in a hospital.Understanding how these roles differ can help you choose a suitable career path

You may have heard the term Medical Assistant, but are wondering how this is different from the role of a Nursing Assistant. Both of these entry-level positions require working closely with patients to provide care, but the specific duties can be somewhat different.

Are you interested in a career in healthcare that will not require long-term, extensive training? Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants might both be good options. To determine which might be a better fit for you, we break down some of the differences here. Read on to learn more about both of these essential roles!

1. The two positions may work in different settings

Medical Assistants usually work in a physician’s office, although some have hospital-based positions. Nursing Assistants can work in hospitals but often work in long-term healthcare facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

2. These roles report to different people

As part of a medical team, Medical Assistants often will report to a physician directly. They may also report to an office manager of a medical practice. Nursing Assistants, however, usually report to a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practicing nurse (LPN).

3. There is some overlap in their respective primary duties, but there are also differences

The job of a Medical Assistant is to help a physician by keeping the office running effectively and efficiently. This can include not only some medical care of patients, but also handling some administrative work. This means the Medical Assistant might:

  • talk with patients about and record their medical histories
  • collect insurance information from patients
  • update electronic health records (EHR)
  • take vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature
  • handle specimens such as blood and urine samples
  • administer injections and medication
  • provide basic wound care, including removing sutures
  • offer front-office support, such as appointment scheduling
  • bring patients to examination rooms or hospital rooms

In addition to helping patients with some medical needs, a Nursing Assistant tends to take the role of caregiver. The Nursing Assistant supports the nursing team by providing hands-on basic care for patients in long-term care facilities who may need help with daily hygiene. This often means that they provide bedside care for patients who are elderly.

Like a Medical Assistant, a Nursing Assistant might take vital signs or update a patient chart with relevant information, but there are often other duties as well. A Nursing Assistant might:

  • assist patients with daily personal duties such as bathing or grooming
  • aid patients in eating or drinking
  • help patients that have mobility issues, such as walking, moving from a chair to a bed, or getting in or out of a wheelchair

4. The two jobs share certain responsibilities

It’s important that both Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants understand and know how to comply with several sets of regulations. These include laws from:

Each of these institutions oversees essential aspects of our health care system, which is becoming more complex all the time. Both Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants must work within the guidelines these laws establish to help protect patients from failures within the medical system, such as malpractice lawsuits. These guidelines also protect those who provide healthcare and the institutions that employ them.

5. The training to become a Medical Assistant is generally longer than that for a Nursing Assistant

The training program for Medical Assistants is different from that of Nursing Assistants. A Medical Assistant training program is usually longer, taking about one year. Medical assisting students will learn about anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, various medical procedures, taking vital signs, taking blood, giving injections, and keeping records.

Training programs to become a Nursing Assistant tend to be shorter—usually several months. The training can be less intense, although you will learn about basic patient care and how to manage the needs of patients who are living in long-term care facilities. Certified Nursing Assistants might be able to get partial credit for their training if they decide later to apply to nursing school.

If you’re trying to decide between these, consider:

  • If you’re interested in speaking with patients in a medical facility about such items as their medical history and insurance information, then you should consider working as a Medical Assistant.
  • If you think you’d enjoy performing tasks for patients receiving long-term care, such as bathing, feeding, and dressing, then a career as a Nursing Assistant may be a good path for you.

While both positions play an important role in the healthcare industry, their everyday responsibilities and training programs are different. Understanding the difference between these two career paths is the first step in deciding which one is better for you. But no matter which you decide, you can be sure that you’ll be working to help those in need to meet their healthcare needs. If you like working with people, show compassion, and communicate well, these are both good options.

To learn more about the Medical Assistant training program at the Harris School of Business, reach out to us for additional information. We offer Medical Assistant programs at our campuses in Cherry Hill, Linwood, and Voorhees, NJ; Dover and Wilmington, DE; Danbury, CT; and Upper Darby, PA. We look forward to hearing from you!

This post is part of the weekly blog of the Harris School of Business. We’re dedicated to supporting all our students in pursuing their career goals. Get more information about our various career training programs online or call us at 800.510.7920. We also invite you to schedule a tour of one of our eight campuses in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

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