What Are the Differences Between Nurses and Medical Assistants?

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If you’ve been to a doctor’s office or stayed in a hospital, you’ve probably been cared for by nurses and medical assistants. They may seem similar to you, but they have very different responsibilities. Medical assistants help doctors during patient exams and procedures, and they handle the administrative side of an office or department. Nurses provide direct patient care and they have more autonomy than medical assistants. They follow doctor’s orders, but they do a lot on their own. Here’s a closer look at the differences between these two professions: 

Nurses Must Complete More Training than Medical Assistants

Because nurses have more responsibilities than medical assistants, their training and education is more in-depth. They learn how to treat severe wounds, provide IV, and insert catheters. Aside from the classroom lectures and coursework, nursing students must also complete a clinical rotation at a local hospital or healthcare facility. This allows them to practice patient care under the supervision and guidance of doctors and nurse leaders. Nurses also need an associate degree to become a Registered Nurse, while medical assistants can find employment with a certificate. Finally, nurses need to be licensed in all 50 states while only some states require licensing for medical assistants. 

Nurses Have a Broader Scope of Responsibility than Medical Assistants

Nurses have a much broader scope of responsibility than medical assistants. Their primary focus is patient care, and this can include administering medication and vaccinations, inserting catheters, performing diagnostic procedures, and creating patient care plans – duties that a medical assistant is not allowed to perform. On the other hand, a medical assistant tends to handle more administrative work than a nurse. Medical assistants are typically the first person a patient encounters in a doctor’s office or medical unit. They answer phones and emails, help patients fill out paperwork, schedule appointments, and submit insurance claims. Nurses need to add to patient medical records and they may do some administrative tasks in small facilities. Generally, though, administrative tasks fall to the medical assistant so the nurse can concentrate on patient care. In some facilities, a medical assistant may report to a nurse, but a nurse will never report to a medical assistant.

Nurses Must Be Licensed

The reason nurses have a broader scope of responsibility is because they have more in-depth education and training. Before they graduate from nursing school, they must sit for the NCLEX exam, a national test that validates their knowledge of medical terms, patient care procedures, infection control, medication, and more. Once they pass this test and submit the proper paperwork to their state board, they can earn a license and begin to practice nursing. A medical assistant may not be required to attain a license, but some employers prefer licensure or certification. Medical assistants must perform their duties under the supervision of a doctor or even a registered nurse. 

Nurses Typically Work in Hospitals

The majority of nurses work in hospitals or ambulatory healthcare services while some work in long-term care centers. Medical assistants commonly work in doctor’s office and some work in hospital units, usually specializing in either clerical or clinical work. 

Are you interested in a career in medical assisting or nursing? Contact Charter College today! We offer a Certificate in Medical Assistant at several campuses and an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing at our Anchorage campus and can prepare you for entry-level work. Call 888-200-9942 or fill out the form to learn more.