Discover the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook
Medical Assistants (MAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) could be considered very similar career choices. Both MAs and LPNs work in the same type of medical facilities, such as hospitals, outpatient centers, and physician offices. Both jobs typically involve direct patient care and assisting the doctors and registered nurses (RNs) with patient care. But the LPN role has greater nursing responsibilities that require more training than an MA, and licensure. Therefore, an LPN would have a substantial advantage in continuing their education to become an RN.
If you’re thinking about finding a career in healthcare, now is a great time to start. The need for qualified healthcare workers has never been greater, and the number of available employment opportunities is very high. However, with so many career options available, you may be uncertain which role is best for you—given your goals, preferences, lifestyle, and strengths and weaknesses.
This article provides a head-to-head comparison of a Medical Assistant and a Licensed Practical Nurse. You will discover how these healthcare professionals have their own job responsibilities, educational requirements, job outlook, and earning potential.
If you’re interested in becoming an MA or LPN, we hope the information provided here will help you understand your options and find the most rewarding and satisfying healthcare career for your future.
Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.
Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse: Definition
What is a Medical Assistant?
Medical Assistants play an important and expanding role in our healthcare system. MAs take on administrative duties such as maintaining patient records, bookkeeping, billing, and insurance processing. They also perform clinical duties such as preparing patients for procedures, performing lab tests, administering medications, drawing blood samples, and other tasks under the supervision of a doctor or nurse. Without MAs, many essential examinations and procedures would not be possible, and doctors and nurses would have less time to treat patients.
What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?
Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) provide basic medical care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. The duties of an LPN vary depending on their work setting and the state in which they work. Their job responsibilities typically include monitoring patients’ health, administering basic care, comforting and informing patients and caregivers, and maintaining records on patients’ health. LPNs can find employment in several medical environments, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and extended care facilities. Many also work in doctor’s offices.
Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse: Job Description
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical Assistants (MAs) can perform a variety of tasks critical to patient care and office administration. Thanks to MAs, doctors, and nurses can dedicate more of their time to examining and treating their patients. Most medical assistants work in physician offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, and offices of chiropractors.
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Medical Assistant include:
- Recording patient history and personal information
- Measuring patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
- Helping physicians with patient examinations
- Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physician or nurse
- Explaining treatment procedures to patients
- Answering telephones and scheduling patient appointments
- Filling out insurance forms and coding patient medical information
- Updating and filing patient medical records
- Handling correspondence, billing, and bookkeeping
What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse Do?
The duties of LPNs vary depending on their work setting and the state in which they work. For example, in a surgery clinic, LPNs may help instruct patients and caretakers on proper home care, whereas in a maternity hospital, LPNs may help to deliver, care for, and feed infants. In some states, regulations allow LPNs to administer medications, start intravenous (IV) drips, and provide an extended range of care with supervision from an RN.
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Licensed Practical Nurse include:
- Gathering information from patients, including their health history and how they are currently feeling
- Monitoring patient health, including taking temperature, blood pressure, respiration rate
- Administering basic patient care, for example changing bandages and inserting catheters
- Providing for the basic comfort of patients, such as helping them bathe or dress
- Discussing the treatment with patients and listening to their concerns
- Reporting patient status and concerns to doctors and registered nurses
- Maintaining patient health records
- In some states, LPNs are allowed to administer prescribed medications, start intravenous fluids, and provide care to ventilator-dependent patients
Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse: Education
Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants
Medical Assistants typically hold a diploma or associate degree in medical assisting. MA programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities. Diploma programs take about 9 to 12 months to complete, while associate’s degree programs usually take about two years to complete. After graduation, you may want to add another month or two to study for, schedule, and take a certification exam.
If you want to start your healthcare career sooner rather than later, then the MA program may be the right educational path for you. The MA training typically includes instruction in both clinical and administrative duties, giving you a solid background to pursue greater responsibility in nursing or office administration as a career. If you already know your future is in nursing, an LPN program would provide a deeper level of clinical training, which may apply towards your RN training at many schools.
Although most medical assistants are not required to hold a state license or certification to practice in the field, most of today’s employers require or strongly prefer MAs with at least one certification. MAs who perform specific duties (such as phlebotomy or x-rays) or who work in specialized fields (such as podiatry or ophthalmology) may be required to have specific training and certification in their area of specialty. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ruled that only credentialed MAs are allowed to enter the laboratory, radiology, and medical orders into their computerized system.
Click here to read our guide on the best Medical Assistant certifications for your healthcare career.
Educational Requirements for Licensed Practical Nurses
Licensed Practical Nurses must complete an approved certificate or diploma program. These programs typically take about 1 year to complete, but may take longer. They are commonly found in technical schools and community colleges, although some programs may be available in high schools or hospitals. LPN programs teach subjects such as nursing, biology, and pharmacology. All programs also include supervised clinical experience.
After completing a state-approved educational program, prospective LPNs and LVNs can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). In all states, they must pass the exam to get a license and work as an LPN or LVN. For more information on the NCLEX-PN examination and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
For a closer look at an LPN or LVN Program, check out the Practical Nursing Program Eagle Gate College. This comprehensive 12-month program is designed to prepare you for success as an LPN or LVN in the shortest time possible. You will receive hands-on practical nursing training in labs, simulations, and healthcare facilities. You will also receive assistance to pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN) so that you can become a Licensed Practical Nurse after graduation.
Medical Assistant vs. Medical Office Assistant: Salary
How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* earned by Medical Assistants in 2020 was around $37,000 or about $18 per hour. MAs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $50,500 per year.
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||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|District of Columbia||$21.80||$45,340|
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||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Francisco, CA||$25.94||$53,960|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$25.25||$52,520|
|San Jose, CA||$23.57||$49,020|
|Santa Cruz, CA||$21.63||$44,980|
How Much Do Licensed Practical Nurses Make?
According to the BLS, the average salary* earned by Licensed Practical Nurses in 2020 was around $50,000 or about $24 per hour. LPNs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $65,500 per year.
Highest-Paying States for Licensed Practical Nurses
According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for licensed practical nurses:
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Highest-Paying Cities for Licensed Practical Nurses
According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for licensed practical nurses:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$36.51||$75,950|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$35.97||$74,820|
|San Francisco, CA||$35.83||$74,520|
|San Diego, CA||$31.68||$65,900|
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, which is about the average for all occupations.
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 in home health environments to care for older patients. As our population ages, the number of 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.
Head-to-Head Comparison: Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse
|Comparison||Licensed Practical Nurse||Medical Assistant|
|Job Description||Provides basic medical care to patients working under the direction of a doctor or registered nurse||Provides administrative services, basic patient care, and clinical support to doctors and nurses|
|Average Annual Wage||$50,000 in 2020||$37,000 in 2020|
|Employment Growth||9% thru 2030||18% thru 2030|
|Education (Recommended)||1 year or more||9–12 months training|
Why Medical Assisting is a Great Career Alternative for Licensed Practical Nurses?
Licensed Practical Nurses are very similar to Medical Assistants, in that both provide care to patients under the direction of other healthcare professionals. The main difference is that an LPN receives more clinical training and licensure and can take on greater responsibilities than a Medical Assistant. If you’re looking to start your medical career sooner rather than later, the MA program may be your best option because it is shorter. An MA program can also prepare you for administrative duties, if that’s an area of interest. If you want to keep your options open for higher-level jobs in healthcare—such as a doctor, registered nurse, physician assistant, or physical therapist—you might benefit from the more robust training that comes from an LPN program.
Why Choose Eagle Gate College for Your Medical Assistant Training?
Founded in 1979, Eagle Gate College has provided thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in nursing and healthcare. With a curriculum continually updated to meet the needs of healthcare, well equipped labs, and hands-on training from experienced healthcare professionals, we prepare graduates to make a positive impact starting with their first day on the job. Our robust Medical Assisting program combines virtual instruction, hands-on lab exercises, and supervised externship and can be completed in as little as 9 months. In conjunction with Provo College, Eagle Gate College offers a premier healthcare education at five campus locations in Utah and Idaho.