Medical Assistants vs CNAs


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There are many unique roles within the medical field, and each helps patients find answers to questions, heal their bodies, and move toward a brighter, healthier future. If you enjoy caring for people and have the desire to join the medical field, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options ahead of you and the paths you could take to get there.


For anyone looking to enter the healthcare field quickly, there are several positions you may be considering. For now, let’s take a closer look at becoming a medical assistant versus a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Both work in a fast-paced medical environment and assist healthcare professionals who are caring for patients. Both can get started in the field relatively quickly, with less than a year of training ahead of time.


If you’re interested in becoming a Medical Assistant, you should consider enrolling in Florida Career College’s Medical Assistant Program! Enroll today and begin a new career as a Medical Assistant in less than a year!

What is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants help doctors and healthcare professionals with both clerical and clinical tasks within a healthcare facility. Their job is generally to assist doctors with tasks like preparing patients for their exams, recording vitals, and giving vaccines. Medical assistants work in a wide variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals and clinics.


Medical assistants have training that allows them to administer medications, collect urine or blood samples, and even perform minor diagnostic tests like an EKG. They may be in the room during a physical exam to assist the doctor or record notes in the patient’s record. Medical assistants do not treat or diagnose patients, but a doctor may ask them to relay treatment info to a patient, call in a prescription refill to a pharmacy, or provide the next steps at the end of a visit.

What is a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are trained to assist a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. They work primarily in inpatient settings where they help patients with daily tasks like eating, dressing, and bathing.


The work of a CNA may be more physically demanding than that of a medical assistant because they may be moving and caring for patients who cannot care for themselves. This work may also take a great emotional toll and requires a great deal of empathy. The daily tasks of a CNA are determined by a nurse providing direct, personal care to a patient.

Differences between Medical Assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants.

1. CNAs vs. Medical Assistants: Education & Training Requirements

The education and training requirements for a medical assistant or CNA may differ from one state to the next, so it’s important to research the requirements for your state. It’s also important to know that a good training program will prepare you for a career in this field no matter where you live.


Both positions require training, but the training for both positions is relatively quick, taking months rather than years. Training can be done through a vocational school rather than a two or four-year university. These schools generally require a high school diploma to enroll, but if you do not yet have a high school diploma, there are still options to help you move forward in these fields.


While the extent of training may vary, passing a training course and becoming certified as an MA or CNA helps you stand out from other applicants and may be required by many employers. Neither of these positions is considered “licensed,” but certification is required for CNAs.


Training to become a medical assistant can take 10 Months to complete. Medical Assistant Training includes assisting with physical exams, taking patient vitals, scheduling appointments, managing medical records, administering medications, conducting electrocardiography tests, administering vaccines, and collecting blood and urine samples.


Training to become a medical assistant is usually offered through a certificate program or associate degree program. Additional certifications can make medical assistants qualified to work in certain specialties and advance their careers in different areas.


On the other hand, training to become a CNA can take anywhere from several weeks to a few months. Some states offer a state-specific training program.


CNA training focuses on safety and cleanliness procedures, patient rights, infection control, and basic nursing skills like recording vitals, moving patients, and caring for basic needs.


The state of Florida requires CNAs to be certified by passing a state-specific exam before they can work as CNAs.

2. CNAs vs. Medical Assistants: Roles & Responsibilities

Medical assistants and CNAs both work in fast-paced medical environments, but those environments and the duties they perform within them vary greatly.


Medical assistants perform clerical and clinical tasks that help an outpatient facility run more efficiently. Medical Assistant duties include the following:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Updating medical records
  • Answering phones and providing basic office information
  • Updating billing and insurance information
  • Greeting patients
  • Preparing patients for their exam
  • Recording patient vitals
  • Collecting blood or urine samples for testing
  • Performing ECG testing
  • Administering vaccines
  • Collecting medical history
  • Preparing the exam room in between patients
  • Restocking or ordering supplies
  • Providing follow-up information to patients after their exam or testing
  • Assisting the physician with the exam


On the other hand, CNAs typically work in inpatient settings, providing direct care to those who cannot care for themselves. Their duties may include:

  • Feeding patients
  • Bathing patients
  • Moving patients within their beds to be more comfortable or reach needed items
  • Helping patients walk or transition to a wheelchair
  • Changing dressings on wounds
  • Recording vital signs
  • Changing bedding and clothing
  • Alert nurses to emergency needs
  • Stocking supplies

3. Medical Assistants vs. Certified Nursing Assistants: Where Do They Work?

The environments that Medical Assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants work in are among the greatest differences between the two positions.


Medical assistants work primarily in outpatient facilities. In this environment, patients come in for an exam or surgery and will leave on the same day. These facilities may include a private doctor’s office, medical clinic, urgent care center, hospital, chiropractor’s office, outpatient surgery center, or specialty physician’s office.


Medical assistants do not diagnose or directly treat patients, but they are part of the team helping patients find answers to their health concerns. Medical assistants work under the direct supervision of a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner.


On the other hand, Certified Nursing Assistants work under the direct supervision of a licensed nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician in an inpatient care center. This may be a nursing home, assisted living facility, home healthcare, or hospital.

How to Become a Medical Assistant?

  1. Step #1: Earn your high school diploma (We have options if you do not have your high school diploma)
  2. Step #2: Enroll in and complete a medical assistant training program
  3. Step #3: Gain experience through an externship
  4. Step #4: Apply and interview for open positions


Learn more about how to become a Medical Assistant!

4. CNA vs. Medical Assistant: Length of Time For Training

Training to become a medical assistant may be performed in as few as 10 Months. The Medical Assistant Technician program at Florida Career College can be completed in as few as ten months, allowing you to begin a new career in the healthcare field in less than a year.


On the other hand, training to become a certified nursing assistant takes about 6 to 12 weeks and has to be approved by the state you are working in. Many CNA training programs are offered online, through technical schools, or through various medical facilities. The state of Florida also requires CNAs to pass a CNA exam to be certified for employment. This certification requires in-service training hours to be completed each year, and the certification itself needs to be renewed every two years to stay valid.

Which Career is Right For You?

If you have an interest in a career in the medical field, choosing between these two roles may be difficult. The right answer depends on your personality and interests.


CNAs work very closely with patients, providing care that is very personal and intimate. This position is a great fit for anyone who looks forward to developing a relationship with patients and who has great empathy for those with disabilities.


The training to become a CNA takes significantly less time and is a great starting point for someone who wishes to become an LPN or RN in the future. CNAs work closely with nurses but may have less responsibility and work a more flexible schedule. It’s a great way to decide if becoming a nurse is right for you.


Medical assistants receive more in-depth training, which may provide greater opportunities to advance in the medical field in the future. Medical assistants provide assistance with both clerical and clinical tasks, so this role requires excellent organization and communication skills.


Training to become a medical assistant also allows someone who is unsure of which position they may want to seek next to better understand each person’s role in a healthcare facility. Some medical assistants may decide to pursue the clerical side of the office and become office managers, while others may seek further clinical training as a nurse or even a doctor. Medical assistants can also become certified in many different specialties and potentially earn a higher wage in that way.


There is no shortage of opportunities within the medical field, and the good news is no matter which path you choose, you can always increase your knowledge and skills.

Can a CNA Become a Medical Assistant?

The roles of a CNA and an MA are very different; in most cases, a CNA cannot perform the tasks of a medical assistant and vice versa. However, it is possible for a medical assistant to train to become a CNA and for a CNA to train to become a medical assistant. Training and certification in both areas may be a huge benefit to someone who truly loves caring for people in the medical field.


If you have already trained to become a CNA and want to further your career in the medical field, becoming a medical assistant may be a great next step. With training as a medical assistant, you would be prepared to administer medications, give vaccines, draw blood and assist a physician with a patient’s exam. You would also have the opportunity to work in more of an office setting, scheduling appointments, doing basic billing tasks, and managing patient records.

Become a Medical Assistant Technician With FCC

If you're interested in becoming a Medical Assistant Technician, you should consider enrolling in Florida Career College's Medical Assistant Program. The program is short-term and will allow you to begin a new career as a Medical Assistant in less than a year. Fill out the form today or give us a call and begin training for a new career in less than a month!