Confused - CNA vs. PCT vs. Medical Assistant?

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    Forgive my ignorance, I've been researching and trying to weed through the actual information and the "information" from schools advertising their programs. What is the real difference between a CNA, a Patient Care Technician, and a Medical Assistant? I am currently attending nursing school for my RN, but am still in the prerequisite phase. I would like to obtain a CNA, PCT, or MA certificate in the meantime so I can gain some experience, I have 12 years in the IT field and very little medical experience outside of volunteer work. Which is the best route to take? My goal is to work in a hospital, preferably peds but obviously anywhere will do at this juncture. Any advice? The more I can do online the better, I have two small children and I'm a single mother. Specifically I have the following questions:

    1. What is the difference in actual job duties?

    2. Which certification is most useful when applied to an RN?

    3. Which certification has the best job outlook?

    4. Which certification is most likely to lead to a job with more patient care and less office work?

    5. Is it feasible to get any of these certifications online? If so, does anyone know of reputable programs?

    Thanks in advance everyone!
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  3. 11 Comments so far...

  4. 2
    I'm familiar with CNA and medical assistant so here goes
    1. CNAS you do a lot of basic stuff like taking vitals ect. Medical Assistant you will work throughout an office doing everything from phones to injections ect.
    2. CNA is the most useful I think. Most RN programs require CNA and some even require its next step CNA2. Medical Assisting is a whole other field and a separate degree. Most likely you couldn't use most of your prereqs for Medical Assisting.
    3. It depends on where you live, CNAs in some areas can walk out of school into a job in others they spend months looking. Some hospitals use PCTs some not at all. Medical Assisting in my area is huge right now but again in others they can't find a job.
    4. CNA or PCT based on the limited knowledge I have of them from this board.
    5. Honestly I wouldn't do any of these online. I've seen a few programs advertised cna online or pct online the like but I know with CNA the states are strict as to what training they accept to take the state test, Medical Assisting is a 2 year degree that I have yet to see online. There is no substitute for classroom and clinical exp, in my op.
    I've been in exactly your shoes I know its tough with kids. CNA is a fairly quick program but unless your lucky enough to land a hospital job the work can be gross and low paying. Medical Assisting is a fairly easy program to get acceptance to but be mindful of the area you live in. I've gone back and forth as to enrolling and for awhile I was sure I didn't want to do it, then I met some medical professionals who have ditched almost all their other staff for medical assistants and are eager to hire more. And I put in a short stint as a CNA, I do not in any way want to do that for two plus years while I finish my prereqs and then the possible 2 plus year waiting list (from the school itself). I was lucky I got into the best medical assisting program (best reputation best grad to hire ratio) around. RN is the best choice by all means and LPN an equally intensive program would be my second choice if I didn't want to wait the years. But as is I can get my medical Assisting degree in two years go back and with a great gpa get into Respiratory therapy or Medical Lab Tech and come out with two degrees in the time it would take me to get into RN.
    Lerochka and Reedstephanie like this.
  5. 2
    Previous poster had good info. MA would be a total waste of time and money as it doesn't corelate with RN at all. CNA and PCT are mostly the same. You have to have your CNA/EMT etc. certification to get a job in the hospital and than they will train you to do the extras which entail the job duties of a PCT. If you get into nursing school and finish one semester, you can apply to work at hospitals as a PCT/CNA without having to get your certification. In my opinion, CNA would be the best bet. Good luck!

    Also, I agree about not taking any of these online if you find them. You need the visual and hands on learning..plus the schools that offer them online are usually pricey-so really just out to get you to spend more money than you need.
    Reedstephanie and sonomala like this.
  6. 0
    Depends on where you live, but PCT (or PCA) and CNA (or STNA) are all pretty much the same. With PCT (patient care tech) and PCA (patient care assistant) there are no certifications or tests. These are usually people who have let their certifcation lapse, are nursing students or were provided some sort of on the job training. CNA (certified nursing assistant) and STNA (state tested nursing assistant) require training and then testing.

    I don't know of any RN programs that require you to be a CNA, but in most states once you've completed a portion of your RN program you can sit for the CNA (or STNA) exam. In other areas, you can simply work as a PCT (or PCA) without even having to take the test.

    In my area, CNA courses are taught by local nursing homes. I don't believe they charge for the class but you do pay a small fee (around $25 or so I think) for the certification part. The course is short, 4-6 weeks I think.
  7. 2
    1. What is the difference in actual job duties?

    CNAs are what the titles is...They assist the nurses. MAs/PCTs are really no different. MAs and PCTs have the same training really which includes phlebotomy, EKG, and basic nursing skills. PCTs mainly work in hospitals while MAs are seen more in the doctor's office. You can get a job in a hosptial as a PCT and MA, but MA only in a doctor's office.

    2. Which certification is most useful when applied to an RN?

    I would get your CNA. If you are in nursing school, they would hire you first semester after clinicals because the first semester is like taking a CNA course (that is what our instructor told my class when I took it 2 months ago). Plus, if you pair up with a hospital they can help you with tuition reimbersument. My job offers up to $5200/yr for school!

    3. Which certification has the best job outlook?

    According to the Department of Labor statistic's all three have the best outlook. Any thing healthcare does these days. You should have no problem finding a job at all!!!

    4. Which certification is most likely to lead to a job with more patient care and less office work?

    CNA and PCT would be more hands on with patients. CNA/PCT/MA will all have their fair share of paperwork. It really just depends on the facility you work in too and what their protocall is. But CNAs/PCTs in a hosptial would give you the patient contact the most.

    5. Is it feasible to get any of these certifications online? If so, does anyone know of reputable programs?

    DO NOT GET YOUR CERT ONLINE! For a number of reasons...First, it is a HUGE liability for you and your employer if you are trained on the internet. Think about it, would you want someone drawing blood from you who just took a look on the interent? 2. A lot of online schools are scams, especially St. Augustine...3. Though it may seem like a good idea, how are you going to get an externship? How are you going to get patient content so you can practice your skills?? Please don't take me the wrong way, I am not trying to be a mean person, but I looked into this too and I would hate for someone to waste money like I almost did.

    I hope all this info was helpful! Good luck
    Lerochka and Saphyre_Flyme like this.
  8. 0
    Everyone here answered your questions perfectly. I would like to add that CNA's get paid less, but PCT's and MA"s get paid around the same. But with MA you will be in school for about 6 to 12 months, depending on where you go. Whereas you can take a combo CNA\PCT course and be done in 8 weeks fulltime, and be eligible for applying for a CNA or PCT position. So you have two for one and more job opportunities.
  9. 0
    You guys have been so, so helpful, thank you so much! I looked on my state's dept. of labor website and there is a whole list of approved programs, so I'll be making a lot of phone calls. I really appreciate you all taking the time to help me!
  10. 1
    Quote from WeeMama
    You guys have been so, so helpful, thank you so much! I looked on my state's dept. of labor website and there is a whole list of approved programs, so I'll be making a lot of phone calls. I really appreciate you all taking the time to help me!
    Keep us posted on what you do! I can't wait to hear what you turn out to do!!!
    Serendipity, PCT likes this.
  11. 0
    I think I've narrowed it down to 2 schools, Emmanuel and RSAA. Any thoughts on those? The 2 biggest hurdles I am trying to overcome are the cost and childcare. I was laid off from my job of 12 years in the software industry a couple months ago so funds are WAY limited and I'm banking on the certification being worth it. I'm also a single mom of 2 and I'm taking 13 credit hours of pre and co-reqs for the nursing program at a community college, so trying to figure out childcare during the weird clinical hours might be an issue too. Luckily it's very temporary. I really appreciate all your posts, I just don't have the money to throw away on this so I really wanted to be sure it was the right thing to do.
  12. 0
    Hi,
    I live in San Jose. I am about to get enrolled in Medical Assistant courses in next week. Anybody who llives in San Jose that already attend either Bio Health College in San Jose or Unitek College in Fremont, please give me an advice which school is best.Thank you very much,


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