What is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Nurse?

Choosing a job in a health care industry will provide individuals with plenty of opportunities to look for employment in a variety of environment. There are 2 popular careers available in this industry – medical assistant or nurse.

Although there are lots of similarities in their job duties, schedule and work environment however these two are very different careers.

In this short article, we shall try to find similarities and differences in these two careers that you must know before you enroll in CNA program Phoenix.

Patient care

Both medical assistant as well as nurse has to provide patient care. Providing patient care will include assisting patient with various activities such as:

  • Hygiene and feeding
  • Patient wound care
  • Preparing patients for various diagnostic testing/procedures.

Both medical assistant and also nurse is responsible for preventing illness and infection to spread by providing patients a clean environment in a place where they will get their care.

This will include:

  • Changing bed linens
  • Various cleaning non-disposable equipment
  • Disinfecting the areas which are shared by the patients.

Job duties

Having few similarities in their job duties, but few differences between their duties performed are also plenty. Medical assistants are typically assigned variety of responsibilities like patient care and also administrative duties.

However, nurses typically will focus on taking care of patient minimal administrative duties. MAs will follow doctor’s orders and perform only those cares directly instructed by the doctor.

Nurses too, follow doctor’s order but they are trained for writing patient care plans also.

One more difference in MA and nurse’s jobs include administrative duties. Usually MA is responsible for:

  • Scheduling patients
  • Attending telephones
  • Medical billing

While nurses will document patient’s condition by writing various care planning.

Scope of practice

MAs work directly under licensed medical doctor, in some cases under registered nurse too. Their scope of practices is:

  • Direct patient care
  • Obtaining health histories
  • Assisting with certain minor surgery
  • Administering medications
  • Basic patient education
  • Administrative procedures.

Certain additional responsibilities can also be given during emergencies.


The licensed nurse and also registered nurse will work under their individual license. Thus, they have much wider practice scope then MA. Nurses too, perform most of those duties performed by MA.

Since nurses get much deeper training so they can take patient care in much advanced level. Nurses can provide advanced medications e.g.

  • Chemotherapy
  • Various allergy testing of blood products
  • Few invasive cares

Registered nurses are specialized in areas like

  • Medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Any emergency medicines

Education differences

  1. Medical assistant:

Generally, medical assistants attend MA program for 2 years, 1 year or 9 months. Degree in “Associate of Applied Science” for medical assisting takes 2 years, which is most in-depth option. Diploma/certificate programs may take 9 or 12 months.

During first year both MA and nursing program is similar where they teach:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Chemistry or biology
  • Lifespan
  • Pharmacology

Medical assisting programs include administrative training, but nursing school will not. MAs will also handle various medical insurance claims, make appointments and file medical records

2. Nurses:

Nurses can complete 1-year nursing school to earn licensed practical nurse degree. They may go for additional schooling to get registered nurse designation. 2-year nursing schools will offer Associate of Nursing, and 4–year Bachelor degree will earn Bachelors of Nursing designation.