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CNA to Medical Assistant (CMA)
7 Things You Need to Know

1. Medical assistant duties & responsibilities

The biggest difference between CNA and MA is the scope of duties you are qualified to perform.

Working as a CNA involves helping patients with basic living activities, including bathing, eating and drinking, getting dressed, or using the toilet. CNAs can also take vital signs such as temperature or blood pressure.

There are two primary types of medical assistants: clinical medical assistants and administrative medical assistants:

Clinical MA

Clinical medical assistants work hands-on with patients. This is similar to what you’re already used to, but MA duties go beyond those of a CNA, including administering injections/medications, EKGs, phlebotomy, and additional assistance with exams and procedures.

Administrative MA

Administrative medical assistants work in a non-clinical role, primarily responsible for administrative tasks such as answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, updating electronic medical records, and coordinating practice operation reports.

Every job is different, and you may discover an overlap in clinical vs. administrative job responsibilities depending on where you work. When applying for MA jobs, make sure to closely compare job descriptions so you know exactly what will be expected of you.

Going from CNA to MA represents a step up in what you’re qualified to do in a healthcare facility.

2. Education requirements

Given the expanded scope of duties, becoming a medical assistant requires additional education beyond what’s required to work as a CNA.

Our goal is to help our students become maximally qualified both for the first medical assistant job and future career advancement. That’s why we offer multiple educational pathways for prospective medical assistants:

Team of Certified Medical Assistants Smiling
Length10 months
Credits24
FormatOnline
ClassesView the curriculum
Medical Assistant Smiling with Elderly Patient
Length20 months
Credits60
FormatOnline
ClassesView the curriculum

3. Certification requirements

You’ll want to become certified—this is key! The best way to maximize your qualifications for your first MA job is earning certification. (add 1 footer reference here)

Keep certification in mind when you’re choosing an educational program. Both our diploma and associate degree curriculums include preparation for key medical assisting certification exams:

  • Diploma program: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
  • Associate degree program: Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists (AMT)

To help ensure you get certified and best prepare yourself for career success, we pay for your first attempt on the certification exam you choose.

Employers know medical assisting graduates who earn certification are ready from day 1 and have the potential to blossom into key team members.

4. Higher salary

You’ll need to advance your education to qualify to become a medical assistant, which will cost you both time and money. But it’s an investment in yourself that can potentially lead to a higher salary in the future.

Medical assistants earn a 15% higher average salary than nursing assistants, according to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Importantly, the college-level credential you earn as part of becoming a medical assistant can set you up for a wider variety of career options in the future.

By earning a diploma or associate degree, you’ll raise the ceiling on both your immediate and long-term earning potential.

Average salary, May 2021*

Job / careerPer hourPer year
Nursing Assistants (BLS)$15.99$33,250
Medical Assistants (BLS)$18.36$38,190

5. Job outlook

While both CNAs and MAs are expected to add more than 100,000 jobs each from 2020 to 2030, total employment of MAs is expected to rise at a faster rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Healthcare jobs overall are expected to grow 16% over the same period. By comparison, medical assistants are projected to be in higher demand in the coming years.

Now is an excellent time to begin earning the education you need to compete for more jobs—and potentially earn a higher salary.

Projected employment growth, 2020-2030*

Job / careerJobs addedEmployment increase
Nursing Assistants (BLS)115,3008%
Medical Assistants (BLS)132,60018%

6. Where you may work

Transition to a job as a medical assistant and there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be working in a different type of healthcare facility.

Percent of total occupational employment in industry, May 2021i

IndustryNursing AssistantsMedical Assistants
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)35.8%1.0%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals29.4%14.7%
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly10.7%1.1%
Home Health Care Services6.4%0.3%
Employment Services3.0%1.9%
Offices of Physicians1.3%58.0%
Outpatient Care Centers0.9%8.9%
Offices of Other Health Practitioners0.3%8.1%

i. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational employment and wage statistics, May 2021: All data. United States Department of Labor. https://www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm. This table includes the top 5 industries for each occupation, 2 of which are shared by both occupations. That’s why there are only 8 industries and percentages do not add to 100%.

Examples of how to interpret this data:

  • 35% of all Nursing Assistants are employed in Nursing Care Facilities
  • 14.7% of all Medical Assistants are employed in General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

As a medical assistant, you are much less likely to work in a nursing or elder care facility, and much more likely to work in a physician’s office.

If you currently work in a hospital, you may be able to find an MA job internally after earning an education and getting certified.

7. Career prospects

Going from CNA to medical assistant represents an important career choice.

While becoming a medical assistant doesn’t preclude you from a future career in nursing, this is clearly a step away from nursing and into allied health—a broad group of healthcare careers distinct from nursing, medicine and pharmacy.

Before you make a final decision, be sure to look ahead to who you want to become in the future to determine the better path for you:

I'm interested in non-nursing careers

Medical assisting can be a great way to work more closely with other allied health professionals and find your place. There are many career possibilities for medical assistants you might consider in the future, including healthcare administration or health informatics.

I want to continue in nursing

Consider becoming a Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) or Registered Nurse (RN). You can always return to nursing in the future, but in a nursing context, medical assisting is a step sideways rather than forwards.

I’m not committed either way

That’s OK. Choosing the medical assistant pathway today can qualify you for a good job in less than 1-2 years depending on the degree you choose. You can transfer credit earned in an MA program today into many different types of programs in the future.

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