While both medical assistants and nurses are qualified health care professionals, medical assistants are not nurses. Duties between the two professions often overlap in the medical office. And, medical assistants may be considered part of the ‘nursing staff’ at their place of employment. Because of the similarities between nurse and MA, people may think they are interchangeable. However, just as there are shades of gray between MAs and nurses, there are also unique differences.
Education plays an important role in the differences between medical assistant and nurse. Medical assistants generally attend an MA program for two years, one year or nine months. An Associate of Applied Science degree in medical assisting takes two years, and is the most in-depth option for medical assisting training. Diploma and certificate programs are also available and take 12 or 9 months to complete.
Medical assistant programs are similar to a first-year nursing program. Both teach anatomy and physiology, biology or chemistry, lifespan and disease and pharmacology, depending on the program. Medical assisting programs also include broad administrative training, whereas nursing school does not. MAs learn to handle medical insurance claims, file medical records and make appointments.
Another important component to MA training that separates them from nursing is the laboratory training. MAs learn to perform venipuncture (drawing blood), and run simple lab tests like blood counts and urinalysis and other lab procedures. Some medical assisting programs also teach basic X-ray techniques.
Medical assistants must complete an externship with a clinic or other health care facility to put into practice what they have learned.
Nurses usually have the option to complete one year of nursing school and earn their licensed practical nurse (LPN) degree. If desired, students may then complete an additional year of schooling to earn the registered nurse designation (RN). Two year nursing schools offer an Associate of Nursing, while a four-year Bachelor’s degree earns the Bachelors of Nursing (BSN) designation.
Nursing education begins with the basics; anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and psychology. As the program progresses, nursing students move into advanced nursing education. This includes learning how to create personal care plans which map out treatment, recovery and long-term card for many medical conditions and diseases. Additionally, nursing students perform several, lengthy clinical rotations to put their education into practice.
Nurses who complete a BSN degree may progress into a master’s degree. A Master of Science Nursing degree allows an RN to teach nursing at colleges and universities, and also take additional courses to become a nurse practitioner.
Scope of Practice:
Medical assistants work directly under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor or in some cases, a registered nurse.
The scope of practice for medical assistants includes direct patient care, including obtaining basic health histories, administering medications, assisting with minor surgery, basic patient education and administrative procedures. Each medical facility can also designate additional responsibilities to medical assistants. Some medical assistants with advanced certification may be able to start intravenous lines and assist with emergencies.
Both the licensed practical nurse and registered nurse work under their own individual license.
This allows them to have a wider scope of practice then a medical assistant. Nurses perform most of the same duties as a medical assistant. Because nurses receive deeper training than medical assistants, they are able to take patient care to an advanced level. They provide advanced medications, like chemotherapy, allergy testing and blood products. Nurses start intravenous lines and other invasive forms of care when needed. Registered nurses may specialize in specific areas of medicine, like cardiology, emergency medicine or oncology that allow them to perform advanced skill. Nurses are also in-depth patient educators.
Nurses perform detailed patient assessments and are trained to recognize life-threatening injuries and illness. They also perform detailed patient histories and work with a physician to complete a care plan for patient treatment and follow-up. Nurses with a master’s degree are able to diagnosis patients, provide treatments and prescribe medications.
Medical assistants are considered unlicensed professionals because they are not required to be licensed. Currently, there is no licensing available for MAs and they work directly under the license of a supervising physician or nurse.
MAs may obtain certification to prove competency in medical assisting practice. The American Association of Medical Assisting (AAMA) is the leading certifying body for MAs. Medical assistants may take an exam through the AAMA, and upon successful completion, may use the certified medical assisting (CMA) designation.
Nurses are licensed professionals who carry their own license to practice nursing. Nursing licenses are specific to the state where the nurse will practice. Nurses do not work under the license of a physician; each nurse is responsible for providing competent patient care under his or her own license.