Medical Assistant vs LPN: What’s the Difference?

The health care is growing at a fast-paced rate. Hence, there are a lot of job opportunities in the healthcare system that don’t require more than 2 years of training. A medical assistant and licensed practical nurse positions are examples of such career choices that don’t require a lot of time to prep for. In fact, you can become a medical assistant less than a year after graduating high school. Becoming a licensed practical nurse doesn’t take a lot of time either compared to a medical assistant. Since both careers are closely-related, it is quite common to confuse the two choices. Although there are similarities between a medical assistant and a licensed practical nurse, they’re two different careers. If you’re stuck between the two choices, there are some pointers you ought to consider.

Search Medical Assistant Programs

Get information on Medical Assistant programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

Sponsored Listings


To become a medical assistant, it is crucial to enroll in an accredited training program. Typically, the training program will take at least 1 or 2 years to complete. Although in some cases, individuals can be absorbed into a medical assistant job with just a high school diploma and no extra training as long there is a physician who is backing up the technical job training. However, most employers prefer medical assistants who have completed an endorsed training program. Unlike most medical training programs, a medical assistant program can be done entirely online. Of course, there is always the traditional approach which allows students to attend classes personally. Similarly, just like a medical assistant, you will need to train for about 1 year to be a licensed practical nurse. The slight difference is that LPN students are required to attend most of their classes in person at an approved college or technical school. Additionally, after completing the course, candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination to get employed or attain a license.

medical assistant vs lpn

Duties and Responsibilities

Both medical assistants and licensed practical nurses work under the direct oversight of a doctor or a registered nurse. Some of the similar tasks that can be done either by a medical assistant or an LPN include; collecting samples, administering medication, checking vital signs, minor surgery assistance and writing down the patient’s records. On the other hand, there are certain things that are usually done by a licensed practical nurse such as performing emergency CPR, dressing wounds, administering catheterizations and care for patients who are feeding through nasogastric tubes or breathing through ventilators tubes. However, the duties of an LPN can vary from one state to the next since there are different state regulations governing the practice. Alternatively, most licensed practical nurses are posted in nursing homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities. A medical assistant will typically work in hospitals, clinics, and ambulatory care. Unlike a licensed practical nurse, medical assistants have an option of choosing administrative duties like answering phone calls, organizing medicals bills, laboratory assistance and scheduling patients.

Career Advancement

A licensed practical nurse can advance his/her career into a registered nurse. However, it will require at least 2 years of additional studies. After further studies, candidates must pass the NCLEX to be fully registered. In contrast, the scope of a registered nurse is wider compared to a licensed practical nurse. In fact, a registered nurse can supervise a licensed practical nurse. Although a registered nurse is supervised by a physician, they can write a patient’s care plan. Besides, registered nurses can continue their medical education to the level of a nurse practitioner or nursing lecturer at universities or colleges. Medical assistants can also advance their career mostly by specializing or further studies. For instance, a medical assistant can get into medical coding and allied health management. Compared to nursing career advancement opportunities, there are more options for a medical assistant to advance. There are even medical assistants who advance into nursing later in their careers through credit points transfer or enrolling in a nursing program.

Employment and salaries

Medical assistant and LPN positions are two of the fastest growing occupations in the healthcare industry. It is expected that both the medical assistant and licensed practical nurse occupations will grow by at least 22 percent by 2022. Hence, there are a lot of employment opportunities for medical assistants and licensed practical nurses. The average yearly salary of a medical assistant is $34000 while that of a licensed practical nurse is $42,000. However, there are few specialized medical assistants who earn close to $40000 on annual basis. As both occupations grow, the salaries are also projected to increase.

Which one should you pursue?

Both medical assistant and licensed practical nurse occupations are rewarding careers. It is easy to get carried away by the occupation that has a higher salary but usually, there are other things to consider. For instance, a medical assistant position is more flexible than a licensed practical nurse considering medical assistants can choose to do clinical or administrative roles. Additionally, a medical assistant role is less demanding compared to a licensed practical nurse. Even though a licensed practical nurse is paid more than a medical assistant, there is always the option to specialize or advancing later in your career to earn more pay. Now that you understand what both jobs involve, the choice is all yours.