Both licensed practical nurses and clinical medical assistants provide direct care to patients. Although there are similarities between the two professions, differences exist in the education and licensing requirements, salaries and job duties of clinical medical assistants and licensed practical nurses. Exploring the differences between the two careers can help job seekers find the profession that best suits their needs and qualifications.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
Licensed practical nurses provide basic nursing care under the supervision and direction of registered nurses and physicians. The LPN checks the patient's vital signs, changes bandages, inserts catheters, bathes the patient and maintains medical records. Some states allow licensed practical nurses to administer medications. Clinical medical assistants also provide direct patient care in some facilities such as removing stitches, changing bandages and drawing blood. Medical assistants also perform laboratory tests in a medical facility and prepare patients for diagnostic testing such as X-rays.
LPNs must complete an approved program to qualify for a state license to practice. Nursing programs include courses in biology, pharmacology and nursing practice. Students must also complete clinical experience in an approved education program. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states do not require medical assistants to complete an approved training program, but certificate, diploma and associate degree programs are available at technical schools and community colleges. Employers of medical assistants may prefer applicants who have completed a training program. Courses in programs for medical assistants include medical terminology, mathematics, human diseases and disorders, clinical procedures, pharmacology and a clinical externship.
Licensing and Certification
All states require a license to work as a LPN. Aspiring practical nurses must complete an approved education program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for practical nurses. States do not require a license or certification to work as a medical assistant. Certification is available for medical assistants, which may enhance employment opportunities. The American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, National Center for Competency Testing and the National Healthcareer Association offer certifications for medical assistants.
The median annual salary for licensed practical nurses was $41,540 in 2012, and medical assistants earned a median salary of $29,370, according to the BLS. The industry that paid the highest salary was junior colleges with a mean annual wage of $49,320. Medical assistants earned the highest salaries from psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, with a mean annual salary of $42,250 in 2012, according to the BLS.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-2061 Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 31-9092 Medical Assistants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Medical Assistants Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Medical Assistant
- Nebraska Methodist College: Medical Assistant
- Emily Griffith Technical College: Practical Nursing Program
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