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CNA and CMA – What’s the Difference?

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 while the duties of a medical assistant are more focused on patients’ assessment, evaluation and treatment and non-medical assignments. The detailed description and differences of both of the professions are described below:

1. Supervision


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


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

2. Responsibilities


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, basically everything that involves assisting the patient directly. They do not prescribe any medications and only limited autonomous tasks are performed by the CNAs, that too under supervision.


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 CMA 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.

3. Program Requirements

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNA program requirements vary by state, but it generally lasts for a 4-12 weeks to 6 months. The whole program session is divided into two parts – a theoretical session followed by a 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 “certified nursing assistant certification test.” 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)

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 which has 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.

4. Examination and Certification

CNA- Certification Exam

The written test is usually simple and is basically to test the knowledge that you have gained throughout the program schedule 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) that a candidate has to solve within 2 hours. The clinical section is completely practical, and 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 as failing any one or both will make them ineligible for the certificate, and they 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 which are to be completed within four segments of 40 minutes each. The major portion of the test is composed of medical terminology, and the remaining portion will have questions from the course that is taught during the program period. The questions will be in a different format such as fill-in-the-blank, matching, and true or false.

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5. Validity of the Certificate


The certificate of CNA is valid for 2 years, and 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; failing which would require you to take another CNA program program. So, to avoid this, make sure to check the state’s continued education requirements and make sure to complete the minimum hours required before renewing your license.


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 which 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, but you have to pass it at least two months before the expiration date of your license.

6. Salary

CNA’s Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of a nursing assistant is $$28,540 for the year 2017. Whereas the hourly wages for the year 2017 were $13.72.The annual salary of CNA, according to indeed.com, on July 07, 2018, was $25,958.

CMA’s Salary

The mean annual salary of a CMA nurse for 2017 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $33,580, and the hourly salary was $$16.15. While the yearly salary according to indeed.com on July 07, 2018 was $29,889.

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7. Job Outlook


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.


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 the work force will be required in the near future.

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