Medical Assistant vs CNA: What are the Differences?

Medical Assistant vs CNA: What are the Differences?

Many people looking to start a career in healthcare consider becoming either a medical assistant (MA) or a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

While both are jobs that you can start with a relatively short amount of training compared to a Registered Nurse (RN), they are slightly different in scope.

Each of these careers has their own pay range, roles and responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses, and educational requirements. This guide is to help you better understand the differences between the two positions so you can make more informed decisions about your career.

Medical Assistant Roles and Responsibilities

Medical assistants undertake a large range of responsibilities. The duties of a medical are split between administrative and clinical tasks.

Here are some of the administrative duties a medical assistant may be responsible for:

  • Welcoming patients and answering the phone
  • Setting appointments for patients
  • Overseeing patients’ medical records
  • Inputting and supervising patients’ insurance information
  • Organizing necessary information, such as hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Handling patient correspondence
  • Moving patient information from paper records to electronic health records (EHR)

These are some of the clinical duties a medical assistant may be tasked with completing:

  • Preparing patients for medical examinations
  • Writing down medical histories
  • Measuring vital signs, like blood pressure
  • Drawing blood for testing
  • Removing sutures and changing dressings
  • Performing basic laboratory exams
  • Helping physicians with medical examinations
  • Administering injections or giving medications per physician’s instructions and as regulated by state law
  • Instructing patients about medications and special diets they may need

Medical assistants may perform both clinical and administrative duties in a smaller doctor’s office. In a large healthcare facility, like a hospital, a medical assistant may specialize in either clinical or administrative work. Because medical assistants take patients’ personal information, they must also be able to keep that information private.

Roles and Responsibilities for CNAs

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and retirement communities. They help patients with daily living, including personal hygiene, moving, and eating. Some nursing assistants may also dispense medicine to patients, under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Daily responsibilities of a certified nursing assistant include:

  • Answer call signals from patients
  • Help patients perform daily living activities
  • Measure food intake and water consumption
  • Cleaning room and changing bedsheets
  • Bathing and cleaning patients, helping them with hygiene
  • Taking patients vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature
  • Serving meals to patients and helping them eat
  • Helping patient with daily exercise and physical therapy
  • Turning and repositioning patients who are bedridden

Nursing assistants may be the primary caregiver for patients in a residential care facility or nursing home.

Where Do They Work?

Though the positions may seem similar, medical assistants and certified nursing assistants typically work in different environments. Medical assistants tend to work in medical offices and outpatient settings, while CNAs work in healthcare facilities where there are large nursing staffs like hospitals or long-term care facilities. Medical assistants help physicians, and CNAs help registered nurses.

Common places where medical assistants work:

·         Private practice doctor’s offices

·         Multi-physician medical offices

·         Outpatient care facilities

·         Chiropractic offices

Common places where CNAs work:

·         Hospitals

·         Assisted living facilities

·         Skilled nursing facilities

·         Home healthcare organizations

·         Retirement facilities

Requirements for Education and Training

Medical assistants have a longer training period than CNAs. Most medical assistant programs are certification programs that takes about 9 to 12 months to complete. CNA training programs are shorter, usually 4 to 12 weeks in length.


Time to Complete


Approved training program

4 to 12 weeks

Medical Assistant

Certificate or diploma

9 to 12 months

For medical assistants, it is mandatory to pass the certification exam to become certified, but it is not a requirement to gain employment as a Medical Assistant.  Being a Certified Medical Assistant is recommended but not required. The training programs should include an unpaid externship at a local medical facility. The externship at Campus in Sacramento is 200 hours. A medical assistant training program will give students all the clinical and administrative skills they need to begin their career in a medical office.

Salary for Medical Assistants

The Bureau of Labor Statistics project medical assistant jobs will grow about 14% between 2022 and 2032, which is much faster than the average for all jobs in the US. [1] Across the US, in 2023, the median salary for medical assistants was $42,000 a year and the hourly wage was about $20.19 per hour. In California in 2023, the mean wage for medical assistants was about $50,900 and the mean hourly wage was $24.47.

For nursing assistants in the US in 2023, the mean annual salary was $39,610 and the mean hourly wage was $19.04. In California, in 2023 the mean annual salary for nursing assistants was $47.070 and the mean hourly wage was $22.63. These jobs are projected to increase about 4% from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average of all jobs.

Become a Certified Medical Assistant in About 42 Weeks

Our Medical Assisting Certification Program at our Campus Sacramento location trains students in the protocols and procedures used every day in clinics, hospitals, and assisted living environments.

You can become a medical assistant through the training program at Campus at Sacramento. Our comprehensive medical assistant training program is 38 weeks of classroom training followed by a 4 to 5-week externship. After this, you can take the certification exam and begin your career as a medical assistant.  

For more information, contact our Admissions department or fill out our Request Information form. We look forward to helping you start your healthcare career.


[1] Note: The data provided above are from a source unaffiliated with Campus, are for informational purposes only and represent the employment field as a whole. They are not solely specific to Campus graduates and, by providing the above information, Campus makes no representation, direct or implied, or opinion regarding employability.