Learn the Difference between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant - SALTER College
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Learn the Difference between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant

Relevant Campus(es): West Boylston

difference between medical assistant and nursing assistant

This overview can help you decide on a healthcare career path

Are you thinking about a career in the healthcare industry? Do you want a job in which you’re directly helping patients? Are you looking for an entry-level position? Do you want to be able to train quickly to get into the workforce? Becoming a medical assistant may be for you. However, you may be wondering what the difference is between this position and a nursing assistant. Both of these roles are team-oriented and a critical component of the healthcare industry. Read on to find out more about the differences.

Nursing assistants

Nursing assistants primarily work in healthcare settings such as long-term care facilities, rehab centers, and nursing homes. They usually report directly to a head nurse and help the healthcare team by handling hands-on basic care for patients, including:

  • Keeping patients’ charts up to date
  • Measuring vital signs
  • Bathing and helping patients with personal hygiene  
  • Feeding or assisting patients with eating
  • Helping patients to move about (getting in or out of bed, walking, getting into a wheelchair)

Medical assistants

Medical assistants can work in hospitals but often work in a physician's office and may report directly to the doctor. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the patient care aspects of the practice are running smoothly for the doctor. Like nursing assistants, a medical assistant will often take patients’ vital signs. But their duties tend to extend a bit more broadly. Some additional tasks this position might cover include:

  • Escorting patients to exam rooms
  • Recording patients’ medical histories.
  • Removing sutures and wound care
  • Handling and processing specimens, such as blood and urine
  • Maintaining electronic health records (HER)
  • Managing the scheduling of appointments

You can see that some of these responsibilities represent more advanced clinical care, while others can fall into a more clerical or administrative role. This can mean a larger variety of tasks throughout the course of the average day.

Training required

The required raining is not the same for a nursing assistant and a medical assistant. The skills needed for a nursing assistant position are less advanced than for a medical assistant position, so the nursing assistant training takes less time—usually about three months. During that time, you’ll learn the skills needed for basic patient care. You’ll also learn how to meet the needs of patients in a long-term care facility.

A medical assistant training program takes approximately one year. During training, you’ll study many topics, such as:

  • Record keeping
  • Medical procedures
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • How to administer injections
  • How to draw blood
  • How to take vital signs
  • Pharmacology

Which you choose will depend on your personal preferences—not only for how long you'd like to be in school before you join the workforce, but also for the types of tasks you’d like to be responsible for on a daily basis. Whichever you choose, you’ll be starting down a career path that’s all about helping people. And that can be a very gratifying way to spend your workday! We wish you the best as you make your decision.


This post is part of the Salter College weekly blog. We’re dedicated to helping all prospective and current students to reach their career goals. Contact us today to learn more about our number of different career training programs, or to request more information. We look forward to hearing from you.


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