Medical assistants and registered nurses are both members of the medical field, and both fill important roles. But that's where the similarities stop. Medical assistants don't have to hold a degree to land a job; in fact, some health care facilities train medical assistants after they hire them. Registered nurses, on the other hand, must have formal educations. Because of the wide gulf between the educational requirements for these two positions, the salaries are also quite different.
Medical assistants are a part of the support system in health care. They perform administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, recording patients' medical histories and checking vital signs. These workers may draw blood samples and give injections if their state and employer allow them to. While a formal education isn't necessary, having one can make you a more attractive candidate to employers, as can earning certification. In 2012, medical assistants averaged $29,370 a year, or $14.12 an hour, according to O*Net Online.
Registered nurses have a more active role in patient care. They work with a team of health care professionals to assess patients' state of health, record observations, create treatment plans and administer medication. They operate medical equipment, assist in performing diagnostic tests and lend their experience to analyzing the results. There are three pathways to becoming a registered nurse: earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or a diploma from a nursing school. Registered nurses earned $65,470 on average in 2012, according to O*Net Online, or $31.48 an hour.
Taking the Next Step
Being a medical assistant prior to becoming a nurse won't necessarily increase your nursing salary, unless you have extensive experience. Becoming a nurse as a medical assistant is akin to going back to the starting line. A medical assistant who has taken credit courses in studies that are already nursing prerequisites may be able to transfer those credits. Otherwise, becoming a registered nurse takes approximately two to three years for the associate degree and diploma, and four years for the bachelor's degree. Upon graduation, nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination to get a license.
Looking to the Future
The job prospects for both of these fields look very good through the year 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered nurses should see a 26-percent increase in opportunities during that time, while medical assistants should see a 31-percent increase. Though assistants will see the greater increase percentage-wise, more jobs will be available overall for nurses. The BLS anticipates nearly 3.5 million jobs for nurses in 2020, while assistants will have just under 700,000. Nurses who hold bachelor's degrees also have greater opportunities for advancement into senior positions.
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