General Question

silky1's avatar

What's the difference between a pratical nurse and a medical assistant?

Asked by silky1 (1507points) July 11th, 2010

I was interested in the difference in schooling and duties.

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5 Answers

Seaofclouds's avatar

Practical nurses have to obtain a nursing license in order to work. As far as I know, medical assistants don’t have to do that, but they can be certified. Some of the differences in their jobs will depend on where they work. Typically LPNs make more money than MAs because they have more responsibility to their patients and have more legal responsibility. The nurse is ultimately responsible for the actions of their MA in the hospital setting.

In the hospital setting, MAs usually are doing basic care similar to a nursing assistant. They obtain vitals, bathe patients, help them with their meals, and sometimes have a few other responsibilities depending on where they work. In the doctor’s office, MAs usually room the patients and obtain their vitals. I’ve known a few MAs that were able to give injections, but they were covered by the doctor’s medical license in order to do it (so it was strictly up to the doctor if they could do it).

In the hospital setting, nurses are responsible for assessing patients, administering medications, performing nursing skills (such as inserting foley catheters, starting IVs (depending on the state), sterile dressing changes, trach care, ostomy care, and more). In the doctor’s office, nurses assist doctors as needed, do phone triage for patients that call in, and refill prescriptions. They also schedule appointments, make referrals, and call patients with results.

Each state has a nurse practice act that spells out the nurses’ legal responsibilities and what they can and can’t do.

Some states have vocational nurses instead of practical nurses. For the most part, they are the same thing, just a different title.

I’m not sure what schooling involves for MAs, but I know it’s usually a technical program where they learn to obtain vital signs, and do basic patient care. I don’t believe MAs learn how to give injections, that would be strictly on the job training if your employer was willing to do it.

Nursing school varies depending on where you go. There are programs to get a diploma in nursing so you can take the licensure exam to be a practical nurse that will teach the basics of human anatomy and physiology, the skills the MA learns, assessment skills, critical thinking skills, and the clinical skills (inserting and discontinuing a foley catheter, medication administration (all routes of medication), trach care, sterile dressings, etc). There are also Associate Degree programs that will award a diploma about halfway through them so that their students can become a LPN while continuing on for their ADN so they can become a RN.

JLeslie's avatar

Is a MA the same as a PA? I never heard the term MA.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@JLeslie No. MA is a medical assistant. They are similar to nursing assistants. I believe medical assistants have more training than nursing assistants, but less than nurses. Physician assistants require a lot more training.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seaofclouds Ok, just wanted to be sure. I think of Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants as basically performing the same duties. Although, I think in some states Nurse Practioners still cannot write scripts? Every state I have lived in they can.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@JLeslie Correct. There are some subtle differences between NPs and PAs. Some states still have restrictions on NPs writing prescriptions. Also, the restrictions vary. Some states don’t allow NPs to write scripts at all, others allow them only to write scripts for certain classifications of medications. I believe most states don’t allow NPs to write scripts for the highest tier of controlled substances.

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