Medical Assistant vs. CNA: Which is the Better Career Choice

CNA vs. MA

Healthcare as a field is extremely promising, especially with the ever-increasing need for experienced care providers. As the demand for healthcare and allied healthcare professionals is increasing, you might want to be a part of the revolution that’s overtaken the country.

For individuals who do not want to spend a handful of their years in medical school, the fastest entry-points to the field of medicine and healthcare is by being a medical assistant or a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Though both these professions involve providing direct patient care, there are some crucial differences between the two. An overview of their subtle differences and responsibilities is discussed below:

Job Duties

Though the titles of a certified medical assistant (CMA) and a CNA are very similar, their job duties are not the same. Here’s a glimpse of what job duties CMAs and CNAs have:

Medical Assistant

A medical assistant is responsible for taking care of clinical and administrative duties in healthcare and ambulatory settings. An MA works directly with patients, assisting them and providing them primary care while doing administrative duties like scheduling appointments, keeping schedules, and updating medical records. They are cross-trained to perform a variety of front-end and back-end jobs. Though their specific responsibilities depend upon the location and their employer, some general job duties of an MA include:

  • Recording and updating patient history
  • Measuring vital signs of patients
  • Administering medicines and treatments
  • Scheduling appointments of patients
  • Preparing and collecting samples for lab testing
  • Performing basic lab tests
  • Preparing treatment rooms and helping with patient examinations
  • Explaining procedures to patients
  • Communicating with families of patients

Certified Nursing Assistant

A certified nursing assistant works directly with patients at all times. Their job is to monitor and assist patients with everyday tasks, and unlike medical assistants, they do not have any clerical or administrative tasks. Their job duties include:

  • Helping patients get dressed and use facilities
  • Feeding patients
  • Cleaning and bathing them
  • Measuring patient vital signs
  • Transferring and moving them from beds to wheelchairs
  • Listening to the patients’ needs
  • Communicate with Registered Nurse (RN)

Salary and Job Outlook

When you step into a new career, the essential considerations that take center stage are undoubtedly stability, a good salary, and the prospect of growth in the future. Hence, any comparison between the CMA and CNA profession is incomplete without discussing future prospects:

Medical Assistant

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data predicts that the medical assistant profession would grow at a projected rate of 19% from 2019 to 2029, which is overwhelmingly higher than all other average occupations. It is mainly due to the growth of the baby-boomer population throughout the country, who would rely on primary care. The hourly salary of MAs in 2019 was $16.73, and the annual salary was $34,800 with other added benefits.

Certified Nursing Assistant

Similarly, BLS data also predicts that the profession of a nursing assistant is expected to grow 8% between 2019 and 2020, which is higher than other average occupations. A CNA received $14.25 hourly and $29,640 per year in 2019.

Formal Training & Certification

CMA and CNA are two allied healthcare professions that provide a quick entry to the field of medicine and do not require 4-year degrees. However, there’s a certain amount of formal training that aspirants of both professions can procure, as it provides them an edge over their contemporaries.

Medical Assistant

Education: For medical assistants, having formal training is not mandatory; a high school diploma is as good as it gets! However, in recent times, medical assistant aspirants prefer procuring a diploma in less than a year or go so far as to have an associate degree in applied sciences (AAS) in 2 years to have a stable career in medical assisting.

National Certification: Earning certification is not mandatory, but the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the American Medical Technologists (AMT) provide CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) and RMA (Registered Medical Assistant) certifications to aspirants, besides many other institutions. Having formal training confirms that having acceptable skills at the national standards increases your chances of employability.

Certified Nursing Assistant

Education: Certified Nursing Assistant aspirants need to have a high school diploma and complete a postsecondary education program that has been approved by their state. A minimum of 75 hours of classroom training is also required to be fulfilled by aspirants to be eligible to take the certification examination that comes upon graduation of their course.

National Certification: Certification for nursing assistants is mandatory, as suggested already in their title. It can be because they are the ones directly responsible for providing patient care and are in close association with patients needing critical care. Thus, CNA formal training equips them with skills that are indispensable at work. Hence, right after graduation, they are required to take their state’s certification examination. Upon qualification, they are added to the state’s existing list of Certified Nursing Assistants.

Job Settings

Medical Assistant

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, medical assistants are more likely to be found in clinical settings. More than 50% of MAs are found employed in physician’s offices and only 15% are employed in hospitals and other general ambulatory settings. As these healthcare settings mostly function during the day, a medical assistant would likely be required to work for daytime hours rather than night shifts.

Certified Nursing Assistant

Contrarily, certified nursing assistants are employed majorly in nursing care as well as assisted living facilities. About 40% of CNAs are employed in the former, as Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests. They are required for providing care to patients on an everyday basis, for long periods. Hence, they are more likely to be employed in hospitals than medical assistants. As primary care is required round the clock, they are likely to have night shifts and even work on weekends and holidays.


Besides these precise differences, the skills needed to be a medical assistant and a certified nursing assistant are quite the same. Both require dedication and commitment towards the healthcare industry, with a burning desire to give it back to society. Both enriching careers, professionally and personally, present you with a stable life and open up many avenues for a bright future.