Difference Between Medical Assistant & Nurse

Medical assistants and nurses both work under the direction of a doctor, but there are some key differences in where these medical professionals work and the type of tasks they perform. These two careers are compared in this article.

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Comparing Medical Assistants to Nurses

Medical assistants and nurses are both responsible for updating patient charts and checking a patient's vital signs. Medical assistants, however, are more commonly responsible for administrative tasks and mainly work in doctors' offices. Nurses primarily work in hospitals and provide direct medical care to patients.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Outlook* (2014-2024)
Medical Assistant Certificate $31,540 23%
Nurse Nursing Diploma or Degree; License $68,450 (for Registered Nurses) 16% (for Registered Nurses)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Medical Assistants vs. Nurses

The specific responsibilities of medical assistants and nurses vary depending on their area of specialization. Nurses may specialize in a specific field of medicine and are involved with giving patients tests and educating patients and their families about their care. Medical assistants are involved with clerical tasks such as completing forms and updating records. Nurses also have more responsibility for determining treatment for their patients and they consult with physicians to recommend changes to a patient's care.

Medical Assistant

It may be possible to become a medical assistant through on-the-job training, but medical assistants typically have formal postsecondary training and earn a certificate before entering the field. The majority of medical assistants work in doctors' offices. Their work hours may be affected by their place of employment, and those that work in hospitals or 24-hour clinics may work at any time, including overnight shifts or on weekends or holidays. Although they may assist a doctor with the examination of a patient, they also perform a lot of clerical tasks.

Job responsibilities of a Medical Assistant include:

  • Updating patient records
  • Making appointments for patients
  • Preparing patients for x-rays and medical tests
  • Processing insurance information


To prepare for a nursing career it's necessary to complete postsecondary nursing studies and earn a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree. Once licensed, nurses can enter their profession and work to provide patients with the appropriate medical care. They monitor a patient's status, updating charts and reporting concerns or changes to other medical staff. The majority of nurses work in hospitals, and they can work at any time of day and on weekends and holidays. Those interested in advancing their career may opt to continue studies, earn a master's degree and become a nurse practitioner.

Job responsibilities of a Nurse include:

  • Checking on patients
  • Responding when patients call for assistance
  • Updating patient charts and medical records
  • Giving a patient medication
  • Answering questions from family members

Related Careers

Since medical assistants perform a lot of administrative tasks, those interested in this career field may also be interested in working as a medical secretary. Individuals who are considering a nursing career may also want to think about being a certified surgical technician, as they focus on assisting surgeons and they also primarily work in hospitals.

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