What is the Difference Between Medical Assistant and CNA?

While Medical Assistants (MAs) can be employed with the same duties as a CNA, there are distinctions between the two. So, what are the basic differences between a Medical Assistant and a Certified Nursing Assistant?

The first difference is evident between the two titles – a CNA is employed most often as an assistant to the registered nurses (RNs) in direct patient care in a clinical setting while a Medical Assistant will be more often employed in a medical office to perform routine clerical and clinical tasks. While the Medical Assistant can assist nurses or doctors, the Medical Assistant should not be confused with the Physician’s Assistant who is much more highly trained in specific responsibilities, and who assists the physician directly.

The Medical Assistant is also routinely trained in phlebotomy where a Nursing Assistant is not. A CNA may attain phlebotomy training (usually at his or her own expense) in order to be more employable in varied settings. An MA will also be trained in front office procedures including medical terminology, transcription, insurance, reception, etc. Since the CNA is rarely called on to perform such duties (usually only in a case of a suddenly absent Unit Care Coordinator), and since the CNA’s focus is more on direct patient care, this is not a necessary focus of CNA training or scope of practice.

It can be more useful to be a CNA trained in other specialties or certifications such as phlebotomy, medical terminology, and medication certification which can be obtained singly over a period of time than to be trained in a single specialty. This allows the CNA many more employment opportunities inside and out of the clinical setting. Often, CNA training and experience is valued by an employer because having been exposed to the clinical setting can mean a greater depth of understanding of the needs of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff members across the board due to the broader day to day experience in a clinical setting.