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Career Tips & Advice

Differences Between Medical Assistants and Licensed Practical Nurses

Concorde Staff
Concorde Staff
Updated June 28, 2016. The information contained in this blog is current and accurate as of this date.
medical assistant

Do you ever wish there was a little more obvious way to distinguish America's health care professionals from one another?

Before the days of coordinated scrubs in neon colors and festive patterns, nurses wore all white, noted Lenora Bodway, RN, RDMS, MSN/Ed., Director of Nursing Education at our Concorde Jacksonville, Fla. campus.

One example of this is distinguishing between medical assistants (MA) and licensed practical nurses (LPN).

Why the confusion?

"There are several reasons the general public confuse MAs and LPNs," said Bodway. "One of the biggest reasons is because many of their job duties overlap."

"Both professionals function under the direct supervision of either a Physician and/or a Registered Nurse."

Main differences between a medical assistant and licensed practical nurse

Bodway and colleague Christy Garcia, RMA, Medical Assistant and Medical Office Administration Program Director at Concorde Grand Prairie, Texas, point out a few of the tasks that separate MAs and LPNs. While this list is no means exhaustive:

  • LPNs can administer meds through an IV (if they are certified). A Medical Assistant must administer through an injection ordered by a doctor.
  • Medical Assistants are trained to draw blood, while LPNs administer medication, provide wound care, change dressings, perform catheterizations and collaborate with the health care team to develop a plan of care.
  • Medical Assistants are trained thoroughly in front-office procedures such as recording medical histories, vital statistics and test results in medical records. LPNs are not.
  • MAs interview patients to obtain their medical history versus an LPN, who responds to patient calls and assisting with daily life activities.

Certification is another area of difference, according to Bodway.

"In many states, MAs can but are not required to have a certification to practice," she said. "Many practices train MAs on the job and therefore are not held to any governing standard. An LPN, on the other hand, requires documentation of completion of an approved Practical or Vocational Nursing Program and successful passage of the NCLEX."

Knowing which field to pursue requires knowing thy self

Just as the duties of a medical assistant and licensed practical nurse vary, so does the personality profile of the people filling those roles.

Bodway starts by asking her prospective students, "What is my passion, what is my interest, and what do I aspire to be?"

Garcia mirrors that by dissecting job descriptions to uncover the bulk of the day-to-day aspects of the job.

"Typically, Medical Assistants are at the front end of patient care prior to hospitalization," she said. "Medical Assistants are trained in all areas of the typical doctor's office, so we can do front- or back-office skills or both. LPNs typically care for a patient in long-term facilities or in-patient care within a hospital."

So, if the student is not someone who likes being at work at 6:30 a.m. and does not like working 12-hours shifts, LPN might not be the program for them. MA may be a better alternative, said Bodway.

Squeamish stomach? MA might be more up your alley. Looking to expand your education? Bodway reminds those considering LPN that it's the often times the first rung on a higher ladder of success.

As with any decision, seek wise counsel. We're here to help. Click the banner below to start the process, and we'll get in touch.