Medical Assistant vs CNA

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 22, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Health
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While medical assistants and CNAs are both healthcare professionals, they are not the same. They may do some things that are similar, but they fill different roles. Some overlap is found within these two professionals.

If you’re trying to decide between a career as a medical assistant or CNA, a better understanding of both is a good idea. Let’s look at what both are and the differences between the two.

Medical Assistant vs CNA

What is a Medical Assistant?

Also called a clinical assistant, a medical assistant is a healthcare professional. This person will assist a doctor or a health professional. They will perform administrative and clinical tasks.

Medical assistants will administer medications, record health information, and provide injections. They tend to work in physician offices, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. Your job duties as a medical assistant will depend on your employer, your specialty, and your level of training.

Job Duties

When you become a medical assistant, you will likely perform the following job duties:

You may also take care of some office management tasks.

What is a CNA?

A CNA or certified nurse assistant is a healthcare professional. This person will support a nurse with patient care. They will not handle any administrative duties, however.

As a CNA, you will be supervised by a registered nurse. you will often report directly to them if a patient has an issue. CNAs will provide hands-on care, often including bathing and feeding patients. They may also check vital signs, monitor inputs and outputs, and with physical activities.

Job Duties

When you decide to become a CNA, you will provide very specific job duties including helping patients with:

These are the main tasks you will perform as a CNA.

Medical Assistant vs CNA: The Main Differences

The main difference you will see between these two careers is found in the job duties. Medical assistants will perform clinical and administrative duties. CNAs, however, will act as a nurse aid. Some of the other differences between a medical assistant and a CNA are found below.

Education and Credentials

Both a medical assistant and CNA will need the proper education and training before working in these positions. A medical assistant will need to complete a medical assistant training program. This type of program will take ten months to a year to complete. You can also get a two-year medical assistant associate degree.

A medical assistant program will include classes on medical terminology and anatomy. You will likely complete an internship, as well.

If you want to become a CNA, you will need to complete a nursing assistant program. This type of program will only take six to 12 weeks to complete, depending on your state. Often, you will need to complete 75 hours of state-approved training to become certified.

Most CNA programs also don’t require an internship. However, you will need on-the-job training from your employer.

The licensing requirements for both CNAs and medical assistants depend on your state. They can vary a bit and you should check the educational qualifications of your state.

The Work Environment

The work environment of a medical assistant and CNA are pretty similar. However, they can also be a bit different, depending on the specialty.

A medical assistant will likely work a 40-hour week, but may also work part-time. If you become a clinical medical assistant, you will have pretty much the same work environment as a CNA. However, if you’re a specialized medical assistant, you will work in a very specific area, such as pediatrics, gynecology, or obstetrics.

CNAs will work long shifts, often 12 hours per shift. You may be able to find some part-time CNA jobs, but these are rather rare. It’s not uncommon for CNAs to work on holidays and weekends.

Most of the time you are working, you will be on your feet. It’s necessary to have good physical stamina to work as a CNA.

Hourly Pay/Salary

While the pay for a medical assistant and CNA are pretty similar, they can be different. The average hourly pay for a medical assistant, according to, is $16.76. This can go up with experience to nearly $20 per hour. Some top employers will pay over $23 per hour for good medical assistants. If you specialize, you can make even more per hour.

As a CNA, you can earn an average per hour amount of $16.85. This is slightly higher than a medical assistant. However, the top employers don’t pay over $20 per hour for CNAs. While you can earn more with a specific specialty, medical assistants can make more with experience and specific specialties.

Where Medical Assistants and CNAs Work

Both medical assistants and CNAs will work in similar places. They work in healthcare settings, which come in a wide variety. Some of the common places where medical assistants and CNAs work include:

If you prefer a fast-paced environment, a hospital is the right place for you. This type of work environment will provide quite a bit of hands-on experience, but comes with a heavy workload.

You can also choose to work in a less patient-centric environment, such as a diagnostic lab or medical research institute. These two types of environments provide more time running tests and recording samples than working with patients.

Medical assistants and CNAs can also work in the home of patients. If you prefer this type of work, an outpatient care option fits well for you.

Both medical assistants and CNAs are healthcare professionals with rewarding careers. If you want to help others, you can go into either of these professions to do so. These entry-level options can help you start a career in the healthcare industry and grow your career to a higher position.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.