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Medical Assistant VS LPN - What's The Difference?

By Remington College Posted November 7, 2017

If you're reading this, then more than likely, you already know that you want to help people.

Perhaps you even feel called to do so, and you've made the decision to change your life's course and get a solid education that may take you to that next step. But what should your specialty be?

Should I become a Medical Assistant or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

It's a good question, because although the two jobs are similar in some of their duties, they can lead to vastly different careers. They both provide basic nursing care. They both do hands-on, clinical work. They're both are high-contact, meaning a Medical Assistant   and an LPN both will interact a lot with patients.

Both will collect samples (such as urine, blood and stool). Both will check vital signs, take patient histories, and administer medication. Both can perform EKGs with the proper training and licensure. And both can be on-hand to assist doctors with minor surgical procedures such as cleaning wounds, putting in or taking out stitches, and applying splints.

Differences between Licensed Practical Nurse and Medical Assistant

So what's the difference between a medical assistant and an LPN? What can a medical an LPN do that a medical assistant can't? Plenty. For one thing, the working environments - and the hours - tend to be very different.

Licensed practical nurses tend to work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. They tend to focus on long-term needs, such as those of an Alzheimer's patient in an extended care facility. With baby boomers getting older, geriatric patients are at the core of an LPN's day (or night).

Depending on where they work - an assisted living center with nighttime needs vs. a rehabilitation hospital with weekend stays- an LPN's hours may vary. Nights, weekends, holidays, and full-or-part-time schedules are all common.

Medical assistants tend to work mostly in physician's offices or ambulatory clinics such as  outpatient surgical centers and radiology clinics. These positions tend to be fairly 9-5, but sometimes weekend and holiday shifts are required.

Medical assistants generally care for patients with short-term care needs. They are also cross-trained to work in both the office and clinic (which can make them pretty marketable). That means that although they're helping patients in clinical settings, they also work the front of the office: they'll help with the business side of things by scheduling patient appointments, answering phones and filing records and insurance authorizations.

Salary Comparisons

Because of the long hours and weekend/night shifts often required of LPNs, they tend to make slightly more than Medical Assistants. But that's not always the case. Salaries depend on where you're working, both the setting (hospital vs. doctor's office vs. nursing home) and the part of the country (Birmingham, Alabama pays less than New York City) where you're working.

LPN Salaries:

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most recent (2014) median annual salary for an LPN was $42,490, or $20.43 per hour.1 That means that half of those in the profession made more than that, and half made less. Demand for elder care means the profession will see a rise in demand over the next decade (although that demand is less than for medical assistants).2

Medical Assistant Salaries:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics  says that the most recent (2014) median annual salary for a Medical Assistant was $29,960 or $14.41 per hour.3 That means that half of those in the profession made more than that, and half made less.

Again, although there is a general salary difference, there are MAs who make more than LPNs. It all depends on where you work and what your experience is.

Choose a Path that Fits your Goals

Aside from salary, it's also important to think about the kind of care (short-term vs. long-term) you feel called to give. Think about whether you would prefer to care for a variety of patients (in terms of both their age and of the number of patients you see) or if you'd like to take care of the same patients every day (such as an elderly couple in an assisted living setting). Do you want to have a variety of duties (front office and clinical jobs), or do you want to deal solely with patients? Think about what best suits your personality and energy level

Whichever career track you take, you can't really go wrong: the medical profession is one of the few that's expected to increase in demand over the coming decades. Plus, you'll be helping people and truly making a difference in their lives' a winning choice indeed.

Please keep in mind employment and income cannot be guaranteed by any educational institution for students or graduates. Additionally, salary data cited in this article is based on median data provided by the United States Department of Labor, does not reflect starting or entry level salaries, and can vary widely based on geographic location.