Medical Assistants (MAs) are an integral part of the healthcare team. They are the front-line staff in multiple care areas, including medical offices and sometimes inpatient units. MAs perform skilled administrative tasks such as coding and billing, making appointments, and maintaining medical records. However, they are also trained in clinical duties such as:
- Taking vital signs
- Collecting pertinent medical data from patients
- Simple wound care
- Administering injections
- Applying orthopedic appliances
Before pursuing an RN degree, it’s important to understand what the medical assistant’s role will be. It is a misconception to believe that MAs “do the same things as nurses.” While there is overlap with specific tasks, RNs are trained in the nursing process; they assess patients, determine a nursing diagnosis, create a care plan, implement actions, and evaluate the patient’s response. This process is one that needs to be practiced as RNs perform it continuously, and sometimes under pressure. Essentially, it involves developing a whole new way of thinking critically.
Additionally, RNs are considered leaders of the care team. They are responsible for nurse assistants, LPNs, and other ancillary staff. They direct and oversee the care team to ensure patient care needs are met. As leaders, they hold more responsibility and have a great deal more independence. They can offer care advice and perform extensive patient education without physician involvement.
MA vs. RN Employment & Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), both registered nurses and medical assistants, as well as most healthcare occupations, are in high demand and will continue to experience above-average career growth over other occupations for the years to come. According to 2019 data from the BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses is $73,300 compared to $34,800 for medical assistants.
Generally, registered nurses with a BSN make a higher salary than nurses from ADN programs, and certified medical assistants can expect a higher wage than the non-certified. Additionally, registered nurses can become certified in specialties like labor & delivery or critical care, which depending on the state and employer, typically enjoy a slight increase in pay as well.
While registered nurses and medical assistants share some patient care similarities, these two careers have some very distinct differences. Registered nurses frequently work in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, surgical centers, and can also venture into non-traditional nursing roles away from direct patient care, such as chart review positions with insurance companies. Normally, job duties for registered nurses are focused solely on patient care with related chart documentation and don’t cross-train into administrative type tasks as medical assistants frequently do. Registered nurses report to a supervising physician and carry-out patient care as directed by doctor’s orders while working within the scope of their own licensure. Medical assistants typically work in clinic settings under the direct supervision of a registered nurse or physician while assisting in patient-centered clinical duties as well as performing administrative tasks within the office setting.
Why Should an MA Pursue an RN Degree?
Becoming an RN allows for more autonomy. Medical assistants operate under the direction of a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. They cannot work independently. RNs are also skilled in critical thinking and education. Those interested in a career with independence and a component in patient education would enjoy working as an RN.