Medical Assistant (MA) vs Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

So, who is a medical assistant? What role do they play in the health care system, and how do they compare with the role of a licensed practical nurse? Let’s find out about MA vs. LPN.

The healthcare system consists of different professionals working together as one. Healthcare professionals can be broadly classified into medical professionals and allied medical professionals.

LPN vs. Medical Assistants

Allied medical professionals are healthcare workers who provide support services for medical professionals like doctors, nurses, dentists, etc.

They are like the backbone of the healthcare system, whose services are instrumental in helping medical professionals carry out their duties effectively.

There are so many healthcare professions listed under the allied medical profession.

However, the list seems to vary depending on the country, but one profession that consistently falls under this umbrella is the medical assistant.

Who is a medical assistant?

You might have come across several definitions for what a medical assistant is.

These definitions try to explain the term by its role in the health care system. Going by this trend, here is a description that tries to capture the essence of what a medical assistant is;

A medical assistant is a healthcare professional who works alongside physicians and other medical practitioners and is trained to carry out administrative and clinical duties in healthcare facilities like hospitals, clinics, and outpatient centers.

Role of a medical assistant

The role of a medical assistant depends on where they work. Those who find themselves in a technological environment may need to be trained in carrying out specific duties.

For instance, a laboratory assistant will collect blood/tissue samples and carry out various tests depending on the laboratory’s needs where they are working.

But on a broader scale, the duties of a medical assistant are either administrative, clinical, or both.

Here are some of the administrative duties performed by a medical assistant;

  • Data entry
  • Bookkeeping
  • Ensuring that medical records are up to date
  • Acting as a liaison
  • Receiving patients
  • Handling bills and correspondences
  • Book appointments

On the other hand, some of the clinical duties performed by medical assistants are;

  • Taking the patient’s vitals
  • Carrying laboratory test
  • Collecting and preparing samples for laboratory test
  • Handling basic procedures like drawing blood samples
  • Preparing the patient for a physical examination
  • Taking note of the patient’s medical history
  • They provide relevant information about a treatment procedure or medication to the patient.

Who is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a nurse whose duty is to provide primary care to patients in the hospital or other medical facility under the supervision of senior health care personnel like registered nurses, doctors, and even medical assistants.

Licensed practical nurses work in the same places as medical assistants, and in many cases, they play similar roles.

For instance, a licensed practical nurse performs basic laboratory tests, checks vitals, updates patients’ medical charts, records medical history, etc.

All of which can also be done by a medical assistant.

Differences between a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse

The similarities between the two professions sometimes make it difficult to differentiate one from another.

Nevertheless, there are ways in which a licensed practical nurse differs from a medical assistant. To draw a line between the two professions, let’s start with their educational qualifications.

Educational qualifications and licensing

The educational requirement for both professions is different. Licensed practical nurses must have a diploma offered in a community college or technical school.

These programs can last for 12 months and have a curriculum to acquire practical clinical skills.

After the diploma, the individual must take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). After passing this exam, they are licensed to practice, thus becoming an LPN.

In other words, formal nursing education and a license are needed to become a licensed practical nurse.

For medical assistants, the case is different because sometimes, formal or additional training is not compulsory.

This flexibility means you can start your career in this field with a high school diploma and gain relevant on-the-job experience. But most employers prefer at least a post-secondary training program.

These programs last between 10 to 24 months, depending on the institution and specialty. The coursework is a combination of both administrative and clinical studies.

Also, medical assistants do not need a license to practice. It is up to the individual if they so choose to acquire additional certifications to give them an edge when searching for a job.

Licensure is perhaps the primary distinction between the two professions.

Work environment and conditions

Medical assistants and LPNs work in different environments and under other conditions. LPNs primarily work in hospitals, outpatient facilities, and nursing homes.

While medical assistants primarily work in ambulatory facilities or directly under a physician. The conditions under which the two professional work is quite different as well.

Medical assistants work mainly during the daytime but may also work night shifts and even weekends (although not always the case). While LPNs are required to work both day and night shifts.

Duties and Skill in demand

While medical assistants and LPNs do cross paths, there is a difference in each professional’s expectations. The clinical skills of a medical assistant are not on par with that of an LPN.

LPNs are required to have vast clinical experience, and this is why their education is tailored towards this area. This training also makes them capable of carrying out more clinical duties than medical assistants.

An LPNs duty is mainly limited by state laws and their performance over time.

Based on these, LPNs have an advantage in jobs that demand more clinical skills than administrative skills, and MAs have an advantage in jobs that require more administrative skills than clinical skills.

Salary scale

When it comes to what a medical assistant earns yearly compared to an LPN, the scales favor the latter. However, there are circumstances under which MAs make more than LPNS.

Factors like location, health facility, and experience play a role in determining how much each professional takes home in a year.

The average yearly income of an MA in 2020 was $35,850, and the highest paying facilities for MAs were outpatient care centers. In the same year, LPNs took home $48,820 on average, and the highest paying facility for LPNs was the government, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.

Job Opportunities

Both MAs and LPNs have good job prospects; however, MAs have the upper hand here. The employment rate of MAs is projected to grow by 18% between 2020 and 2030.

While that of LPNs is just about 9%. Agreeably, a 9% employment rate is still a substantial amount, but this is nothing compared to the prospects of a medical assistant.

Making your decision – Medical assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse

We have outlined the significant differences between a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse. But if you are still confused about which option to choose, here is a short guide to help you decide.

What are your plans for the future?

Before deciding about joining the ranks of the medical assistants or the LPN, you should look far ahead into your future.

The LPN is a better option for those who hope to become registered nurses but do not have the budget or time commitment.

Starting with a career as an MA with hopes of switching over to nursing is a longer route to take.

However, there are MA – LPN bridge programs for those who wish to follow this route. But if you desire more flexibility at work, then MA is a better choice.

Combining both administrative and clinical skills means you have more job options.

Career growth

The medical assistant field offers lower opportunities in terms of career growth than that of nursing.

As a medical assistant, you can only improve yourself by taking certification courses, but there is no change in title or recognition. You will always have to work under supervision.

LPNs, on the other hand, have a promising career since they can grow to become registered nurses.

A position that does not require any supervision; instead, they supervise others and take up more prominent roles in the health care system.

Potential for earning higher

Yes, we earn a living; loving what we do is a bonus. That being the case, we naturally look out for opportunities that mean increasing how much money we make.

Nursing offers the best advantage in this aspect. As an LPN, you don’t need to make any significant career change to increase your income.

You can go from being an LPN with an average income of about $48,000 to an RN with an average income of $75,000 in just a few months.

Conclusion

In this article, we have discussed the various roles of a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse. This discussion should give you a better understanding of which career path is proper for you.

However, you should know that both professions are good career options with strengths and weaknesses. Whichever path you decide to follow, you will still play a vital role in the health sector.

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