What Is the Difference Between RN and MA?

The technology supporting healthcare is constantly evolving, as well as the education and roles of healthcare workers.

Now more than ever, healthcare professionals have almost endless opportunities to pursue a career in the medical field.

However, choosing which path to take can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are not fully aware of what stands behind each medical tittle.

If you want to start a registered nurse (RN) career or a medical assistant (MA), then you are probably familiar with their responsibilities.

Both RNs and MAs take care of patients, improve their health and overall well-being, but there are some differences as well.


Education is the first step and educational programs for MAs and RNs differ.

The most obvious difference is in the program duration.

The programs for nurses are much longer than programs for medical assistants.

Even though there could be some slight differences between the state regulations, on average you will need two years to earn an associate degree in nursing – ADN.

To get a bachelor’s degree in nursing – BSN, it will take you at least four years.

Each nursing program includes traditional classroom education and clinical practice hours.

Nowadays, you can attend classroom education online.

The clinical practice is more demanding for nurses than for medical assistants.

Medical assistants have to meet the minimal requirement of holding a high school diploma or GED, to start their on-the-job training.

However, it is not common to start your education in this way.

Rather, MAs should go through official, state-approved medical assistant training programs.

Similar to nursing programs, these include both coursework and clinical practice, but also internship experience.

RN VS. MA: Employment and Salary

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts higher demand for RNs and MAs in the future.

It is applied to all health care professionals.

As for the salaries, you can expect the RN to earn more money.

For example, the data from the  U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook showed that an RN earned $70,000 in 2017.

In the same year, the average salary of a medical assistant was $32,480.

The data also showed that RN who hold a BSN earn more money than those who completed the ADN program.

Similar, medical assistants with certificates earn more money than non-certified workers.

Registered nurses can further specialize in fields such as labor, critical care, or others.

Specialty can improve the salary in some states and some facilities.

The job of RN and MA may be similar, but the core is different.

The common work environment of RN are hospitals, clinics, surgical centers, long-term care facilities, etc.

Registered nurses can choose a job related to the chart review within some insurance companies as well.

However, the duties of the registered nurse are always focused on patient care by the doctor’s instructions.

An RN always works following the standards and requirements of the nurse license.

On the other hand, medical assistants’ common position is in the clinic, but working under the direct supervision of an RN or physician.

MA can assist in clinical activities, but also perform any administrative task.

Job Duties of RN and MA


  • Provide care
  • Take the health history
  • Conduct physical assessments, diagnostic test or order them
  • Interpret the information gathered from the patient
  • Make decisions about necessary actions according to the patient information
  • Inform patients about treatment and necessary procedure
  • Guide the patient thought the treatment plans, observe the patient response
  • Monitor and administer medications
  • Assist in some patient activities – bathing, eating
  • Work with supervisors and physicians to improve the outcome
  • Coordinate other healthcare workers
  • Supervise the work of LPN – licenses practical nurses, certified nurse assistants – CNA and medical assistants – MA
  • Discharge patients
  • Communicate with family
  • Other activities determined by the scope of nursing practice

MA duties

  • Take health history
  • Communicate with patients about treatments
  • Perform preparation tasks before the examination
  • Assist during exam
  • Collect and prepare samples for laboratory
  • Assist or perform laboratory tests
  • Administer medicaments
  • Draw blood
  • Remove sutures
  • Change dressings
  • Answer phone
  • Greet patients
  • Handle billing, bookkeeping, and other correspondence
  • Schedule health appointments
  • Deal with insurance forms

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