Certified Nursing Assistant

CNA vs Medical Assistant

Athena Kan
Jan 4, 2023


With the increasing demand for healthcare providers and the aging population, Medical Assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants are some of the most in-demand jobs in America. Medical Assistants and CNAs are both trained to perform basic medical procedures for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices. However, there are several important differences between these two careers you should consider before choosing which one is right for you. We’ll explore what they do, how much they make, education requirements, and more.

Difference between CNA and Phlebotomy

1. What are the requirements to become a Medical Assistant and CNA?

The requirements to become a Medical Assistant and CNA may look similar at first.

  • Both Medical Assistant and CNA programs require that students pass a background check (no felonies or misdemeanors involving assault or theft in the last 5 years). This is because both of these are healthcare roles where you interact with potentially vulnerable patients
  • Both also require a high school diploma or GED, with some schools allowing for students to take an 8th-grade competency exam to be eligible

However, there are some important differences:

  • Medical Assistant certifications take several months (3-10 months) while CNA certification is shorter (usually 3-6 weeks) at private training programs. At a community college or accredited school, Medical Assistant programs can take 1-2 years whereas a CNA program would take only one semester
  • Medical Assistant classes can be expensive ($3000-$10,000), while CNA classes tend to cost much less ($600-1500)
  • Both programs involve an exam after completion to obtain your certification. The CNA exam is required by the state (and is different per state), but always follows the structure of multiple choice test plus clinical skills test. A Medical Assistant exam is not legally required in most states (exceptions are Idaho, Washington, Connecticut, and New Jersey), but almost all employers require certification prior to hiring. There are 3 types of Medical Assistant exams available that are all valid, all offered by private professional organizations

2. What are the duties of a Medical Assistant and CNA?

Medical Assistants provide support to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. They:

  • Perform clinical duties such as collecting lab specimens, drawing blood, and administering medications
  • Assist with patient education and preparation for examination or surgery by taking patients' vital signs and preparing them for procedures such as x-rays
  • In some states, administer injections or prepare medications under direct supervision of a physician or nurse
  • Do administrative tasks such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, and maintaining medical records

In short, CNAs primarily help with activities of daily living. This includes:

  • Assisting with personal hygiene, feeding, bathing, and dressing
  • Measuring vital signs
  • Lifting and moving patients
  • Assisting with patient care by identifying areas of concern (like any bruising, other injuries)

3. How much do CNA and phlebotomy pay?

As an entry-level position in the healthcare industry, CNAs can expect to be paid between $12-$23 per hour depending on the state and facility type they work in. Medical Assistants get paid more, typically $16-27 per hour.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants get paid on average $37,190 annually ($17.88 per hour). CNAs, on the other hand, make on average $30,290 annually ($14.56 per hour).

4. What job opportunities are there for CNA and Medical Assistant?

A question we often get is "Is Medical Assistant higher than CNA?" The short answer is that they are both entry-level roles (a Medical Assistant wouldn't supervise a CNA) that work in very different environments. However, Medical Assistants generally get paid more. Below we break it down:

  • Job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNA jobs are expected to grow by 5% between 2021 to 2031. Medical Assistants are expected to grow even faster at 16%! This is because of the rising cost of other healthcare staff such as nurses -- hospitals are turning to Medical Assistants as a more affordable option.
  • Work environment. Medical Assistants are most commonly found in doctor's offices working close to 9-5 roles. Some will work in hospitals. A CNA will generally work in skilled nursing facilities or hospitals, with many opportunities for overtime or different shifts. Assisted living facilities and home health are also common options for CNAs.
  • Career mobility. Both are beginner roles in healthcare, so promotions typically require additional certifications such as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) or Registered Nurse (RN) credential. However, there are still ways to get promoted and advance more, like any job. Read our post on what comes next for CNAs.

Why should you pick CNA over Medical Assistant?

  • CNAs form stronger relationships with patients. CNAs typically work with the same 5-10 patients in a nursing home or assisted living facility. We've heard some stories of CNAs becoming closer with residents than the residents' own families. If you prefer working with the same patients on a daily basis and forming relationships with them, then CNA will provide more opportunities for that.
  • CNAs have more hands-on responsibilities. Although Medical Assistants are more clinically trained, they typically end up doing more administrative work. If you like moving and work with your hands every hour of the day, CNA work will certainly keep you occupied.
  • CNA programs are shorter and more affordable. If you're looking to become employed as quickly as possible after training—maybe you're looking to start working ASAP, or you want to quickly advance to your next role (eg RN or LVN)—then CNA may be better for you. There are also more CNA programs, with day, evening, accelerated, weekend, etc. options.
  • There's more variety in CNA job opportunities. Whether they are looking to take advantage of shift differentials or have odd schedule requirements, many CNAs appreciate the variety of job opportunities. You can try working in a nursing home, hospital, travel CNA, or something else.

Why should you pick Medical Assistant over CNA?

  • Medical Assistants are paid more. Medical Assistants can make as much as $3-5/hr more than CNAs. 
  • Medical Assistants do more administrative work. If you enjoy receptionist, data entry, or maintaining medical records, Medical Assistant work could be for you.
  • Medical Assistants get involved in clinical tests. Medical Assistants perform basic lab tests, draw blood, and prepare patients for other types of tests. If you're interested in this kind of clinical work, Medical Assisting will give you some exposure to it.
  • Medical Assistants have more stable working conditions. Medical Assistants generally work 9-5 shifts at doctor's offices, whereas CNAs have the opportunity to work overtime or longer shifts at nursing homes.


If you’re trying to decide between being a CNA and a Medical Assistant, there are plenty of pros and cons for each option. As we have discussed, there are many similarities between these two professions, but also some key differences. If you want better pay, more administrative work, or more involved clinical work, then becoming a Medical Assistant might be right for you. On the other hand if a short & fast program is important to you or you want to try out different job opportunities/environments, then becoming certified as an Certified Nursing Assistant could be your answer!

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Written by
Athena Kan

Athena is Co-founder and CEO of Dreambound.

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