If you have ever visited a hospital in the US, either as a patient or a family member of the patient, you will have come across many CMAs and CNAs. Most of them are often seen carrying out similar tasks and working similar shifts. Their responsibilities are also related to each other. Both CMA and CNA work in comparable capacities and help the doctors provide the most appropriate and specialized care to the patients.
But what is the difference between a CMA and a CNA? Does one earn more than the other, or is one expected to shoulder more responsibilities? Are there any advantages in being a CMA over a CNA and vice versa? If you want to know about the key differences in the job description, education, employment prospects, earnings, and work responsibilities of a CNA and CMA, keep reading!
CMA vs. CNA
CMA stands for certified medical assistant. A certified medical assistant (CMA) is any medical assistant that meets the certification requirements set by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and has received his or her certification. In the US, this certification can only be acquired by completing an accredited medical assisting program that is recognized by the Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
On the other hand, a CNA is a certified nursing assistant. In order to be a CNA, the NNAAP or National Nurse Aide Assessment Program examination is required in many states to obtain a license. Different states will have unique requirements for the nursing assistant certification process. While the CNA educational requirements vary by state, they often include a state-approved training program. Such programs can be offered at a high school, community college, vocational school, or hospital. The CNA classes are typically around two months long and teach the students about caring for patients, any basic medical skills with hands-on skill classes, and critical ethical and moral understanding.
Which One Is Better?
If you are considering a career in healthcare or want to pursue a path that will help you work with patients, CMA and CNA are two prominent options. Apart from the doctors, people who come in contact with the sick the most are the CMAs and CNAs. Depending on your ability to handle stressful situations, income requirements, and preference for work hours, deciding between CMA and CNA can be a little challenging. In this article, we will detail the key differences between the two professions so you can make an informed choice based on all available information. So let’s get started!
CMA vs. CNA: Job Description
As the name indicates, a certified medical assistant is expected to carry out simple medical procedures as well as administrative tasks. The detailed job description for a CMA will depend on the guidelines of each medical and the specialty area of the health care professional that presides over patient care in that facility. As a certified medical assistant, you will be expected to carry out tasks that will encompass both administrative duties and in-patient procedures.
A certified medical assistant will be carrying out different minor clinical procedures such as taking patient history, performing venipunctures, taking blood samples for tests, measuring and recording vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, breathing rate, performing EKGs, and assisting doctors or nurse practitioners with performing systemic examinations. You will also be responsible for achieving organisational tasks such as scheduling appointments, updating and maintaining medical records, and patient billing. All in all, you will be performing a combination of duties that will involve patient care and management.
Certified nursing assistants have more to do with patient care and less with managerial tasks. CNAs work under the direct supervision of licensed nursing professionals, including licensed practical/vocational nurses and registered nurses. Certified nursing assistants typically provide hands-on direct patient care focused on basic care and comfort, which is why they need to be well-versed in practical skills. CNA responsibilities include, but are not limited to monitoring and recording vital signs, which are then reported to the nurse, keeping the patient’s personal space clean by making beds, tempting the trash, etc., bathing, dressing, and feeding patients as needed, assisting patients with transfers from bed to chair or wheelchair, or with walking.
Skills Required As A CNA And CMA
When recruiting a CNA or CMA, hospitals and agencies look for people with the particular skill set that will help them interact and care for the patients in the best possible way. Since CMAs and CNAs come in contact with a multitude of patients everyday, they must have remarkable interpersonal skills so they can make the patient feel relaxed and comfortable. Apart from the educational requirements, some traits that will make you a good fit for CNA or CMA include the following.
Communication skills form the cornerstone of both CNA and CMA job descriptions. Patients from all social classes, ethnic backgrounds, and disabilities will be attending a healthcare facility. In order to provide the best possible care, the nursing and medical assistants, who may often be the first people the patients interact with, need to make them feel seen and heard.
As a CNA and CMA, both verbal and non-verbal communication skills are of the utmost importance as not all patients will be relaying their concerns in a conventional manner.
CMAs and CNAs will also be responsible for documenting patient complaints, which will include pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, fever, weight and mood changes and many others. For this purpose too, a medical and nursing assistant must be fluent in all manners of communication, both verbal and non-verbal.
Physical And Mental Strength
A certain degree of physical strength is a prerequisite for working as a CMA or CNA. While medical assistants are less often involved in physical labor, they may often be involved in moving the patients, operating heavy equipment, transferring documents, and just running along the hallways from one chamber to another. Nursing assistants, on the other hand, will have to carry out such tasks daily. They are expected to bathe and clean the patients, change their sheets and fix their clothing, along with helping them walk as well as relocating patients from one bed to another or moving them to a wheelchair. As a nursing assistant, the work is more physically demanding than a medical assistant, so those applying for CNA positions should keep it in mind.
Mental strength is another requirement when working as a CNA or CMA. A CMA or CNA will often face situations where they have to break the bad news to a family, console the grieving members, or help the loved ones say their final goodbyes. In such situations, the family members of the patients rely on the hospital staff to be strong and provide support. If a CMA or CNA breaks down or is unable to control their own emotions, the patient’s family often finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
However, a CMA or CNA is also expected to show a certain level of compassion and understanding for patients’ pain and suffering, so they feel validated. The patient is more likely to share their entire situation with you if they feel safe and understood. To cultivate a healthy patient-healthcare provider relationship and ensure proper patient care, being sympathetic and showing empathy is critical.
As mentioned above, a CNA is expected to care for a patient’s needs under the supervision of a registered nurse. A CNA will be expected to look after the patient’s surroundings to find out if all their needs are being met while providing them the best possible physical care. Their job will entail keeping the patient clean, making sure the sheets, trash cans, and any other appliances are clean and working. If a patient wants to be shifted from the bed to a wheelchair to get an MRI or if a patient needs the thermostat lowered, the CNA will be called.
A CMA will be expected to care for the patient, perform any tasks delegated to them by the doctor or their supervisor, and also keep the paperwork in order. From taking all the relevant history, printing out medication lists for the patients, entering billing information, to storing medical records are all included in the job description of a CMA. As a CMA or a CNA, multitasking will be a significant part of your job and before accepting any positions, make sure you can carry out multiple tasks simultaneously.
If you are planning to be certified as a medical or nursing assistant, the minimum requirements include a high school diploma or high school equivalency. The educational needs of CMAs are longer than CNAs. Most states require prospective CMAs to complete some formal academic training programs. These programs typically include medical terminology, basic pharmacology, anatomy, insurance and coding classes, and laboratory techniques and procedures. While shorter types are available, some community colleges offer associate degree (two-year) programs to become certified medical assistants.
In order to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in any state, you must have a high school diploma or high school equivalency and complete an accredited CNA training program. Your state’s board must approve the training program of nursing. Nursing assistant training programs vary in length from three to twelve weeks. The variation in program length is based on each state’s requirements. Some states require at least 75 hours of training. In comparison, others require between 80 and 180 hours featuring courses related to nutrition, personal care, body mechanics, communication skills, personal safety, infection control, ethics and legal issues, and medical terminology.
CMA vs. CNA Cost
The average cost of becoming a CMA or CNA may vary, depending on where you get certified from and whether you include the cost of books, tuition, supplies, and travel which may impact your out-of-pocket expenses. Tuition fees for a certified medical assistant course range from $1,200 to more than $4000 and may be higher in some cases, for example, if you need to repeat a class or missed a semester. On the other hand, the price of certified nursing assistant programs ranges from $300 to $3,000, depending on the length of the program and the cost of tuition. If you are looking for a cheaper option, the American Red Cross offers a certified nursing assistant course for approximately $825. You can also search for a nursing home or long-term care facility that provides free tuition, in-house training, and job placement for students who are willing to sign a contract to work for the facility after completing the program.
Entry-level salaries of CMA and CNA are similar and may vary according to the facility you are working at, your responsibilities, work hours, and whether you are allowed overtime. For certified nursing assistants, the average is a little less than $10 per hour or $20,480 per year, whereas certified medical assistants earn close to $12 per hour, which is roughly $24,000 yearly. Those who work evening or night shifts or work weekends and holidays may earn additional income or be offered shift differential pay as an incentive to take the shifts others are unwilling to work. An important factor that significantly impacts the income of a CNA or CMA is experience. The more your experience, the more your pay will be.
CMAs and CNAs form the backbone of every healthcare facility. From the moment a patient enters, nursing and medical assistants take care of all their needs while also supervising administrative tasks and carrying out procedures for the doctors. Both medical and nursing assistant jobs can get hectic, so make sure you are up for the task before you agree. While they are physically demanding, people working these jobs have reported a high job satisfaction and peace of mind.