Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a medical assistant vs. CNA? When I was choosing a career, I didn’t know the difference either.

I decided to go to school to be a medical assistant but years later I wish I’d gone the CNA route.

The careers are similar but very different. So, how exactly do they differ? That is something you are definitely going to want to know before you choose your career path.

Medical Assistant VS CNA: What You Should Know

Are you trying to figure out the winner in a medical assistant vs. CNA battle? In order to do that, you are going to need to know the difference between the two.

That’s right, they are not the same. Even though you will work with patients in both jobs, the duties are different. In fact, a lot of things are different.

So, which one pays better? What duties must you perform? These are just some of the questions you are going to want to answer.

Lucky for you, with the experience I have as a medical assistant, I have a great understanding of this topic, so I can help you out.

Medical staffs and assistant in lobby

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Medical Assistant: Is This The Career For You?

If you are great at multitasking, then a medical assistant career is for you. You will have many tasks daily, from front desk work, to prepping for minor procedures. Most medical assistants work a basic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.

Medical assistants work closely with the physicians but also LPNs and RNs, depending on where you work. They are also expected to do many of their tasks on their own.

I’ve been a medical assistant for twelve years, and have truly loved my job. Here’s why.

Being a medical assistant gets you into a wide range of different specialty offices. This can give you the opportunity to learn a lot about many different things.

Unfortunately, you will not get into hospitals or nursing homes. Medical assistants cannot work in a hospital due to the lack of training for that environment. You must be trained to change beds sheet, bedpans, clean patients, and must have training on how to bathe a patient correctly.

Those are some of the reasons being a medical assistant vs. CNA are different from one another. You now know what you won’t be doing, but what are some of the duties you will be expected to perform?

Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: Medical Assistant Duties

As a medical assistant, you will have an opportunity to work in the front and back offices.

The front office and back office both have many responsibilities, that must be done on a daily basis.

In the front office, you may be required to answer the phones and schedule appointments. Think of yourself as a secretary, not just a medical assistant. You may also have to scan documents into the patient’s chart, collect payments, and verify insurance.

In the back office, you may be required to take patients’ vitals then chart down everything. You may also have to assist the physician with minor procedures. In most offices, you will collect urine/stools samples, give injections, and make sure instruments are sterilized.

Where in some specialists offices, you may even perform phlebotomy, EKGs, and CPR.

Your tasks will vary depending on the specialty of the doctor you work for.

For example, I work in pediatrics, so I perform all the duties listed above, but also have to clean up vomit, urine, stool and sometimes blood. I was also required to hold down children for vaccines, or if they have something stuck in their ear.

Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: Medical Assistant’s Pay

A medical assistant makes between $15 to $18 an hour, with $15 being the average in most states.

Keep in mind, pay may vary depending on where you work and what state you live in, and also if you have previous experience. When I started twelve years ago, pay started at $10 an hour and averaged out at $15 an hour.

If you learn quickly, you may get raises — but remember, how big those raises are, depend on where you work like any other career. For example, being a medical assistant at a specialty office pays more. Some offices give bonuses every three months or so and some only at Christmas.

How To Become A Medical Assistant

Becoming a medical assistant vs. CNA isn’t as easy. Medical Assisting classes are a minimum of 8 months and up to 15 months of school, depending on what state you live in.

You must complete a laboratory component in anatomy, and medical terminology.

You can take a medical assisting class at most vocational schools and college, depending on the state you live in. To receive a higher pay cut you must take an exam to get certified. Which costs extra money out of your pocket, and that can be stressful for students that don’t work and don’t have extra income. The estimated cost to take this exam is $150 to $250.


  • Having a set schedule
  • Being able to work in any medical office
  • Pay is increasing its average


  • Not being able to work in hospitals/nursing homes
  • Starting pay rate is low
  • No change of work duties over the years
Person getting his blood check

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Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: Interested In A Career As A CNA?

A career as a Certified Nursing Assistant  (CNA) is the first step into the medical field for a lot of professionals. Learning to become a CNA, will give you a very broad idea of what a medical career is like.

Most CNAs work in a hospital, nursing care facilities, home-based and outpatient clinics, but you have many more options than that. Being a CNA, you can work everywhere a medical assistant can, as well.

The best part? Your options of employment are not as limited compared to a medical assistant.

You will have a lot more hands-on procedures with patient care and less time stuck behind a desk. Unlike most medical assistant jobs, CNA has more flexible hours. Say, if you need to work nights, there are many opportunities to do so. The hospital is most likely.

Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: CNA Duties

Medical assistant vs. CNA, you can do many hands-on procedures with patient care as a CNA. Some days you may be required to lift patients in or out of beds and wheelchairs, dress the patients, turn or reposition of patients who are bedridden. For the bedridden patients, you may also have to change bedpans. Changing of bed sheets for your patients may be done daily or weekly.

On other days, you may need to bathe and dress the patients. The patients may need help with eating, you would need to sit with them the entire time. Which is a great time for a CNA to get to know their patients’ needs. The job may also entail asking to check them for wounds, if the patient is bedridden.

For a CNA, the front desk tasks are different. There isn’t a front desk for a CNA, they consider the patients’ room their office at times. CNAs are required to document patients’ condition and treatment plans. CNAs may at times need to answer their patient’s calls.

A CNA’s back office duties are almost similar. You are required to perform some of the same exams or tests as a medical assistant, but you may also need to transport the patient from room to procedures. For some of those procedures, you will be asked to set up the equipment.

Medical staff looking at x ray results

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Additional Duties

These are just some of the things a CNA can perform. It can seem like a lot but if you like what you do, it isn’t. If you like to work with people and help them live an easier life, being a CNA is for you.

Some of these patients do not have any family, and they depend on a caring heart to help them with some of the easiest things. CNAs help patients in more ways than one. Being a CNA, you also help the emotional needs of some patients. Not being able to help yourself can be a very depressing thing, but being there as a CNA, taking care of them and talking with them, helps with depression. Some days you may go into work and sit for hours just talking with your patient about their day.

Other days you may not have time to sit but either way, you will learn something new every day.

Medical Assistant VS CNA: CNA’s Pay

Surprisingly, you can get paid more as a CNA, even though you don’t go to school as long as a medical assistant does.

You can get paid an average of $11 to $18 an hour depending on where to work. Pay also depends on experience but has been shown in most states to pay better than a medical assistant, even after the medical assistant has experience.

With CNA being the entry level in nursing, you can add a little more school time to get paid more money. A state-approved training qualifies CNAs for more responsibility and better pay than medical assistants in some states. At the end of the day, pay average goes off how quick you learn and how hard you work but it does make a difference to an employee to start off a new job with higher pay.

How To Become A CNA

To become a medical assistant vs. CNA, CNAs are required 75 hours of training. You must pass a competency test, and do some on the job training. What’s great about becoming a CNA, it will only take 3 to 6 months of school/training. Which is fantastic, remember becoming a medical assistant is 8 to 15 months. When you are a CNA, you must renew your certification/ credentials every few years, which you can do online.

Class cost average $500 to $2500 depending on the state, but in some states, at you local Red Cross, the class is free.

That’s right, you can learn this career for free, just check out your local Red Cross. Which means you can learn how to become a CNA for free then get an amazing job paying a great rate.


  • Very little school time required
  • Great pay for most states
  • Fast pace work
  • Learn something new every day
  • Many options of employment


  • Working hard daily
  • Having to change diapers on adults or bathing them
  • Never knowing what your day entails
  • Having to renew your certification/credentials every few years

Medical Assistant Vs. CNA: Which Is Right For You?

Deciding on which career path is better for you, choosing the winner in the medical assistant vs. CNA battle isn’t as hard as you think. If you love hands-on and helping patients daily than a CNA career is the best option. Yes, it may be more work than a medical assistant but pay could be better and there’s less schooling involved. You will never have a boring day as a CNA and will learn new things often. CNAs work hard but enjoy every moment of their time with their patients.

Also, at anytime, you can go to more schooling and make a lot more money. Just think, you can learn this career for free in some states, get experience in that new CNA job, then get a higher position that pays more.

If you enjoy being behind a desk, answering phones, taking care of charts, and having a more laid back routine or working in the back office, helping triage patients, give vaccines, and performing minor procedures, then becoming a medical assistant is the career path for you.

Just remember the schooling is a little longer, so be prepared to not get a job right away. Medical assistants have a basic routine and mainly focus on the specialty they select. Medical assistants do have an exciting day once in a while and you will always learn new things but you won’t be overworked like a CNA and you won’t have to do any bathing of patients or changing beds, or things in that manner.

Medical staff checking blood pressure

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Do What You Love

At the end of the day, only you can make the right decision, that is best for you. Asking the opinion of others is great but their thoughts on becoming a medical assistant vs. CNA may not be how you feel once you have done your research on these career paths.

As long as you take a chance on something in a medical career you are making a smart decision. Any career in the medical field is worth a try and if you don’t make it the first time, don’t give up try again. So, take a little time and look into medical assistant vs. CNA  careers to see which one you are interested in and begin your amazing future in the medical field. No matter which you choose, there will always be a need for every type of nurse.

Nurses have been around forever, helping people in need. If you love what you do it will never be just a job. It will be a career and an amazing lifestyle.