Medical Assistant to RN

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Transition from Medical Assistant to RN

What is the quickest way to go from a medical assistant to RN?

Differences Between Medical Assistant and RN

A big difference between a Medical Assistant (MA) and Registered Nurse (RN) is scope of practice. These health care pros may have overlapping admin and clinical job duties. But, RNs tend to provide a level of patient care that MAs don’t. So, they might need to pursue different levels of education.

Like RNs, MAs could work in a hospital, medical office, or other healthcare facility. They typically schedule appointments and take down patient info. They could take vital signs, such as blood pressure. And, they may enter patient info into Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Along with that, some Medical Assistants do basic clinical tasks. They might:

  • Do simple lab tests
  • Give injections or medicine
  • Provide wound care
  • Prep patients for x-rays

Registered Nurses may also record patient info and medical histories, like MAs. But, they may do more in depth check-ups. Before the doctor sees the patient, the RN may look at their condition and note symptoms. RNs also help put together treatment plans and educate patients. They may manage LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses). And most importantly, they care for patients. That includes giving treatments and medications.

For RNs in different areas of medicine, clinical tasks may vary. Here are just a few examples:

  • Critical care nurses care for and monitor those with urgent or acute illnesses.
  • Neonatal nurses care for babies who are born premature or with health issues.
  • Genetics nurses do screening, counseling, and treatment for health problems that can be inherited.
  • Public health nurses educate the public about common health issues. They do screenings, outreach, and more.

MAs and RNs may prepare for their career paths in different ways. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs typically pursue one of three types of education:

An approved nursing program that awards a diploma

These nursing programs may be offered by hospitals or medical centers. They usually take 2 to 3 years. You could study areas like nursing basics, surgical nursing, and patient care. Plus, you’ll need to do clinical experience.

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Or, an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

Like a diploma program, an ADN or ASN may take 2 to 3 years to earn. But, they may be more common than the latter type of program. Nursing students may take courses in anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Plus, social and behavioral sciences and the liberal arts. Again, you’ll need to do clinical experience.

A BSN, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing program may include all the same courses and clinical experience as the ADN or ASN. But, it may cover even more ground. Like, communications, leadership, and more science courses. This program may take about 4 years, in total. Already earned an ADN or ASN and want to earn a four-year nursing degree? Some nurses go on to earn their Bachelor’s degree in RN-to-BSN programs. Also called RN bridge programs.

MAs may also have a few education paths to consider:

  • Postsecondary certificate. This is the most common path. A postsecondary cert for medical assistants can be found at community colleges, vocational schools, and more. They may take about a year to earn. You could study subjects like medical terminology and anatomy. Expect to do lab work as well as classroom or online learning.
  • On the job training. Many states don’t have formal education rules for MAs. Employers may prefer that you earn a cert or degree. But, some may hire medical assistants with a high school diploma and train them on the job.
  • Associate degree. You may also find degree programs in medical assisting. Often offered by community colleges, they may be earned in around 2 years. You could take courses in anything from medical coding and health insurance to pharmacology and nutrition. You could also take some general college courses. Like, algebra and communication.

As you can see, a registered nursing program and a medical assisting program may cover some of the same ground. Like anatomy, physiology, and other courses related to the health sciences. But, the nursing program may focus more on clinical skills and knowledge. While, an MA program may focus more on admin functions and general health care knowledge. Each program is designed to help students prepare for the duties they may find in their intended role. So, an MA looking to pursue an RN career path will need to fill in some gaps in their education.

How to Transition

Can a Medical Assistant become an RN? Not overnight. But MAs could potentially transition to an RN career path with more education. That means nursing school. There is no direct path from MA to RN, but there are several education paths that could help you launch this career change. These include: 

MA to ADN or ASN

As an MA, you could earn your Associate Degree in Nursing or Associate of Science in Nursing degree. This usually takes 2 to 3 years and could be the quickest path to pursuing your career change to RN. Already earned an Associate’s degree to become a Medical Assistant? Depending on your school, you may be able to transfer some credits. Especially GE (general education) credits. You could even do some or all of your coursework online, depending on the program. But nursing programs also call for in person clinical experience. That can’t be done online. But, you might be able to do your clinicals at a site near you.


Another option is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A potential benefit to this is that some employers look for Registered Nurses with Bachelor’s degrees. You may also need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for admin jobs or other types of nursing role. This path may take about 4 years from start to finish. But if you have college credits to transfer, you may be able to earn the degree in less time. It all depends on whether your nursing program accepts transfer credits. Most online Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs are designed for current RNs who haven’t yet earned a Bachelor’s. But, you may be able to find a regular Bachelor of Science in Nursing program with online courses.

MA to LPN to RN

An LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse. They may need less education than an RN – often, a certificate or diploma program that takes about a year to earn. So, pursuing an LPN career path could be a way to get a taste of nursing. From there, you could pursue an LPN to RN program. Or, an LPN to ADN program. These bridge programs build on an LPN’s knowledge to help them pursue an RN career path. They may even award credits for prior learning. So, these programs could take less time than you think. And you may be able to complete coursework except clinicals online.

Besides education, you’ll also need to pursue a nursing license from your state. The rules depend on where you live. But, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Many states also need a background check and other requirements. Check with your state board of nursing to learn more.

Why Switch?

Both Medical Assistants and Registered Nurses have vital roles to play in hospitals and other health care settings. So why switch from MA to RN? Here are a few reasons to consider:

  • You could potentially earn more. The 2019 median annual salary for RNs was $73,300 per year. While, MAs earned $34,800. Needless to say, that’s a big pay gap. No wonder some MAs pursue more training and education to go after RN roles.
  • You could gain more responsibilities. RNs may have more challenging duties than MAs. They may work more directly with patients and even educate them about their health. MAs often play more of a supporting role. While some do clinical tasks that involve patients, others mainly do office work. Like setting appointments or entering records. So, MAs seeking to do more in their careers might want to consider nursing.
  • You could enhance your career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs may seek to go even further. They could potentially become Nurse Practitioners with more education, like earning a Master’s degree. Like a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Or, they could pursue other roles in nursing. Like nursing management, admin, and more.

What Financial Aid is Available?

Financial aid may help you afford to pursue a Registered Nursing program. This is key if you’re planning a career transition from MA to RN. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. A key first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will help you know if you qualify for federal financial aid. Like, grants, loans, and work-study.

Federal grants are awards you typically don’t have to pay back. Student loans have to be paid back. But federal loans may come with benefits that private loans don’t offer. Like, lower interest rates. Or subsidized interest, where the government pays your interest while you are in nursing school. And the Federal Work-Study Program may let you work part time to earn money for school.

Scholarships are another possible form of aid. Nursing schools and outside organizations may offer scholarships for nursing students. The American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) awards nursing scholarships. So does the National League for Nursing (NLN). And, many other orgs.

MA and RN Licensing and Certifications

MAs usually don’t need state certification, per the BLS. But, employers may want to hire MAs with a cert. Like, Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). You must be at least 18, pass an exam, and meet requirements for education and work experience.

On the other hand, all RNs need state licensure. Check with your state board for all the requirements. Like, criminal background checks. But you must do two main things to pursue your RN license: 

  • Graduate from an approved nursing education program
  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

Registered Nurses could also pursue additional certs. They might become certified through professional orgs, in specific areas. Like, gerontology or pediatrics. And, RNs may need to earn certs in CPR, basic life support (BLS), and / or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS).

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