Medical Assistants vs. Licensed Practical Nurses: How to Tell the Two Apart

A medical assistant (MA) and a licensed practical nurse (LPN) fall into the same category and perform several of the same duties; however, there are slight differences between the two jobs.

Medical assistant courses are usually more geared toward ambulatory care, while licensed practical nurse courses are more related to hospital and residential health care. Both Medical assistants and licensed practical nurses are involved in patient contact and complete several clinical tasks, such as:

  • Check vital signs
  • Take patient histories
  • Perform EKGs
  • Administer medication
  • Collect samples to be tested, including:
    • Urine
    • Blood
    • Stool
    • Assist with minor surgical procedures, including:
      • Stitches
      • Wound clean-up
      • Applying splints
      • Ear and eye irritations

Medical assistants work in the front of the office, as well as in the clinic rooms, meaning   a MA not only administers medication, but also schedules patients for their appointments, completes insurance authorizations, answers phones and files medical records. Since MAs are cross-trained in the front and the back office, they are extremely marketable.  Medical assistants are eligible to sit for either the Registered Medical Assistant Exam or the Certified Medical Assistant Exam. There is no different between the two credentials, registered or certified; both are a national credential that signifies the MA is qualified to perform clinical and clerical duties, according to The American Registry of Medical Assistants

Also, even though it is not required by law for MAs to be registered or certified, it is highly recommended and many physicians or clinics do require it.

Licensed practical nurses, much like an MA, work under the direction of a physician and/or registered nurse. LPNs can be found working in hospital settings, nursing homes, extended care facilities and physician offices. Their work hours and days may vary depending on the work environment. Like MAs, they are also trained in the clinical setting. Once completed with their program, LPNs will take the NCLEX-PN certification.

Overall, MAs and LPNs are both crucial to the medical field and both positions are often the backbone to most medical practices. Together, the two help make an office run smoothly.

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