Are Medical Assistants and CNAs the Same?

Medical Assistant or CNA? Which Career Is Right for You?

The healthcare field offers a wide range of career options for people interested in helping others and working in a rewarding position. Comparing the different career paths within the healthcare field can be difficult, however, as much confusion exists over each type of job’s specific responsibilities, salary and qualifications.

When discussing career options with students, one of the most common questions we are asked here at Cambridge is “Are medical assistants and certified nursing assistants the same thing?” The answer is, quite simply, no.

The Differences Between Medical Assistants and CNAs

While it is true that medical assistants and CNAs are both employed in the healthcare field, and often work with doctors and nurses to care for patients, the two positions are quite different.

Job Duties

Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, often work more closely with nurses than doctors to care for long-term patients. For example, a CNA may directly assist nurses by preparing patients for medical examinations or procedures, taking and charting vitals and providing general hands-on patient care. A CNA may also be responsible for changing linens, bathing patients and monitoring medical conditions to update nurses on changes.

Medical assistants, on the other hand, work with physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to guide patients through scheduled office visits. This includes welcoming the patient at the front desk, preparing examination rooms, taking samples for tests and other duties as requested by the care team. Medical Assistants may also manage the administrative aspects of the practice, such as patient record keeping, billing and scheduling. Medical Assistants are often the first and last face patients see during doctor visits, making them an important part of the overall patient experience.


Certified Nursing Assistants must complete a state-approved certificate program before entering the workforce. These programs may last as little as five weeks and involve classroom learning, hands-on training and on-the-job training. Candidates must also take and pass a competency exam. Once a candidate has passed the competency exam, they are placed on a state registry of Certified Nursing Assistants, and can begin seeking employment in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

In many cases, certification is required to become a Medical Assistant. Completing the required certification course takes 9-12 months. Candidates who successfully complete a certificate/diploma program may also be required to sit for, and pass, specific examinations, including the RMA, CMA and NCCT national registry certification exams before obtaining employment as a Medical Assistant.

Still unsure of the difference between a medical assistant and CNA? Our advisors can help.

When considering various careers within the healthcare industry, it can be helpful to talk to people who’ve been where you are today. Our advisors come from a wide range of healthcare backgrounds, giving them the real-world insight needed to help you better understand your career options.

To learn more about each position, or to discuss your career goals, contact an advisor today.