Medical team working at a conference table

The Differences Between a Vocational Nurse and a Medical Assistant

Medical team working at a conference table

Once you’ve narrowed your career choice to one in the healthcare space, the next step is researching and choosing a profession that suits you. Many careers overlap when it comes to scope, amount of patient interaction, and educational requirements. Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) and Medical Assistants are two professions that are similar in some respects but incredibly different in others. Let’s explore these two distinct professions to help you make an informed decision.

About These Healthcare Professions

One notable difference is that Licensed Vocational Nurses, also called Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), must pass an exam to receive their license and practice in the field. Medical Assistants may only need a high school diploma to practice in some states. However, it’s important to note that completing a Medical Assistant program can be essential in this increasingly competitive world and may often improve the likelihood of employment.

Medical Assisting may be a better option if you’re in a hurry to hit the workplace with a specialized set of skills since formal programs are typically completed in under a year. However, whether you are exploring a new career or embarking on a first-time career, salary* is another legitimate consideration that is on the minds of most prospective healthcare professionals.

Responsibilities of LVNs and Medical Assistants

Overall, the two occupations have significant differences in scope of practice. LVNs learn a greater number of clinical skills and will have more responsibility. It’s worth noting that a Medical Assistant may be allowed to place an IV in a few select states. Below, we have included some job responsibilities for Vocational Nurses and Medical Assistants.

Vocational Nurses

Overall duties

+ Assess and monitor patients

+ Report adverse reactions to medication or treatment

+ Gather information from patients, including their health history

+ Teach patients about good health habits

+ Teach family members how to care for a relative

+ Supervise nursing assistants and aides

In some states, LVNs can administer prescribed medicines, start intravenous fluids, and care for ventilator-dependent patients. In addition, they may complete a plan of care for a specific patient in long-term care, complete insurance forms, pre-authorizations, and referrals, and work with the interdisciplinary team to help determine the best course of care for a patient.

Medical Assistants

Administrative duties

+ Answer telephones

+ Schedule appointments & greet patients

+ Update and file patient charts

+ Order supplies

+ Arrange for hospital admission and laboratory services

+ Handle billing, collections, and bookkeeping

Clinical duties

Clinical duties vary according to state law and may include:

+ Taking medical histories and recording vital signs

+ Preparing patients and assisting the physician during the examination

+ Telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy

+ Collect and prepare laboratory specimens

+ Sterilize medical instruments

+ Preparing patients for x-rays

+ Taking electrocardiograms

+ Removing sutures and dressing changes

While there’s some overlap between these two professions, there are distinct differences that are worth noting before you commit.

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Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Vocational Nurse: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* earned by Medical Assistants in 2021 was around $38,000 or about $18 per hour. MAs who earned wages in the top 10 percent made more than $48,000 annually.

Highest-Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

Industry Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Agencies, Brokerages, and Other Insurance Related Activities $25.46 $52,970
Professional and Commercial Equipment and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers $23.53 $48,940
Outpatient Care Centers $ 21.48 $44,680
Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses $21.36 $44,420
Insurance Carriers $21.34 $44,390

Highest-Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

State Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Washington $22.75 $47,320
District of Columbia $22.45 $46,690
Alaska $22.30 $46,390
California $21.53 $44,780
Massachusetts $21.25 $44,200

Highest-Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

City Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Vallejo, CA $28.21 $58,670
San Francisco, CA $26.41 $54,930
San Jose, CA $25.90 $53,870
Santa Rosa, CA $25.74 $53,530
Sacramento, CA $24.78 $51,530
Seattle, WA $24.43 $50,820
Napa, CA $24.27 $50,480
Fairbanks, AK $22.62 $47,060
Portland, OR $22.41 $46,620
Olympia, WA $21.95 $45,650

How Much Do Licensed Vocational Nurses Make?

According to the BLS, the average salary* earned by Licensed Vocational Nurses in 2021 was around $52,000 or about $25 per hour. LVNs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $64,000 annually.

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Highest-Paying Industries for Licensed Vocational Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for LVNs:

Industry Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Personal Care Services $31.18 $64,840
Office Administrative Services $30.93 $64,330
Insurance Carriers $28.73 $59,770
Health and Personal Care Stores $28.65 $59,590
Junior Colleges $28.56 $59,400

Highest-Paying States for Licensed Vocational Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for LVNs:

State Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
California $31.32 $65,140
Alaska $30.60 $63,650
Washington $30.41 $63,250
Massachusetts $29.72 $61,820
Nevada $29.08 $60,490

Highest-Paying Cities for Licensed Vocational Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for LVNs:

City Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Napa, CA $36.97 $76,890
San Jose, CA $36.48 $75,880
San Francisco, CA $36.26 $75,410
Santa Rosa, CA $34.22 $71,180
Vallejo, CA $34.00 $70,720
San Luis Obispo, CA $33.14 $68,940
Santa Cruz, CA $32.12 $66,800
Seattle, WA $31.91 $66,380
Sacramento, CA $31.77 $66,090
Carson City, NV $31.47 $65,460

Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the overall employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 18 percent through 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations (8%).

As the older portion of our population continues to grow, so will the demand for preventive medical services, which physicians often provide. In addition, healthcare facilities will hire more medical assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians and nurses to see more patients.

Licensed Practical Nurse Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the growth rate for licensed practical nurses is projected to be strong at 9 percent through 2030.

As the baby-boomer population ages, the overall need for healthcare services is expected to increase. LPNs and LVNs will be needed in nursing and residential care facilities and home health environments to care for older patients. As our population ages, chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, are also expected to rise. LPNs and LVNs will be needed to assist and care for patients with these and other conditions.

Smiling female healthcare professional with glasses

Head-to-Head Comparison: Medical Assistant vs Licensed Vocational Nurse

Comparison Medical Assistant Vocational Nurse
Job Description Provides administrative services, basic patient care, and clinical support to doctors and nurses Provides basic medical care to patients working under the direction of a doctor or registered nurse
Average Annual Wage $38,000 in 2021 $52,000 in 2021
Jobs 720,900 688,100
Employment Growth 18% thru 2030 9% thru 2030
Education (Recommended) 9–12 months training One year or more

About Eagle Gate College

The Eagle Gate College Group is known for giving power to students and associates by teaching cutting-edge, skills-based education, leadership, and personal effectiveness skills to have the career and life they desire. They are caring professionals who empower individuals to achieve personal excellence through student-centered, market-driven education.

If you’d like to change your career but do not want to spend years in school, you might want to consider the Medical Assistant program at Eagle Gate College, which can be completed in as few as ten months! For more information, please get in touch with a school representative at (801) 333-7133.

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