Medical assistants (MA) and certified nursing assistants (CNA) are health-care careers that involve working with patients of all ages and physical condition, providing them with high quality patient care. They both assist doctors, nurses and other health-care providers with treatments, procedures and tests. Both careers require certification and a state license. That however, is where the similarities end. Working as a medical assistant is quite different from working as a nursing assistant, also known as a nursing aide. Job duties of a medical assistant focus more on patient assessment, evaluation and helping doctors with patient care and treatment. A nursing assistant’s job duties involve more direct patient care. Direct patient care refers to hands-on care associated with activities of daily living (ADL), such as performing a bed-bath, assisting with mobility or cleaning a patient with incontinence.
1. MA Training
MA training involves the successful completion of an accredited medical assisting program. Available both on-line and in the traditional classroom setting, medical assisting programs take one to two years to complete. Community colleges, technical schools and universities across the country offer medical assisting programs. Training involves learning both bookwork and hands-on care experience. As a student future MAs are required to perform a set amount of clinical time as well as in-class instruction. During clinical time, each student learns how to perform patient assessment and provide care.
CNA training programs last from six weeks to several months. Locate programs on-line, through a community college or at a technical school. Programs teach students how to perform direct patient care, educate them about patient safety and documentation. Clinical time is also required for CNA training. Systematic instructions are taught for each type of care the certified nursing assistant performs.
2. MA Licensing
Students must pass the state licensing exam following the completion of the program to receive a license to practice as a medical assistant. Instructors or advisors often complete the application process required for students to take the state licensing exam. Students that chose an on-line training program may be required to complete the application process themselves. The application process includes turning in an official copy of one’s certification, proving to the state the student has met the requirements and successfully completed a MA training program, along with a completed application. After passing the state exam a license allowing one to practice as a medical assistant is issued.
Licensing as a certified nursing assistant occurs after one completes an accredited nursing assistant program and passes the state exam. Future CNAs must send in an application and proof of certification to take the state licensing exam. Passing both a written and practical skills exam is required in order to receive a CNA license. Practical skills exams test the students’ ability to perform the physical care required of a nursing assistant. Students must demonstrate their abilities to perform skills following the systematic instruction learned during training to successfully to pass this portion of the state-licensing exam.
3. MA Scope of Practice
The MA scope of practice explains the care, assessments and procedures performed by a MA. The scope of practiced is determined by each state in accordance with the skills and knowledge learned during training. It includes their protocols which are detailed instructions how to perform specific care and procedures. Drawing a blood sample for laboratory testing is an example of a procedure listed within the MA scope of practice. Types of patient assessment, such as a preliminary physical exam and instructions for obtaining vital signs, are included as well.
CNA Scope of Practice
Each state determines the certified nursing assistant scope of practice, which is a list of all care and treatments provided by certified nursing assistants. The care performed by a CNA is based upon the skills and knowledge learned during the CNA training program. Included within the scope of practice, a CNA’s protocol provides how to instructions for care they perform. Examples of instructions for care provided by certified nursing assistants included within the protocols are bathing, feeding and toileting.
4. MA Job Duties
MA job duties include patient assessment, readying patients for the doctor and obtaining samples for testing. Patient assessment involves obtaining medical history, medication and allergy list, physical exam and vital signs. They perform clerical duties like documenting, compiling patient charts, scheduling appointments, and answering phones. Medical assistants clean and sanitize exam rooms and equipment following patient use. They also stock rooms with supplies and equipment needed to perform patient care.
CNA Job Duties
CNA job duties include providing direct patient care by assisting with ADLs, helping patients with physical activity and tracking patient intake and output. They assist nurses with treatments like wound care. They help patients with therapies. Certified nursing assistants help with preventative measuring like following turn schedules to reduce pressure ulcers. They report changes in a patient’s condition to nurses. Patient safety including the proper use of safety devices, such as bed side-rails or patient alarms, is among the responsibilities of a CNA.
5. MA Employment Opportunities
Employment opportunities for medical assistants include positions within a physician’s practice, clinic and urgent care center. Working in any of these environments gives medical assistants the chance to work with patients of all ages and physical conditions. They have the flexibility to work in specialized practices, like obstetrics, or in a general practice like for a family practitioner. Medical assistants work in the front office performing clerical duties. In the back office, they perform duties involved with patient assessment and treatment. They assist doctors, nurses and fellow MAs. Often multiple MAs are employed in a single doctor’s office or clinics to ensure it runs smooth and efficiently.
CNA Employment Opportunities
Certified nursing assistants find employment in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospitals. Health-care facilities providing in-house patient care employ CNAs to perform direct patient care. This allows other health-care providers, like nurses, to perform care that is more skilled such as wound care. Rehabilitation centers utilize CNAs to help patients with therapy exercises, ADLs and treatment compliance.