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Medical Assistant vs. LPN

Know the Differences in Duties, Requirements, Salary, and Job Outlook

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Once you acquire the education and skills to become a Medical Assistant (MA), you’ll discover many career options and types of facilities where you can work—like hospitals, outpatient centers, and physician’s offices. But you may not realize that becoming an MA can also serve as a springboard into many related careers or help you move on to additional training programs that can build on your healthcare career.

This article is part of a series that compares the differences between a Medical Assistant and other related careers. Here, the focus is on Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse and the differences in schooling requirements, job outlook, and average salaries for these jobs.

If you’re interested in preparing for a MA career, you can read more in our related article about how to become a Medical Assistant.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Definition

As we compare Medical Assistant vs. Licensed Practical Nurse, you’ll notice some differences in the amount of required training, certifications, and average salaries. However, based on your personal goals and long-term work preferences, you may pursue either of these jobs as the first step in your career. It’s good to learn about the essential characteristics of each job so you can better understand what the right step is for you. Let’s start by defining each role.

What is a Medical Assistant?

The Medical Assistant definition provided by The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that MAs complete administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, offices of physicians, and other healthcare facilities. Medical Assistants can choose from several certification programs based on their career goals and the state where they plan to work.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

And what is the definition of a Licensed Practical Nurse? Like Medical Assistants, LPNs provide basic medical care under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. But they may also perform additional tasks. For example, in some states, LPNs can administer medications or start intravenous drips. And in some cases, LPNs can supervise or direct other LPNs or unlicensed medical staff.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Job Description & Duties

One of the best ways to understand and compare these two careers is to look at the job duties. This will give you a good idea of what the daily work might entail. Let’s start by looking at Medical Assistant duties.

What Does a Medical Assistant do?

Doctors and nurses have come to rely on MAs to handle administrative and clinical tasks as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. In this role, your actual tasks will vary by the type of office or facility you work in, but the following is an excellent general overview of job duties.

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

  • Updates the patient’s medical records
  • Administers medicines under the supervision of a physician
  • Assists during medical examinations
  • Prepares medical samples for laboratory testing
  • Manages the schedule of appointments
  • Assists patients with their bills and in filling out forms

What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse do?

And what about the Licensed Practical Nurse duties? LPNs provide basic care, may administer medications, and report on patient care to registered nurses and doctors. Following are a few of the tasks you might regularly perform when working as an LPN.

Licensed Practical Nurse Responsibilities

  • Monitors patients’ health by checking blood pressure and other vitals
  • Administers basic care like changing bandages or inserting catheters
  • Helps patients with daily tasks like bathing or dressing
  • Listens to patients and discusses any concerns or issues
  • Reports patients’ status or concerns to doctors or registered nurses
  • Keeps accurate records of patient’s health and progress

Medical professionals in a hospital hallway

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Next, let’s review where MAs typically work. The majority, 57%, work in physicians’ offices. Another 15% work in state, local, and private hospitals. Others work in outpatient care centers (8%) and offices of chiropractors (4%). Work schedules at these offices and facilities are usually full-time, and some require evenings, weekends, and holidays—especially medical facilities that are always open.

Where Do LPNs Work?

The largest employers of LPNs include the following: 38% work in nursing and residential care facilities; 14% work in state, local, and private hospitals; 13% work in physician’s offices; 12% work in home healthcare services; and 7% work in government roles. Most work full-time shifts, which may be longer than 8 hours, and can include nights, weekends, and holidays.

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Schooling

Our next comparison is the amount of education you need for each of these careers and how long it will take to finish the required training or degree. Here’s what you need to know:

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

Most Medical Assistants must not only complete an educational program accredited by an approved regional or national accreditation agency but also become certified. You’ll study multiple areas in your program, such as patient interaction, basic coding and billing, medical office procedures, and electronic medical records. You’ll also learn how to assess and intervene in specific patient situations. You can choose to complete a diploma program or an associate degree program.

For example, Brookline College offers an accelerated Medical Assisting Program that provides the necessary training for entry-level positions in a healthcare facility such as a clinic, physician’s office, or urgent care facility. This program offers a healthcare diploma.

Once you graduate, you can choose from five different Medical Assistant certifications. In addition, some employers, or states, require a specific certification to start working in that state. For more information, read our article, The Best Medical Assistant Certification for Your Career.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Medical Assistant?

You can earn a healthcare diploma or complete an associate degree program.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Your program can take anywhere from 9 months (for a healthcare diploma) to 2 years (if you choose the option to obtain an associate degree). The diploma program at Brookline College can be completed in about nine months.

Educational Requirements for Licensed Practical Nurses

To become an LPN, you must complete an approved educational certificate or diploma program, which usually takes a year to finish. Upon completion of a state-approved program, prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) exam.

Note that the NCLEX-PN exam is different than the NCLEX-RN exam, which is the exam candidates take to become a Registered Nurse (RN). These candidates usually graduate from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. RNs can supervise LPNs and are more involved in administering medications to patients. Sometimes LPNs choose to continue their education on this path and become a Registered Nurse (RN).

Brookline College offers a Practical Nursing Program that will prepare you to take the NCLEX-PN license exam and gain entry-level employment as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Licensed Practical Nurse?

You must earn a healthcare certificate or diploma in a state-approved program.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Indeed reports that earning your LPN certificate or diploma can take about one to two years, depending on whether you enroll in a full-time or part-time program. The diploma program at Brookline College can be completed in about 48 weeks.

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Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Salary

Another important comparison is how much you can make performing these two medical jobs. Take a look below to see the average salaries for MAs and LPNs.

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for Medical Assistants was $38,000 in May 2021. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned around $29,000, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,000.

This chart shows the top paying industries for Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Agencies, brokerages, and other insurance-related activities $25.46 $52,970
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers $23.53 $48,940
Outpatient care centers $21.48 $44,680
Electronic Shopping and mail-order houses $21.36 $44,420
Insurance carriers $21.34 $44,390

Below are the highest-paying states for Medical Assistants:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Washington $22.75 $47,320
District of Columbia $22.45 $46,690
Alaska $22.30 $46,390
California $21.53 $44,780
Massachusetts $21.25 $44,200

Here are the cities with the highest pay for Medical Assistants:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Vallejo, CA $28.21 $58,670
San Francisco, CA $26.41 $54,930
San Jose, CA $25.90 $53,870
Santa Rosa, CA $25.74 $53,530
Sacramento, CA $24.78 $51,530
Seattle, WA $24.43 $50,820
Napa, CA $24.27 $50,480
Fairbanks, AK $22.62 $47,060
Portland, OR $22.41 $46,620
Olympia, WA $21.95 $45,650

How Much Do Licensed Practical Nurses Make?

The BLS reports that the average annual wage for Licensed Practical Nurses was $52,000 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,000, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,700.

This chart shows the highest paying industries for LPNs:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Personal care services $31.18 $64,840
Office administration services $30.93 $64,330
Insurance carriers $28.73 $59,770
Health and personal care stores $28.65 $59,590
Junior colleges $28.56 $59,400

Below are the highest-paying states for LPNs:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $31.32 $65,140
Alaska $30.60 $63,650
Washington $30.41 $63.250
Massachusetts $29.72 $61,820
Nevada $29.08 $60,490

Here are the cities with the highest pay for LPNs.

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Napa, CA $36.97 $76,890
San Jose, CA $36.48 $75,880
San Francisco, CA $36.26 $75,410
Santa Rosa, CA $34.22 $71,180
Vallejo, CA $34.00 $70,720
San Luis Obispo, CA $33.14 $68,940
Santa Cruz, CA $32.12 $66,800
Seattle, WA $31.91 $66,380
Sacramento, CA $31.77 $66,090
Carson City, NV $31.47 $65,460

Portrait of a smiling medical team

Medical Assistant vs. LPN: Job Outlook

Now that you understand the job duties for these two healthcare jobs and the educational requirements and average salaries for each let’s look at the projected job outlooks.

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

How are MA careers expected to grow over the next decade? The BLS reports that the employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 18% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average of all other occupations.

More than 104,000 openings for Medical Assistants are projected each year, on average, over the next decade. These rapidly expanding jobs may be in hospitals, physician offices, and other healthcare facilities. Many of these jobs may require Medical Assistant certifications.

Click here to learn more on how to become a Medical Assistant.

LPN Job Outlook

Employment for LPNs, although not quite as robust as MAs, is projected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030.

Roughly 60,700 openings for LPNs will become available yearly over the decade. Some of those jobs may result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire.

Click here to learn more on how to become a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Which Job Is Right for You?

If you’re just starting your healthcare career, you wonder which of these two careers is the best first step. Although you can become a Medical Assistant in less time, don’t let that be the deciding factor. If you’re interested in the more advanced care of patients, including tasks like administering medication, you may want to opt for Licensed Practical Nurse. Although the education program is longer, the average salary* for LPNs is higher. However, a Medical Assisting background can also be a solid foundation for many other healthcare careers in hospitals or doctors’ offices.

Reach Your Healthcare Career at Brookline College

Good luck as you prepare to choose the healthcare career that’s right for you and the educational partner to help you prepare to work in your field of choice. Brookline College offers a Medical Assisting Program that provides the necessary training for entry-level positions as a Medical Assistant. It also offers a Practical Nursing Program that will prepare you to take the NCLEX-PN license exam and gain entry-level employment as a Licensed Practical Nurse.