What’s the Difference between a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant?

June 09, 2016

Did you know that this week (June 9th-16th) is National Nursing Assistant Week 2016? This is the perfect time to explain the difference between two popular careers in the healthcare field: a medical assistant and a nursing assistant. Even though the job titles sound similar, there are a number of differences in these occupations in terms of where they work, the duties they perform, and the requirements to enter the field under these titles. We’re going to clear up some of the misconceptions and explain what sets these careers apart, once and for all.

Valley Training Banner 1

Where do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants tend to work for and directly with physicians in outpatient and ambulatory care facilities, such as physician’s offices and health clinics, as well as hospitals and offices of many other types of health practitioners.

Where do Nursing Assistants Work?

Once certified, Nursing Assistants can work in various medical facilities. They may work in state, local and private hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. They may also be found working in residential or long term care facilities, home health care service agencies, and skilled nursing facilities.

As you can see, Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants may both work in various medical facilities. However Medical Assistants work primarily in clinics, private practices and urgent care centers. Nursing Assistants typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care agencies.

What are Duties of a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants handle clinical and administrative functions. The duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant may vary from office to office, depending on size, location, and specialties of the particular facility. Some of their responsibilities generally include:

  • Preparing patients for examinations and taking medical histories.
  • Explaining treatment and medicinal procedures to patients.
  • Assisting the physician during exams.
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens.
  • Performing basic laboratory tests.
  • Answering telephones and scheduling appointments.
  • Updating and filing patient medical records and insurance forms.
  • Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services.
  • Handling correspondence, billing, and bookkeeping.

What are Duties of a Nursing Assistant?

Nurse Aide AssistantNursing assistants provide basic care to patients and assist them in the daily activities they might have trouble with on their own. Nursing Assistants are often the main caregivers and have more contact with residents than other staff members. Some of their daily duties may include:

  • Cleaning and bathing patients or residents
  • Helping patients use the toilet and dress
  • Repositioning and transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs
  • Listening to and recording patients’ health concerns and reporting that information to nurses and doctors
  • Measuring vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
  • Serving meals and helping patients eat
  • Transporting patients to operating rooms or treatment units
  • Setting up equipment at a nurse or doctor’s request

There are some similarities in the tasks a Medical Assistant and a Nursing Assistant (for example, both take vital signs) however, a Nursing Assistant is much more hands-on. They tend to be responsible for providing direct patient care and are heavily involved in assisting their patients with daily activities. A Medical Assistant does not typically have these same responsibilities.

How to become a Medical Assistant

Although there are no formal education requirements to become a medical assistant, they do usually attend a post-secondary institution to receive training. Many of these programs lead to a certificate or a diploma and typically take one year to complete. It is not required that Medical Assistants be certified/licensed in order to be employed, however, requirements may vary by state and some employers may set this requirement for candidates they wish to hire.

How to become a Nursing Assistant

Nursing Assistants (also referred to as Nurse Aides) must complete state-approved training where they will be given the opportunity to learn the basics involved with providing patient care. Many of these programs can be completed in less than one year and are designed to prepare students to challenge a state certification exam. Those who successfully pass, will be placed on their state’s Nurse Aide Registry (a requirement for employment in the field as a CNA).

As far as becoming either a medical assistant or a nursing assistant, both careers require some type of job training, but there are no formal education or certification requirements to begin a career as a Medical Assistant.

The Nurse Aide Program at Valley Training Center

Valley Training Center’s Nurse Aide Training Program provides a combination of class lectures along with hands-on practice to prepare students the workplace, by exposing them to topics, concepts and skills that Nurse Aides frequently use. Students that successfully complete the Nurse Aide Training Program, will be eligible to take the State of Michigan Certified Nurse Aide Competency Evaluation. Licensure is necessary in order to gain employment as a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) in the State of Michigan.

allied-health-professionalTraining in the Nurse Aide Program includes:

  • Overview of the Nurse Aide as a member of the Healthcare Team
  • Overview of the Long Term Care Facility and Resident
  • Providing Personal Care to Patients
  • Infection Control, Safety, and Emergency Procedures
  • Providing Care for Patients with Cognitive Impairments
  • Restorative and Rehabilitative Care
  • Caring for Patients with Developmental Disabilities
  • End of Life Care
  • A Clinical Practicum, allowing the Integration of Clinical Skills
  • …and more


To learn more about the Nurse Aide Training Program at Valley Training Center, call us today at 989-726-4319 or Click Here to request more information!



Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, on the Internet at (visited May 19, 2016)

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Medical Assistants, on the Internet at (visited May 19, 2016).