CNA vs CMA – What’s the Difference between Nursing and Medical Assistant?

What is the Difference between CNA and CMA

Wondering what makes a Nursing Assistant and Medical Assistant differ from each other? Certified nursing assistants (CNA) and certified medical assistants (CMA) are both allied health care service providers or professionals who are involved in working with patients of all ages and physical conditions. Both the professionals are high in demand these days. Though some of the duties are same, both professions are not interchangeable.

The goals, responsibilities, program requirements, certification and examination process are completely different. A certified nursing assistant is directly involved with the patient’s day to day activities and provides hands-on care to them. On the other hand, the duties of a medical assistant are more focused on patients’ assessment, evaluation and treatment and non-medical assignments.

The detailed description and differences between the professional roles of a certified nursing assistant and a certified medical assistant are described below:

1. Supervision

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A CNA is supervised by a registered nurse, and only a limited tasks are delegated to them.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

CMAs, on the other, hand work directly under doctors and perform the duties delegated by them. They also self-regulate their duties.

2. Work Place

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNAs generally work in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, hospice care facilities, and home health care centers. They are sometimes hired by doctor’s set ups too.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

Medical Assistants can work in physician’s office, urgent care centers, and some of the times hospitals as well. It varies from state to state.

3. Responsibilities

Duties of a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

One of the major responsibility of a CNA is to look after the patient’s requirement for preparing beds, bathing them, maintaining hygiene and sanitation, noting down the vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, etc. They also report abnormalities to the nurse, help the patient to move in their bed, etc. Basically everything that involves assisting the patient directly, comes under the job role of a CNA. They do not prescribe any medications.
CNAs only perform limited autonomous tasks, that too under supervision.

Duties of a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

The CMA is less involved directly with the patient’s care. The CMA’s roles and responsibilities are classified into 4 different segments viz. Clinical, clerical, administrative, clerical and specialist.

In the clinical segment, they prepare X-rays, ultrasonography, insert catheters into the veins of the patients, take blood samples to laboratory test, etc. Under clerical category, the Med Assistant has to answer the calls of the patient, maintain the medical record of the patient and keep it up to date, sorting the e-mail of the patients and maintaining it. Under the administrative section, s/he has to fill the form related to insurance, preparing the discharge sheet of the patient, update the various charges like: room charge, pantry charge, operation charge, etc.

Lastly, in the specialist part, they have to deal with the medications of the patients and should have the in-depth knowledge of the same.

4. Program Requirements

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Program

CNA program requirements vary from state to state. Although, generally it lasts from 4-12 weeks to 6 months. Their training period is much shorter in comparison to a Medical Assistant program. The whole program session is divided into two parts – (a) theoretical session (b) clinical session.

The theoretical sessions educate students on how to perform direct patient care, patient safety, documentation, etc.

During the clinical session, students learn about wound dressing, preparing patients for surgery, collecting urine samples, etc. These courses can be taken online or offline, as suitable to the candidate. After completing the course, every individual has to pass the test known as “CNA certification exam.”

The coursework of a CNA program includes human anatomy, CPR, communication skills, ergonomics, disease prevention, nutrition, medical procedures & first aid, etc.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Program

The program for becoming a medical assistant is also available in both online and offline format. But, it takes one to two years’ associate degree program in medical assessment to become a CMA.

In order to get the certificate or to be eligible to sit for the exam for the same, one must complete the program from an accredited school or institute.  The school must have received its accreditation from Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

The coursework includes anatomy and physiology, medical law and ethics, business computer application, medical billing and coding, medical terminology, clinical laboratory procedure, etc.

5. Examination and Certification

CNA- Certification Exam

The written test is usually simple.  It tests the knowledge that you have gained throughout the CNA program like the role of nursing assistant, nursing skills, physical care skills, etc. The test will have around 70-100 multiple choice questions (depending on the state). The candidate has to solve it within 2 hours.

The clinical section is completely practical. You will be given 5 tasks that you have to complete in the front of an invigilator, within a specific time frame (usually 25-30 minutes). The tasks may include recording and measuring the blood pressure, bathing the patient or feeding him/her.

Note: An aspirant must pass both the exams. Failing any one or both will make them ineligible for the license. Thus, they will have to take the examination again.


After completing the program, the aspirants are required to take the American Association of Medical Assistants test to become certified. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions. Candidates need to complete it within four segments of 40 minutes each.

The major portion of the test is composed of medical terminology. The remaining part will have questions from the course that is taught during the training period. The questions will be in a different format, such as fill-in-the-blank, matching cases, and true/false.

6. Validity of the Certificate

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) License

The certificate of CNA is valid for 2 years. You have to apply for the recertification again after the expiration of the above mentioned period. In some states to maintain the certificate, you must have worked for a certain number of hours of continued education.

If you do not fulfill the continued education requirements, you may need to pass the CNA certification exam again. However, if you fail, you would require to take another CNA class. So, to avoid this, make sure to check the state’s continued education requirements. Also, do ensure to complete the minimum hours required before renewing your license.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Licensure

The certificate of CMA (AAMA) is valid for 60 months from the date of issue. There are two ways for recertification:

  • By continuing credits:
    Your current certification status is required to know the credential. You must obtain 60 recertification points. Out of the 60, 30 must be AAMA approved CEUs which may include 10 administrative, clinical and general points each, with 30 points in a combination of any of the three categories.
  • Examination:
    You can also recertify by passing the CMA (AAMA) exam. However, you must pass it at least two months before the expiration date of your license.

7. Salary

CNA’s Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of a nursing assistant is $$28,530 for the year 2018. Whereas the hourly wages as of May 2018, were $13.72/hour.

The average hourly salary of a CNA as per, as on July 22, 2019, was $13.44/hour. Indeed claims to have collected this data from 75,266 actual CNA salaries submitted on their site from all over the country

CMA’s Salary

The mean annual salary of a CMA nurse for 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $33,610. The hourly salary as per BLS was $16.16 per hour.

The average CNA salary according to as on July 22, 2019 was $14.90/hour. They have accumulated the average from roughly 10,500 plus users’ actual salary data.

8. Job Outlook

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Job Prospects

With growing and aging population, a more nursing assistants are required to provide health care to the people. Therefore, the opportunities will further grow at much faster pace. According to the BLS, the employment for the post of CNA is projected to grow by 11% between 2016-26, which is greater than the combined average of all the jobs.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Job Prospects

The employment opportunities are expected to grow by 29 percent between 2016-26, as given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The opportunities will further escalate, as there is a continuous increase in health-care facilities like nursing homes, clinics, hospitals, etc. So, a large number of work force will be required in the near future.


Now, as you know that CNA and CMA are not the same professions, we hope the article will help you choose which one is the right career for you. However, starting your nursing career as a CNA can be a stepping stone. It does provide you a general outlook towards the nursing profession. There are nursing professionals who enjoy being a CNA and don’t wish to take further leap in their career. But, if you are among those who wish to earn more, and look forward to get into phlebotomy and IVR’s hands on experience, then being a certified medical assistant can be your next goal.

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