LPN vs. MA: What’s the Difference Between an MA and LPN?

If you are considering an exciting career in the healthcare field that allows you to help others, then nursing is probably at the top of your list. There are many different levels of nursing worth understanding better, though, so you can make an informed choice that significantly impacts your future. Medical assistants (MA) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) are good places to start. MA vs. LPN, what is the difference?

What is a Medical Assistant?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes the job description of a medical assistant as a healthcare professional that does administrative and clinical functions under the supervision of a physician. According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, this is one of the fastest-growing career paths based on data from BLS.

The job responsibilities for an MA include:

  • Patient education
  • Setting up patients for exams
  • Assisting practitioners during exams and procedures
  • Collecting specimens for labs
  • Doing rudimentary lab tests, i.e., blood sugar, urine tests
  • Administering medications, including shots
  • Wound care
  • Drawing blood
  • Electrocardiograms
  • Ordering prescription refills

They are also responsible for administrative duties like updating medical records and making appointments for consultations or advanced medical treatment.

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

MAs work in various medical settings. You tend to see them in doctor’s offices and clinics. However, they also play important roles in different patient care facilities such as nursing homes or outpatient programs. Pay varies based on employer and location. BLS lists the average salary as 17.23 per hour.

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Education Requirements for a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants go through specialized training. They must have a high school diploma or equivalent and graduate from an accredited medical assistant program. Programs are available at community colleges, nursing schools, and universities. Most programs take from one to two years to complete.

MAs may also go through certification provided by the Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants or another authoritative organization. Certification is not necessarily a requirement, but it can improve employment opportunities and increase salary range.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Like MAs, practical nursing is about both patient care and administrative work. In that way, the position is similar to a medical assistant. The job responsibilities can vary based on the place of employment, but some general duties for LPNs include:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Administering medication, including giving shots
  • Wound care
  • Daily assistance for patients, including bathing and feeding
  • Reporting patient information to a supervising registered nurse (RN) or physician
  • Drawing blood
  • Doing basic lab procedures
  • Setting up patients for exams
  • Assisting practitioners during exams and procedures
  • Collecting specimens for labs
  • Patient education and discharge instructions

Like MAs, LPNs can also do administrative tasks such as setting up appointments and updating patient records.

The term licensed practical nurse is used interchangeably with a vocational nurse or LVN. BLS lists the median pay for LPNs at 23.47 dollars per hour. LPN can also be an entry-level position that allows you to have a nursing job while continuing your education working towards a two associate’s or four-year degree bachelor’s degree in nursing science (BSN).

Where Do Licensed Practical Nurses Work?

Also, like MAs, LPNs work in various healthcare settings, including a physician’s office, hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers, nursing homes, or outpatient programs. They may have supervisory roles, too, over medical and nursing assistants.

Education Requirements for a Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs must complete an accredited nursing program that typically takes about a year to complete and includes coursework and clinical hours. The prerequisites are a high school diploma or equivalent to get into a program.

Most LPN programs take about a year to complete. After graduating, LPNs must pass an exam provided by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and get licensure before practicing. Licensing requirements may vary by location, too.

LPN can also be an entry-level position that allows you to work while continuing your nursing education and working towards a two or four-year degree. They can also choose to specialize in a healthcare field such as geriatrics, long-term care, hospice care, nephrology, cardiac care, or even pediatrics.

MA vs. LPN

Although MA and LPN are very similar jobs, there are some key differences. There are both rewarding and growing fields.

Employment Differences

Medical assistants tend to work more in doctor’s offices and clinics. LPNs are seen more in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

Another difference is the core job duties. Again, there is some overlap, but nurses focus more on patient care and comfort. MAs have some clinical duties but regularly cover administrative tasks like updating records, setting patient appointments, and answering phone calls.

Skill Requirements

Prioritized skills for medical assistants include:

  • Vital signs
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Assisting physicians or practitioners
  • Some clinical tasks

For LPNs, skill requirements are more technical:

  • Procedures such as changing catheters
  • Advanced wound care
  • Emergency first aid
  • Supervising other healthcare workers, including MAs
  • Develop care plans

The licensing requirements tend to be more rigid for licensed practical nurses. They must pass the national exam for practical nurses, NCLEX-PN, and obtain a state license to practice. It is possible to work as a MA in some areas without getting certified, although employers may still require it.

Future Outlook

The future is bright for both of these fields. BLS reports an estimated 9 percent growth in LPN employment. For MAs, that number is 19 percent. There is also a salary difference, which averages several dollars an hour.

The growth options are better for those that do complete a licensed nursing program. They can work towards higher nursing degrees while working as LPNs. Bridge programs allow them to enter an RN program online and complete it within months to earn a degree that offers them more earning potential and career advancement opportunities.

Choosing MA or LPN

If you are considering what career paths best suits you, it’s important to looking carefully at each and pick the one best aligned with your interests and plans. They both require about the same amount of education. It may take longer to become an LPN, though, because of the strict licensing requirements. For those looking to start their careers right away without the hassle of a license, medical assisting might be the right option.

For those who see nursing as just the first step in their path towards an advanced degree program or want to focus more on direct patient care, few jobs are as rewarding as nursing. It is also a practical option if you prefer to work in a hospital or long-term care environment.

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. Both of these fields offer plenty of possibilities and are fulfilling.