Medical Assistant vs CNA

Medical Assistant vs CNA

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Medical assistants (MAs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have very important responsibilities. The role of CNAs and MAs often overlap, yet there are distinct differences.

Are you considering enrolling in a CNA or MA program? Choosing the right program helps you obtain the education and certification that you need for a healthcare career.


Look for an accredited program, which likely makes the difference between receiving an employment offer, and not receiving an employment offer. Some states have specific educational requirements.

While there are similarities between the two programs, there are also differences, explains Wellspring School of Allied Health.
Possible differences include:

  • Some MAs begin employment without certification but are likely limited in career opportunities
  • Every state has specific certification requirements for CNAs
  • CNAs complete 75 hours of state-approved training prior to taking the state exam
  • Becoming a CNA requires receiving a passing score on a state-approved exam

Unitek College indicates that completing a CNA program likely leads to more immediate job opportunities and marketability.

Medical Assistant vs. CNA Duties

There are similarities between CNA and MA duties, but there are greater differences between the job duties and responsibilities of these careers. CNAs have more direct patient contact, compared to medical assistants. They work in doctor‘s offices, clinics, nursing homes, or private homes. Medical assistants work directly with a medical provider, usually in a physician‘s practice or clinic. They take patient information and make appointments for patients.

Rasmussen College explains that MAs also:

  • Measure vital signs
  • Administer injections (Under physician orders)
  • Administer EKGs
  • Perform CPR

Other MA duties include preparing patients for medical exams, cleaning patient rooms, performing clerical skills, and possibly assisting with in-office procedures such as minor surgeries.

The CNA works under the direct supervision of an RN or other supervising nursing staff. They typically perform duties that include:

  • Assisting patients with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
  • Monitoring, recording, and reporting changes in each patient’s health
  • Measuring vital signs
  • Providing home health care assistance

Other CNA duties include assisting patients with therapy, and other basic patient care.

Which role is right for me?

Deciding which role is right for you is a personal choice, based on the career path that you want to take. Do you like more administrative duties? Then the MA is possibly the right choice. Do you like more hands-on, direct patient contact? Then the CNA is possibly the ideal choice. Remember that while the MA does not always complete a program that requires certification, every CNA completes an educational program that leads to sitting for the state exam, and certification after passing the exam. 

Career growth opportunities vary, requiring that you research the potential for job growth before enrolling in a CNA or MA program. Initial salaries potentially vary, so make sure that you research the salary for each if that is an important factor in deciding which role is right for you.

Do you need more information about CNA and MA programs? Do you have other questions? Contact us for more information, or to get answers to your questions about MA or CNA programs.

Featured Nurse:

My name is Katelyn, I have been a nurse for over 7 years, and I became a nurse after getting a Medical Biology Bachelor of Science. I was always caring for my friends and family. It took me a while to find nursing and when I did it just clicked, nursing was my calling, and it was what I was meant to do. Katelyn H.