The Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Licensed Practical Nurse

Are you thinking about becoming either a medical assistant or a licensed practical nurse (LPN)? Though the two positions may seem similar to one another, it is important to know both the similarities and the differences between the two careers as these factors might play a crucial role in your decision making process.

Duties and Responsibilities

Both a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse perform a variety of the same duties, including monitoring vital signs, assisting patients receiving care, helping doctors, and preparing patients for surgery.

However, a practical nurse tends to perform more direct care to the patients, including working with intravenous lines, administering medications, and inserting catheters. Medical assistants on the other hand, perform tasks that practical nurses cannot. These tasks include performing laboratory tests and diagnostic procedures such as electrocardiograms. Most state regulations will be the deciding factor on which profession does what on the job.


If an employer is willing to provide the training, medical assistants do not necessarily require any formal education. If this is not the case, and the employer is not providing the training, most assistants will either need an associate degree in applied science or a medical assistant certification.

Both an associate’s degree and a medical assistant certification can take up to one to two years to complete, with licensed practical nurses attending nursing school. If you are looking to become a practical nurse, then you need to acquire a medical license as it will allow you to work independently in some states, and this process usually takes up to 1-2 years to complete.

Working Environments

Both a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse can work in a hospital setting, however, it is more common for medical assistants to work in physician offices or clinics.

In terms of hours worked, most medical assistants work during the day with the exception of a few weekend and night shifts. Licensed practical nurses typically work in elderly care facilities, long-term hospitals, or they are employed by home care services, and they work mostly nights and weekends.


With the salaries influenced by experience, education and the location of the employer, most medical assistants earn an average of about $29,000 while a licensed practical nurse earns a salary of $41,000.

The Future of Both Careers

One advantage that draws prospective students to this field is that both a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse remain in a stable industry. With the expected expansion of the health care system, the demand for licensed practical nurses is meant to grow up to 25% and 29% for medical assistants in the next 10 years.

Time to Choose

If working one-on-one with patients is something that you enjoy and you are looking to eventually become a nurse or a doctor, then becoming a licensed practical nurse is a good way to get the ball rolling.

That said, if you would rather work alongside of a physician and perform various diagnostic and administrative tasks, then becoming a medical assistant might be better suited towards your interests. Another factor to consider when deciding between the two careers is that medical assistants typically work hours that are more reasonable, while a licensed practical nurse has the opportunity to earn more over time.

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