Medical Assistant vs. Nursing Assistant

Q. What is the difference between a medical assistant and a nursing assistant, or a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

A. Medical assistants work primarily in clinics and medical offices under direct physician supervision, and nursing assistants work primarily in hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities. CMAs (AAMA) are educated in and tested on clinical and administrative duties. CNAs provide bedside care at inpatient settings.

About Donald A. Balasa

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, executive director and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants, keeps his eye on what is happening in the profession.
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31 Responses to Medical Assistant vs. Nursing Assistant

  1. What can i do to help,, MEDICAL ASSISTANTS, become a state board exam just like a limited scope x-ray,,, or a lpn,, who all work in a medical office, The lpn’s in my office does the exact same job i do, And i am the one who holds the x-ray certification-liciense in my office, but i get paid less and do not get to hold the title of a nurse, but i am called a nurse by the doctors in the office along with the lpn, who also reminds me that i am not a nurse., At least make it a state exam to show that i am just as capable to do the same job as a lpn, by the way do they hafta to carry their own insurance or just work under a physican as well. I would like to see the respect that we deserve since i am 22 years in the making at being a lower class certified medical assistant, No wonder you lose so many to go on and become lpn’s or rn’s just for the name sake upgrade.

    • Thank you for your questions. Because you ask difficult and important questions, I am going to respond directly to your e-mail.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

      • Tracy says:

        WHY IS THIS ALWAYS THE CASE?
        WE HAD A LPN JUST GET HER LICENSEAND NOW SHE THINKS SHE KNOW MORE THEN EVERYONE.NOT SAYING ALL ARE LIKE THIS.bUT I AGREE WITH TERESA,WE ALL DO THE EXACT SAME JOB,THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN MY EYE.
        AND IF YOU CAN BECOME AN MA WITH ON THE JOB TRAINING,WHY CANT IT BE THE SAME FOR ATLEAST AN LPN?I WORK WITH SOMEONE THAT CAME FROM BEHIND THE DESK AND NOW CALLS HERSELF AN MA.I GOT MY GED AND WENT TO SCHOOL TO BECOME WHAT I AM TODAY AND OTHERS ARE BEING HANDED THIS TITLE.
        VERY CONFUSING!!!!

      • You raise valid points. It might be best if we talked about this by telephone. Are you available for a call later this week or next week?

        Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
        Executive Director, Legal Counsel

        American Association of Medical Assistants
        Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

        Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

        The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

    • anrn says:

      Nurses are trained to expertly move through the nursing process. Medical assistants are trained in tasks. They should always be separate and NEVER confused for the service they provide.

    • N. La Vieri says:

      You scared me when you said “hafta”

  2. Maria Kilby says:

    I agree, I hold a the title CMA for the past ten years yet the distinguishing between me and other medical assistants are little or no value. Our Human Resource Person will not put CMA on my medical ID even when I show and carry the CMA card. Because, as I understand it, what is the difference and one should not be recogzine for the same work that all other medical assistant perfrom. So why even bother other than for self enhancement to take the board if the title is not allowed to follow you through your career.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am sorry to hear about the problems you are encountering. I would be happy to speak with someone in the human resource department to clarify and emphasize the value of the CMA (AAMA) credential.

      Would that be of any assistance for you?

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  3. Tina says:

    I have just started to study for my Associates in Applied Science for Medical Assisting. It is not cheap to become a CMA. If I am going to get the same pay and title with a degree why should I get board certifided?

  4. Kayla says:

    I just recently graduated and became a CMA (AAMA) I work in a family practice and I have noticed many patients look at my badge and see CMA and automatically assume that I am a CNA or they will ask what how I compare to a nurse…My response is always that I graduated from a 2 year program and I am trained more in a doctors office setting rather than a hospital, but here LPN’s and I do pretty much the same tasks. Is it ok for me to say this? I have heard stories of nurses looking down on CMA’s but at my job thankfully they see me as an equal and I feel like I have about the same knowledge that they do. I just hope that eventually the CMA (AAMA) title is spread and more people (patients especially) know of CMA’s and what we do.

    • Thank you for your question, and for upholding the medical assisting profession and the CMA (AAMA) credential!

      It is permissible for you to state that you many of the same duties as an LPN. However, you must make it clear that you are not a nurse in ANY sense, even in a generic sense.

      Please be assured that the AAMA will continue to defend the medical assistant’s right to practice, and to point out the fact that the CMA (AAMA) is the gold standard of medical assisting credentials.

      Thank you again.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  5. sharde says:

    I was wondering should I become a CNA first or MA? Any suggestions?

    • Thank you for your question. The answer to your question depends on whether you want to work primarily in inpatient settings providing bedside care, or in outpatient settings doing administrative duties as well as outpatient clinical duties delegated to you by the overseeing/delegating/supervising physician.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  6. sharde says:

    Hi, I live in Tennessee

  7. Teri Campbell-Practice Manager says:

    We provide complete training for staff in our office. Is there any legal reason why we could not hire and train a CNA to work with our MA and CMA staff? I have an excellent candidate and would like to consider her for employment. Is there a crossover program?

    • Thank you for your question. Could you please tell me in what state you are located? Medical assisting laws vary somewhat from state to state.

      After you provide this information, I will probably reply directly to your e-mail address because the explanation could be lengthy and I probably will have to attach several documents.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 | http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  8. Samantha says:

    If I am A CNA how do I become a CMA

  9. Patricia says:

    I was an RMA through AAMP but lost it because being unemployed for so long I live in Oklahoma. Why am I finding it so hard to find a job in this field? Also, I was wondering if it would be possible to go through AAMA instead AAMP? What would be the process for that?

  10. Gloria Jiménez says:

    I would like to know what is the different of MA and nurse dutie exacly because i went to school and graduate and still don’t find job but i know the they hire nurse a lot.
    Thank You

    • Thank you for your question. Here are some differences between medical assistants and nurses.

      First of all, medical assistants who graduate from a postsecondary medical assisting academic program accredited by either CAAHEP or ABHES are educated in both front office administrative duties as well as back office clinical duties. LPNs, for example, are educated mostly in bedside clinical duties, although they are taught some administrative duties as well.

      Secondly, medical assistants who graduate from a CAAHEP or ABHES program are educated in the clinical duties performed in an outpatient setting. LPNs, as stated above, are educated mostly in the clinical duties that are done in an inpatient setting.

      I hope this is helpful as an initial answer.

  11. Cynthia Lane says:

    I have an Associate’s Degree in Medical Office Management, graduated 09/2012. I took Medical Assistant classes and graduated in 05/1988. I’m from Ohio but I live in Alabama now, to be exact Tuskegee, Alabama and I am not able to find work in my field or anything close. I started out in the medical field as an Home Health Aide, and it seems this is the only employment I can really get a job in. I do not want to do that type of work forever. I want to be able to have a steady job I can go to everyday. Can a Medical Assistant work as a CNA? There are plenty of CNA jobs but, I can’t afford to pay the cost to become certified.
    i have noticed that the jobs outside of Tuskegee will hire a CNA before they hire a Medical Assistant, why is that? Thanks.

    • Thank you for your question. I am sorry you are having these difficulties. I will send to your e-mail my article about medical assistants working in inpatient and outpatient settings, which was published in the July-August 2012 issue of CMA Today.

      After you receive and read my article, let’s dialogue further by e-mail.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262  |  Fax: 312/899-1259  |  http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook  

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  12. kayla says:

    Hello, I am trying to find out the State laws in Georgia for what a CNA and also a MA can and can not do. — Can a MA do IM injections? Can either do phlebotomy? I have tried looking through our states site and also trying to get information in a clear picture of what can and can not be done by law. Working in a urgent care as well as hospital setting.. there are lots that can be done. Inlcuding xrays- can you help me out?

    • Thank you for your question. I cannot answer your question about nursing assistants, but here is the Georgia law regarding medical assistants:

      Medical Assistant Law and Rules

      § 43-34-44. Role of medical assistants clarified
      Nothing in this article shall be construed to prohibit the performance by medical
      assistants of medical tasks, including subcutaneous and intramuscular injections;
      obtaining vital signs; administering nebulizer treatments; or other tasks approved by
      the board pursuant to rule, if under the supervision by a physician in his or her
      office; provided, however, that this shall not require on-site supervision at all times,
      or the performance by medical assistants of medical tasks ordered by a physician
      assistant or advanced practice registered nurse delegated the authority to issue such
      an order in accordance with law and pursuant to rules of the board.

      HISTORY: Code 1981, § 43-34-44, enacted by Ga. L. 2009, p. 859, § 1/HB 509.

      Rules:

      360-3-.05 Medical Assistants, Polysomnography Technologists, and
      Radiology Technologists.
      (1) It shall be grounds for disciplinary action by the Board if a physician aids or abets
      another person in misrepresenting his/her credentials or engaging in unlicensed practice.
      Engaging in unlicensed practice includes delegation by a physician of professional
      responsibilities to a person who is not authorized to provide such services. A physician
      may delegate the performance of certain medical tasks to an unlicensed person with
      appropriate supervision as provided herein.

      (a) Medical Assistants

      1. For purposes of this rule, a medical assistant is an unlicensed person employed by the
      physician to whom he or she delegates certain medical tasks.

      (i) A physician may delegate to a medical assistant the following medical tasks:
      subcutaneous and intramuscular injections; obtaining vital signs; administering nebulizer
      treatments; or removing sutures and changing dressings.

      (ii) Physicians or physician assistants under basic job description and/or advanced
      practice nurses under protocol must be on-site for a medical assistant to administer
      subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, to administer nebulizer treatments, and to
      remove sutures and change dressings. It is not required for a physician to be on-site for a
      medical assistant to obtain vital signs.

      (iii) Physician shall only allow medical assistants to provide services for which they have
      been properly trained. Physicians shall maintain accurate and complete records of
      professional services rendered.

      (iv) Nothing in this rule prohibits the performance of tasks by medical assistants that
      would not otherwise require a license.

      So, it is apparent from the above that Georgia law permits physicians to delegate to competent and knowledgeable medical assistants working under their direct supervision in outpatient settings the administration of IM injections and venipuncture/phlebotomy.

      Here is limited scope radiography information:
      Georgia
      Georgia Secretary of State, Professional Licensing Division
      237 Coliseum Dr.
      PO Box 13446
      Macon, GA 31208
      487-207-2440 or 404-657-5400
      http://www.sos.state.ga.us/plb
      The state of Georgia does not license the operators of x-ray equipment, nor does it have any requirements relative to the licensure or credentialing of x-ray machine operators.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Executive Director, Legal Counsel

      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262  |  Fax: 312/899-1259  |  http://www.aama-ntl.org

      Visit us on Facebook! http://www.aama-ntl.org/facebook  

      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional

  13. Eulalia says:

    I am a Nursing Assistant and have been for over 20 years; I recently moved to Maryland and am having a hard time finding an NA position as it seems like the NA positions are now MA positions, With my experience as an NA, what would I need to do in order to obtain the MA?

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