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Medical Assistant versus Registered Nurse: Which is Right for Me?

Maybe you’re heading to college right after graduating high school, or perhaps you’re a returning student. If you’ve already decided you want to go into healthcare – congratulations! This line of work can be a very rewarding career.

Before you begin your schooling, though, it’s important to carefully consider your chosen area of study. To help, we’re going to compare medical assisting and nursing professions, giving you some things to evaluate as you make this important decision.

Taking a Closer Look

Medical Assisting

A medical assisting certificate can prepare students to work with patients in both a clinical and administrative capacity.

Job Functions

Hospitals, offices of physicians and outpatient treatment centers are the most common employers of medical assistants. Regardless of where you choose to work, there are two primary job functions in the field of medical assisting: administrative and clinical work.

Administrative tasks often include patient scheduling and medical record upkeep/data entry. On the other end of the spectrum, clinical responsibilities can include anything from taking vital signs and helping physicians with exams to preparing lab samples for testing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that, in some states, medical assistants can administer shots and medication.

Earning Potential & Outlook

Like many healthcare jobs, the industry is expected to see above-average growth over the next decade. As such, the BLS projects a 29% increase in the employment of medical assistants over the next 10 years. For context, that is 17% more than the field of registered nursing.

As for earnings, the BLS reported that these professionals earned an average income of over $33,000 in 2018. Some medical assistants working at outpatient centers even reported annual earnings upward of $36,000.


There are no formal education requirements for becoming a medical assistant, but obtaining a postsecondary certificate may make you a more competitive candidate. Plus, you will get a head start on learning the needed skill set.

If you choose to pursue a postsecondary certificate, programs can range from 1-2 years time.

Registered Nursing

Job Functions

Unlike medical assisting, nursing is mostly comprised of clinical responsibilities. Below is a look at routine job functions:

  • Administering patient medication and treatment
  • Helping perform diagnostic testing
  • Providing education about post-discharge/at-home care
  • Recording patient medical histories and on-site symptoms

Outside of providing medical care, registered nurses often provide patients with the emotional support they need during their visit. While this can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding.

Earning Potential & Outlook

Earning about $30,000 more than the average occupational income, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that RNs earned a median income of $71,730 in 2018. The industry is also expected to see a 12% employment increase by 2028.


To become a registered nurse, you will need one of the below:

  • Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN)
  • Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN)
  • A diploma from an approved nursing program

Upon the completion of a program, all registered nurses must be licensed.

Begin a Career in Healthcare

When it comes to choosing between registered nursing and medical assisting, it really comes down to your individual needs. Good news! No matter which path you choose, Northwestern College has you covered. Learn more now!