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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Medical Assistant vs Nursing Assistant: What’s the Difference?

November 23, 2016

medical-assisting-vs-nurse-assistingFor those considering a career in the medical field who may not want to dedicate years to medical school, becoming a medical assistant or nursing assistant is an excellent option. Both occupations involve working with patients and collaborating with nurses and physicians in medical settings. And for anyone interested in working in health care, both the medical assistant and nursing assistant profession is a fast and easy way to break into the field.

However, the two careers are not the same. Below is an overview of the medical assisting and nursing assisting careers to help you decide which path is right for you.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

A medical assistant completes clinical and administrative tasks in doctor’s offices, hospitals and other health care facilities. A medical assistant’s duties can vary from office to office depending on the location, size and specialty of the care facility but, generally, include the following job responsibilities¹:

  • Update and file patient medical records
  • Scheduling appointments, hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Prepare treatment rooms for patient examinations
  • Explaining treatment procedures to patients
  • Collecting laboratory specimens and performing basic laboratory tests
  •  Administering medications and injections

Although medical assistants are cross-trained to perform a combination of back-office and front-office tasks, medical assistants may specialize in either administrative or clinical work in larger practices or hospitals. Clinical medical assistants mainly perform back-office duties, such as drawing blood and helping physicians with patient examinations; administrative medical assistants primarily focus on front-office duties, like coding and scheduling.

What Is a Nursing Assistant?

A nursing assistant, sometimes called a nursing aide, provides basic care for patients in hospitals and in nursing facilities. Nursing assistants have a more physical job than medical assistants, often being asked to help patients with basic tasks like bathing, moving or repositioning patients and monitoring patients’ vital signs. Unlike medical assistants, nursing assistants work solely on the clinical side of health care. In nursing homes and residential care facilities, nursing aides often act as the principal caregivers because of the amount of time they spend with residents.

A nursing assistant’s daily tasks and responsibilities can vary depending on the type of care facility but generally include the following duties²:

  • Answer patient call signals
  • Turn or reposition bedridden patients
  • Help patients perform daily living activities
  • Measure and record food and liquid intake
  • Measure and record urinary and fecal output

Medical Assistant and Nursing Assistant Careers

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assisting is one of the nation’s fastest growing healthcare careers. Technological advancements in healthcare, the growing number of elderly Americans in need of medical treatment and the predicted surge in the number of physicians’ offices and outpatient care facilities are some of the leading factors attributed with the expected job growth for medical assistants over the next decade. The BLS predicts 23 percent growth for medical assistants, or approximately 140,000 new jobs through 2024. The BLS also reports that in 2015 medical assistants earned a median pay of $30,590 per year, or $14.71 per hour.

Nursing Assistant Job Outlook

For many of the same reasons that medical assisting is one of the nation’s fastest growing healthcare careers, nursing assistants are also projected to grow much faster than the national average. According to the BLS, employment of nursing assistants is expected to grow 17 percent through 2024. Employment statistics by the BLS show that the median pay for nursing assistants in 2015 was $25,710 per year, or $12.36 per hour.

Which Medical Support Career Is Right for Me?

Medical assistants need an eye for detail, as they are entrusted to accurately record vital signs and patient information for insurance purposes. They must also have good analytical skills, as reading patient charts and understanding medical diagnoses are critical to the job. Medical assistants deal with a large volume of patients each day, and may only see patients once or twice over the course of months or years. Being personable and friendly is essential to providing quality care.

Nursing assistants provide critical care to elderly and severely ill patients, making them an essential part of the healthcare world. However, the demands of the job can be high, both emotionally and physically. Residents, particularly at nursing homes, often stay for months or even years with nursing assistants as their primary caregiver. Often, nursing assistants form close bonds with their patients which can be beneficial but can make the end of a patient’s life difficult to bear.

Answer the following questions to help decide between starting a career as a medical assistant or nursing assistant:

Do you want to take on the role of caregiver? Nursing assistants often serve patients in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice facilities who need long-term care and help with basic tasks such as bathing and eating. If you want to work with the elderly and take on the role of caregiver, you may be interested in pursuing a career as a nursing assistant.

Are you interested in the administrative side of healthcare? Healthcare administrators are responsible for making sure hospitals and other care providers stay organized so they can focus on delivering the best patient care. If you want to be a part of the administrative side of healthcare, medical assisting might be the better fit.

How important is the job outlook for your career? A lot of people decide to start a career in healthcare because of the job security and earning potential. If your main concern is creating a better life, compare the job outlook for medical assistants and nursing assistants to help decide which career is the best fit for your personal goals.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

If it sounds like medical assisting is the right career for you, or if you would like to learn more about the role of a medical assistant, contact San Joaquin Valley College. SJVC’s Medical Assistant Certificate program will prepare you to work in medical offices and specialty clinics in as little as 9 months. Request information or call toll-free 866-544-7898 to learn more.



Medical assisting is an exciting and rewarding entry-level healthcare career. To help you decide if this is the right path for you, SJVC created a free guide outlining the roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant. Download your guide to learn what medical assistants do, why they are in demand, and how you can become one.

Get Your Guide: What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Related Articles:

Is it Hard to be a Medical Assistant?

What to Look for in an Online Medical Assistant Program in California

Do Medical Assistants Need to be Certified to Work in California?

Medical Assistant Skills and Abilities Checklist

How To Become a Medical Assistant Online

Free Guide to Medical Assisting

Are you interested in medical assisting? Learn all about this career.

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