Medical Assistant vs. LPN—What’s the Difference?

Interested in a career in the medical field? Considering becoming a medical assistant or licensed practical nurse (LPN)? There are many similarities and differences, however both careers are rewarding because you get to help patients out in their time of need.

The major difference is that LPNs work mostly with long-term care patients, whereas medical assistants work closely with acute care patients. In the Long Island area, many LPN graduates find jobs in assisted living facilities and nursing homes rather than hospitals.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants support physicians and complete administrative and clinical tasks in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other health care facilities. Medical assistants typically do the following on a day-to-day basis:

  • Record and index patient history and information
  • Attend to patients at the beginning of an appointment by measuring vital signs
  • Support the physician with physical exams and assist in minor procedures
  • Schedule patient appointments by phone or in person
  • Assist with billing insurance for medical services
  • Collect and prepare patient samples for laboratory tests
  • Enter patient information into medical charts and electronic medical records (EMRs)

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are helping a medical assistant’s job evolve. More physicians are adopting EMRs, moving all their patient information from paper to electronic records. Medical assistants will need to learn EMR software to keep track of patient information and billing procedures.

Administrative medical assistants often process bill payments, fill out insurance forms, or code patients’ medical information. Administrative medical assistants answer telephones and schedule patient appointments.

Clinical medical assistants may do basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and prepare medical instruments for the physician’s use. Clinical medical assistants may instruct patients about medications or special diets and prepare patients for x-rays or minor surgery. Medical assistants are trained to draw blood (venipuncture) and administer EKGs.

What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Do?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide nursing care to patients in outpatient surgical centers, nursing rehab centers, long-term care facilities, and home care. The LPN works under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. LPNs typically do the following on a day-to-day basis:

  • Monitor patients’ health and vitals
  • Administer basic patient care and comfort
  • Discuss the medical care the LPN provides with patients
  • Regularly report patients’ status to registered nurses and physicians
  • Manage records on patients’ health
  • Administer medications
  • Provide treatment

Skilled Nursing Facility LPN – Many LPNs work in subacute and rehabilitative facilities, as well as nursing homes. Due to the ever growing aging population, LPNs are in more demand than ever before. LPNs administer medications, take and record vitals, perform diagnostic testing, and perform and coordinate wound care.

Group Home LPN – This kind of LPN works with adults who have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. The group home LPN manages the residents’ overall treatment, administers medications, manages daily ailments, and coordinates care.

What are the Differences Between Medical Assistants and LPNs?

Hands-On Experience – Medical Assistant programs offer externships to acclimate students to the workforce and let them get a jump-start on networking. This happens at the end of the program. LPN students get clinical experience at sites outside the classroom at various times throughout their program.

Licenses and Certifications – The Practical Nursing graduate must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to practice as a licensed practical nurse. Once Practical Nursing students have completed the program, they are directed how, when, and where to take the exam.

Medical assistants are not required to be certified in most states, including New York. Medical assistants can become certified or registered to advance in their careers or to make their résumés stand out. In order for medical assistants to become certified or registered, they must pass an exam offered by these organizations widely recognized in the industry.

  • National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) exam awards a medical assistant the title of NCMA (National Certified Medical Assistant).
  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) exam awards a medical assistant the title of CMA (Certified Medical Assistant).
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT) exam awards a medical assistant with the title of RMA (Registered Medical Assistant).

Continuing Education Units (CEUs) – If medical assistants gain national certification or registration, they will need CEUs to maintain it. Though LPNs are not required to acquire CEUs, all clinical health care workers, no matter what their calling, are encouraged to continue their education to keep up with the ever-changing world of medicine.

What are the Similarities Between Medical Assistants and LPNs?

Industry Growth – Both medical assistants and LPNs are in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for both is projected to grow from 2014 to 2024 (23 percent for medical assistants and 16 percent for LPNs).

Work Schedule – Most medical assistants and LPNs typically work full-time. Some medical assistants and LPNs work evenings, weekends, or holidays to cover shifts in medical facilities that are always open. The profession of medical assisting is usually not a nine-to-five job. LPNs may be required to work shifts longer than eight hours.

Similar Skills for Both Medical Assistants and LPNs
  • Compassion – Both medical assistants and LPNs must be empathetic toward their patients, as they are usually in a situation of pain or stress.
  • Patience – Medical assistants and LPNs both deal with sick and injured people. They must be able to cope with the stress of working with these patients.
  • Analytical Skills – Medical assistants and LPNs must understand and follow medical charts and coding to properly care for patients.
  • Detail Oriented – While taking vital signs and recording patient information, medical assistants and LPNs must be precise so that records and diagnoses are accurate.
  • Computer Skills – Much of what medical assistants and LPNs do is computerized. Whether managing charts or EMRs, medical coding, processing payments, or insurance billing, medical assistants and LPNs need to be computer savvy.
  • Physical Stamina – Both medical assistants and LPNs are on their feet most of the time and must be comfortable performing physical tasks.
  • Communication – Medical assistants and LPNs must be able to communicate with patients and medical staff effectively to keep everything running smoothly.

Are you considering becoming an LPN or medical assistant? Ready for a career in the health care field? The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School is designed to prepare you to take one of three exams to become certified or registered. These exams include the NCCT exam, AAMA exam, and AMT exam. The Practical Nursing program qualifies you to take the NCLEX exam. If passed, a graduate may become fully licensed to practice nursing.