Which has more responsibility/patient interaction: CNA or Medical Assistant?

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    I'm trying to get patient care experience working in the medical field for PA school. I need something with a lot of patient interaction, and I'd prefer to have a bit of responsibility. Which should I look to work as, a CNA or Medical Assistant? Thanks.
    Joe V likes this.
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  3. 17 Comments so far...

  4. 7
    I've worked as a nursing assistant (hospital), worked with CNAs in a nursing home, and now work in a primary care clinic that hires far more medical assistants than RNs, so I see what the MAs do every day and are responsible for.

    As a CNA in a hospital or nursing home you would be responsible for vital signs, physical cares like transfers, toileting, feeding; reporting any changes to the LPN or RN. The training takes much less time. You are probably more likely to get injured. In a hospital setting you would get exposed to more inpatient type of patient population, which could be anything from rehab to ICU or recovery room even. You would work with much more ill/debilitated patients.

    MAs do things like vital signs, room patients, assist with pelvic exams, schedule tests and follow up visits. They learn phlebotomy, which is a great skill to have. It takes longer to get certified as an MA because they learn a ton of skills (injections, tympanograms, ear irrigations, just all kinds of things). You might make calls to notify patients of test results, you could get to help with procedures like suturing, abcesses, stuff like that. More chance to work M-F, no holidays, fewer or no weekends depending on when the office is open. As opposed to CNAs, who are needed 24-7-365. Much less lifting and risk of injury as an MA than as a CNA, and patients are pretty much ambulatory and well. You would also work more closely with the docs, NP, PA.

    Both positions need good time-management and customer service skills which are essential in health care.


    You might want to look at the job availability in your area, what new hires are making for each position, cost of either program in both money and time spent.
    MA_Davis, student forever, ElSea, and 4 others like this.
  5. 3
    Hi I am a CNA. I have a lot of responsibility. I actually have more direct contact with the patient than a nurse does. I have caught many patients with an extremely low blood sugar, high fever, respiratory distress, and more. The nurses still have contact with the residents but not as much as I do. I see them more (bedcheck every 2 hours.) I am glad I pursued this route. I love feeling like I make a difference.
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    Like another poster said, MAs have more close interaction with the providers. They have a little more responsibility as they help with the procedures in office. However, keep in mind that M-F work schedule will be hard to maneuver around school. There is just not that great a need for MAs evenings and weekends. Also, MAs go to school for almost a year to learn procedures you will just have to re-learn or never need in PA school. You can become a CNA in 6 weeks. So, by the time you graduate from MA school, you would have had almost a year of CNA experience under your belt with half the pre-reqs done for PA school which might even be paid for by your employer. Sounds like you already know what you want to do. Going the MA route will just push you a year out with untransferable credits. Many MA schools are for profit and charge more than $10,000 which would negate the wage differences of being a CNA through school.

    I vote CNA. Good luck whatever you decide to do.
  7. 1
    Quote from Maui79
    I'm trying to get patient care experience working in the medical field for PA school. I need something with a lot of patient interaction, and I'd prefer to have a bit of responsibility. Which should I look to work as, a CNA or Medical Assistant? Thanks.
    I've been a CNA for almost 2 years now, and I can do all the things an MA does. I'm not knocking MA's, but I feel we as CNA's have FAR more contact with patients AND families. I'm going back to school in the fall to get my RN License, but will never forget all the great things I get to do as a CNA. I'm SO grateful that I get to make a difference!!
    ElSea likes this.
  8. 3
    Quote from boltzfan
    I've been a CNA for almost 2 years now, and I can do all the things an MA does. I'm not knocking MA's, but I feel we as CNA's have FAR more contact with patients AND families. I'm going back to school in the fall to get my RN License, but will never forget all the great things I get to do as a CNA. I'm SO grateful that I get to make a difference!!
    You can give injections? Call in test results? Assist in minor surgical procedures? Coordinate continuing care and diagnostic imaging? Manage medical records release and requests? Call in medications to pharmacies? Teach about medication administration to pts? Order labs and cultures on behalf of the dr? (True, MAs cannot "order" tests, but the doctors they work for will have a set of instructions to implement if x,y,z occur, including ordering tests) If you are doing the above things, you are outside of your scope of practice. I am wondering if you have ever worked in an out pt facility and see all that MAs do(which is much more than VS and charting). They are the right hand to the MD. I have worked with both MAs and CNAs. They are totally different jobs. I just find this statement kind of offensive to the amazing MAs that i know.
    PinkCupcake, MA_Davis, and SHGR like this.
  9. 0
    I agree that the responsibilities of the CNA and the MA are completely different. I think each has it's own set of responsibilities that are unique to their positions. CNA's do have much more physical contact and depending on the facility can perform many of the tasks in acute care .....where as MA's are in the office arena.

    I think if you are thinking PA school......the acute care contact will be important in assessment/notification of change in conditions and in how to handle acute deterioration just by observing and participating in the acute care arena. While the MA admittedly has the better hours....they are really mostly, if not exclusively, in the office arena.

    As a CNA, I would probably try to get into an ICU or ED setting (as an ED tech which may require EMT certification) which historically allow more responsibility to the CNA once trusted and trained. Many hospitals allow phlebotomy do be done by the CNA's.

    But I agree it depends what jobs are available to your area.
  10. 0
    Quote from grownuprosie

    You can give injections? Call in test results? Assist in minor surgical procedures? Coordinate continuing care and diagnostic imaging? Manage medical records release and requests? Call in medications to pharmacies? Teach about medication administration to pts? Order labs and cultures on behalf of the dr? (True, MAs cannot "order" tests, but the doctors they work for will have a set of instructions to implement if x,y,z occur, including ordering tests) If you are doing the above things, you are outside of your scope of practice. I am wondering if you have ever worked in an out pt facility and see all that MAs do(which is much more than VS and charting). They are the right hand to the MD. I have worked with both MAs and CNAs. They are totally different jobs. I just find this statement kind of offensive to the amazing MAs that i know.
    I do believe that MAs and CNAs are two different health care profession based on responbility or pt care per se. Yeah as a CNA we cannot perform as such because our job is 100 percent pt care. We cannot do injections or any kind of surgical procedures. Then let's go back to the main querry... Which has more responsibility/ patient care? Patient care based on ADL ( activities of daily living) which CNAs also do vital signs and charting Where at least 75 to 90 percent of interaction and care takes place. I work at a nursing facility and we have LVNs and RNs to work with we do not have MAs. I do believe you are right in the area of out pt facility and mostly work with HHA/CNA that has a different scope of work. MAs also work at any facility in a clinical environment. So it all depends on which area of health care the poster would want to compare pt interaction and responsibility with. We cannot really justify the scope of pt care through MAs and CNAs.
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    Both options will give you lots of contacts with patients. MA will usually have contact on an out patient basis such as office visits. CNA deal with more inpatients because they are primarily employed inLTC.
  12. 0
    Not all MAs get to do injections. It is illegal in my state (Connecticut). I do do get to draw blood occasionally on my externship but it usually goes to the RN's to do that. As a CNA I thik you would have more options job wise and more insight into disease process, etc. It depends on the state you live in as well.
    Quote from Maui79
    I'm trying to get patient care experience working in the medical field for PA school. I need something with a lot of patient interaction, and I'd prefer to have a bit of responsibility. Which should I look to work as, a CNA or Medical Assistant? Thanks.


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