The Differences Between a Medical Assistant & Registered Nurse

If you have ever thought of becoming a medical assistant or even a registered nurse, then you’ve probably wondered what the difference is between the two. 

Both jobs are in the medical field and can offer you a promising career full of adventures that will keep your life and interests on your toes. However, before you get started on whatever path you choose to take, it’s important to learn what those differences are to make the right choice.

Education & Training

One of the key differences that you’ll notice right away between the educational requirements of a medical assistant and a registered nurse is education. Although both are considered healthcare professionals, each profession requires different training and education.

  • Medical Assistant

The medical assistant profession is actually more of a catch-all term that refers to a person who offers support to the healthcare team. This can be anything from performing administrative tasks to taking patient history.

Training for the medical assistant profession includes classes that cover the medical setting and legal requirements, medical terminology, job responsibility, and communication skills. There are also standardized tests that you must pass to become a medical assistant and be recognized as a professional in this field.

  • Registered Nurse

A registered nurse is an advanced healthcare professional who provides health care to a patient based on their assessment and the recommendations of a physician or other healthcare professional.

The educational requirements for a registered nurse are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree in nursing
  2. A nursing diploma from a vocational or technical school
  3. An associate’s degree in nursing

Following graduation, the registered nurse must pass a national licensing exam.


The duties of each profession are also different. The medical assistant profession is basically just that: assisting. This means that the medical assistant is there to help out the healthcare team, but they aren’t in the team themselves. This can be anything from taking patient history to changing bandages and giving patients medications. Their tasks are more limited than those of a registered nurse.

On the other hand, the registered nurse is responsible for more hands-on tasks. In addition to providing patient care and assessments, the registered nurse is also responsible for educating the patient by providing them with information about their current condition. They must also assist in taking the patient’s vital signs.

The registered nurse is also expected to work with the medical team to develop a plan for patient recovery, which may involve a recommendation for procedures and medications.

Patient Care

Another great difference between the two professions is how involved the medical assistant and registered nurse are in patient care. As a medical assistant, your role is to work in the background and support the healthcare team. This can be anything from helping the nurses perform their tasks to assisting the lab personnel.

On the other hand, the registered nurse is more involved in the actual care of the patient. This means that they are responsible for assessing the patient’s condition, monitoring the patient’s vitals, and taking care of the patient in ways such as wound care and checking the patient’s blood pressure. The registered nurse is also expected to work with the healthcare team to create a care plan for the patient that is focused on their recovery.

Which is the Best Career for You?

If you’re thinking about entering the medical industry, you must know what you’re getting into. Both the medical assistant and registered nurse professions offer you a promising career full of possibilities, but some differences need to be considered. This way, you’ll have an informed decision about starting your career in the field.

If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, Northwest Suburban College offers a certified medical assistant program. We are near Schaumburg, IL. Contact us today!

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