Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs Medical Assistant

When embarking on a career in the nursing field, many students may not be aware of the differences between the role of a medical assistant and that of a licensed practical nurse (LPN). While these professions share some of the same job responsibilities, there are some key differences in education requirements, job description and average salary between a career as a medical assistant and an LPN career. Overall, an LPN focuses on providing direct patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) and/or physician, while a medical assistant performs several administrative duties such as scheduling appointments or preparing insurance paperwork in addition to basic clinical tasks such as taking a patient’s vital signs. Another difference between medical assistants and LPN's is job setting and hours. Many medical assistants work in physician’s offices or ambulatory clinics with traditional daytime hours, while LPNs more often find positions in hospitals, nursing homes and even patient’s homes working a range of hours and shifts.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Education

When deciding between a career as a medical assistant or an LPN, it is important to be aware of the differences in education requirements for each position. In some cases, individuals may begin a career as a medical assistant with only a high school diploma and no additional education or training required. In these cases, aspiring medical assistants need only find a physician who is willing to provide on-the-job training. In most cases, however, employers seek medical assistants who have completed a formal training program.

Many community colleges and technical schools offer medical assistant training programs, which generally take one to two years to complete. Depending on the school, students may be able to earn a diploma in as little as nine months, or an associate’s degree in 18-24 months. Students can often choose from online programs, traditional in-person classroom programs or a combination of the two. Because licensure is not required to work as a medical assistant, aspiring medical assistants can begin working as soon as they have completed their training program.

Aspiring LPNs, on the other hand, must begin their careers with a formal training program, which usually takes about 12 months to complete. Similar to most medical assistant programs, LPN programs are offered at many community colleges and technical schools; however, LPN programs require students to complete much of their training in person. While a medical assistant program includes coursework related to administrative tasks such as medical insurance and bookkeeping in addition to clinical tasks, an LPN program is structured around learning necessary clinical skills for taking care of patients.

Unlike medical assistants, LPN's are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). When the exam is passed, candidates will be able to begin work as a LPN. Learn more about LPN classes, courses and curriculum.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Salary

The mean annual salary for medical assistants was $32,850 in May 2016 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to a mean annual salary of $44,840 for LPNs. Factors that may influence salary levels for both these professions include geographic location, type of employer and years of experience and education level. For instance, a medical assistant or LPN may earn a higher than average salary if he or she works in a location with a higher cost of living and/or has several years of work experience. Learn more about an LPN salary.

Comparing Medical Assistant & LPN/LVN Salary By State

StateMedical Assistant SalaryLPN/LVN Salary% Increase
District of Columbia39,50055,20039.7
New Hampshire34,97049,04040.2
New Jersey35,25053,74052.5
New Mexico29,07047,77064.3
New York35,53047,17032.8
North Carolina31,46042,51035.1
North Dakota34,54043,20025.1
Rhode Island34,43055,41060.9
South Carolina30,38040,09032.0
South Dakota28,82037,10028.7
West Virginia26,21036,05037.5

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Job Duties

Medical assistants and LPN's share several of the same daily tasks, which include basic patient care under the supervision of an RN and/or physician. These tasks include:

  • Checking a patient’s vital signs
  • Collecting patient’s symptoms and medical information
  • Administering medication and vaccinations
  • Collecting samples (e.g., blood, urine, etc.)

While LPN's and medical assistants do perform several of the same tasks, LPN's provide more extensive patient care, often for patients who require longer term care such as those in a nursing home. Under the supervision of an RN, the LPN also performs the following job duties:

  • Assists with wound care
  • Assists patients with activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, etc.
  • Inserts and cares for urinary catheters
  • Cares for patients with ventilators and tracheostomy tubes
  • Provides feedings through nasogastric or gastrostomy tubes
  • Monitors patients progress and alerts appropriate physicians as needed
  • Performs emergency CPR
  • Executes a nursing care plan under the direction of an RN
  • See more detail on LPN duties

Alternatively, medical assistants generally perform administrative tasks to ensure the efficient and smooth running of physician’s office or clinic, in addition to the basic patient care tasks mentioned above. Some of these administrative duties may include:

  • Collecting a patient’s insurance information
  • Completing patient information and insurance paperwork
  • Making patient appointments, answering phones, greeting patients, filing medical records and other office work
  • Performing bookkeeping and medical billing tasks
  • Sterilizing equipment needed for patient examinations and procedures

Both medical assistants and LPN's are extremely valued members of the medical care team, providing critical support to ensure patients receive high quality and efficient care. While the positions do share some same basic job functions, the medical assistant provides additional administrative support to a physician or clinic, while the LPN offers more in-depth hands on patient care.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN Licensing & Certification

Medical assistants and LPN's have different licensing and certification requirements for students to be aware of. LPN candidates will be required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) following completion of their state-approved and accredited Practical Nursing program. Once candidates have passed this exam they may begin working as an LPN.

Medical assistants, however, are not required to hold any similar licensing to begin work as a medical assistant. While many medical mssistant job openings do not require certification, medical assistants may also choose to become certified after graduation in order to increase employment and earning potential.  The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification examination to candidates who have completed a medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).