Medical Assistant vs. Nurse: Is a Medical Assistant Job Better than a Nurse?

Medical Assistant vs. Nurse: Is a Medical Assistant Job Better than a Nurse?

A career in the healthcare industry provides versatility and ample employment opportunities. With the healthcare industry continuing to show impressive growth, no wonder many people want to make a career in this field.

Healthcare professionals have the opportunity to help people and make a substantial difference in their lives. It can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to see your positive impact on others.

The two most popular career choices in the healthcare industry are medical assistant and nursing. These roles differ significantly regarding educational requirements and responsibilities. While medical assistants are responsible for administrative tasks, nurses have a more hands-on role in patient care.

Choosing between a medical assistant and a nursing career can be difficult as both require different skills and temperaments. While both medical assistants and nurses contribute toward providing healthcare services, nursing is more directly involved with treatment and patient care.

Let’s discuss these two career choices in this article in detail, see their similarities and differences, and whether one is a better option.

What is a medical assistant?

In Australia, a certified medical assistant works in a medical office or clinic to support physicians and other healthcare providers. Medical assistants perform various administrative and clinical tasks, depending on the needs of the practice and the scope of the individual’s training and certification.

Certified medical assistants in Australia are primarily responsible for supporting the daily operations of a medical office or clinic. It can include managing patient records, scheduling appointments, and handling insurance claims.

These professionals may also perform clinical tasks, such as primary patient care, collecting lab specimens, and preparing patients for exams, but their clinical role is minimal at best.

There are several certified medical assistant jobs in Australia, each with unique responsibilities and requirements. Here are the various types of medical assistant jobs in the country:

Administrative medical assistant

An administrative assistant is primarily responsible for managing the administrative tasks of a medical office or clinic. These professionals may schedule appointments, manage patient records, and handle insurance claims.

Clinical medical assistant

Clinical medical assistant is a more clinically inclined position, and this type of medical assisting involves performing some clinical tasks in a clinic. Their responsibilities include writing patient care plans, collecting lab specimens, and preparing patients for exams.

ECG and X-ray technician medical assistants

ECG and X-ray medical assistants specialize in performing electrocardiograms (ECGs) or X-ray scans on patients as part of a diagnostic or treatment plan.

Ophthalmic medical assistant

An ophthalmic-certified medical assistant’s role is to support ophthalmologists in a medical office or clinic. They may assist with eye exams, manage patient records, and perform tests.

Dental assistant

While not technically medical assisting, a dental assistant job is a similar role supporting dentists and other oral health professionals.

These professionals may perform administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments and managing patient records, as well as clinical tasks, such as assisting with dental procedures and taking X-rays.

What is a registered nurse?

Registered nurses exert a pivotal role in the healthcare system in Australia, providing essential care to patients in a wide range of settings.

In addition to providing direct patient care in a healthcare facility, a registered nurse is responsible for coordinating care with other healthcare professionals, advocating for their patients, maintaining medical records, and helping ensure that healthcare services are delivered safely and effectively.

To become a registered nurse in Australia, individuals typically need to finish a Bachelor of Nursing degree from an accredited nursing program which generally takes three to four years.

After completing their bachelor’s degree, nurses may need to obtain a nursing license from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) to practice.


Nursing is a diverse and fulfilling profession with a wide range of specializations and areas of expertise. Here are the different types of nursing jobs in Australia:

Registered nurse (RN)

Registered Nurses are Australia’s most common type of nurse. They are responsible for providing general medical care to patients, such as administering medications, monitoring vital signs, and providing wound care.

A registered nurse may work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and community health centres.

Nurse practitioner (NP)

A Nurse Practitioner is an experienced practice nurse trained to provide a broader range of medical services than a registered nurse. These professionals may diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and manage chronic conditions.

Registered Nurse Practitioners typically have a Master’s degree in Nursing from a government-accredited nursing program and must obtain additional certification in their area of specialization.

Enrolled Nurse (EN)

Enrolled Nurses are trained to provide primary medical care under the supervision of an RN. An EN may administer medications, provide primary wound care, and monitor patient health.

Enrolled Nurses typically have a Diploma in Nursing and must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Nurse educators

Nurse Educators are licensed practical nurses responsible for training and educating new nurses. They may develop and implement training programs, provide mentoring and support to new nurses, and help to ensure that nursing staff is up-to-date on the latest medical techniques and technologies.

Differences between a medical assistant and a nurse

While a medical assistant and a registered nurse are healthcare professionals operating in the healthcare sector, these professions have many differences regarding roles and responsibilities. While a medical assistant is not a clinical position, for the most part, a nursing position is purely clinical.

Here are a few noteworthy differences between the two professions in some key aspects.

Duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant vs. nurse

The roles and responsibilities of registered nurses and medical assistants are regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), and their duties differ in several ways.

Duties and responsibilities of medical assistants in Australia

  • Perform administrative tasks, such as managing patient records, scheduling appointments, and billing.
  • Responsible for performing basic medical procedures
  • Communicate with patients and their families, provide primary health education, and provide assistance with non-medical issues such as scheduling follow-up appointments.

Duties and responsibilities of registered nurses in Australia

  • Provide direct patient care, including administering medications, monitoring vital signs, using medical equipment, and performing diagnostic tests under the direction of a medical doctor.
  • Provide education and counselling to patients and their families
  • Coordinate patient care, including scheduling appointments and communicating with other healthcare providers.
  • Accurately document patient care in medical records.

Education requirements for a medical assistant vs. nurse

The education requirements for medical assistants and registered nurses in Australia differ, reflecting these healthcare professionals’ distinct roles and responsibilities.

Medical assistants in Australia are not required to complete a specific formal education program, although many pursue a certificate or diploma from a vocational education and training (VET) program.

These medical assistant programs typically take 6 to 12 months to complete and provide training in medical terminology, clinical procedures, and medical office administration.

Registered nurses (RNs) in Australia must complete a three-year bachelor’s degree program from an accredited university or an equivalent course approved by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Upon graduation, a licensed practical nurse must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), part of AHPRA, and maintain their registration through continuing education and professional development.

The education requirements for medical assistants in Australia are less rigorous than those for registered nurses, reflecting the different levels of responsibility and scope of practice for these healthcare professionals.

Licensing and certification for a medical assistant vs. nurse

In Australia, most medical assistants and registered nurses may be required to hold specific licenses or certifications to practice in their respective fields. The licensing and certification requirements vary depending on the type of healthcare professional.

There is no formal licensing or registration process for medical assistants in Australia. However, some employers may require medical assistants to hold a Certificate III or IV in Health Services Assistance or a similar qualification offered through vocational education and training (VET) programs.

Registered nurses must be licensed and registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), part of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

To become licensed, registered nurses must complete an approved course of study, meet the English language proficiency requirements, and meet other eligibility criteria established by the NMBA.

Differences in salaries between a medical assistant and vs. nurse

Both nurses and medical assistants have the potential to earn a decent wage in Australia. According to the Australian Department of Employment, the average nurse salary in the country is around $1650 weekly. However, the number can vary significantly based on several factors, such as experience and location.

On the other hand, medical assistants earn less than registered nurses, with their mean salaries amounting to about $1100 weekly.

While medical assistants might not make as much as nurses, with experience in the field, they can also expect decent vertical growth in their careers. Besides, medical assistants usually work during regular hours and don’t have to take night shifts, which is a plus.

The job outlook for medical assistant vs. nurse

With the rise in demand for healthcare in the country, the Australian Government has predicted a sharp increase in the need for healthcare workers shortly. Both nurses and medical assistants will be needed in large numbers to fill various positions in healthcare facilities nationwide.

According to the Australian Government Department of Employment, the number of employed nurses in the country will continue to rise in the next five years, with over 160,000 new positions being filled.

Both nurses and medical assistants will continue to find new job opportunities in the industry in the country, and if you are willing to join the healthcare field, it is an excellent time to jump in.

Work environments for medical assistant vs. nurse

While both nurses and medical assistants work in a clinic or a healthcare facility, their work environment can vary greatly. As medical assistants are not directly involved in patient care, they are primarily confined to their offices and have more of an administrative role.

However, in some situations, medical assistants might need to help in patient care by taking medical histories, measuring vital signs, and assisting the nurses and doctors with patient exams.

Nurses, on the other hand, are more directly involved in caregiving. They need to perform various patient-care duties along with some administration tasks. Depending on the size of the healthcare facility and the nurse’s experience, administrative work can increase or decrease over time.

Is a medical assistant a better job compared to a nurse?

As the responsibilities of both the nursing and medical assistant jobs are so different, it is impossible to pick one of them being the better of the two. Both nurses and medical assistants are pivotal for Australia’s healthcare industry.

A nursing job might be a better match for you if you like to be closely involved with caregiving, like the medical field. On the contrary, a medical assistant job might be a better choice if you enjoy a more administrative role.

Choosing between the two professions ultimately depends on your temperament, inclination, and career aspirations. Before pursuing a career in these fields, you should thoroughly consider your strengths and preferences.

Medical assistants work in clinical and administrative roles, supporting physicians and nurses with patient care, taking medical histories, office tasks, and basic medical procedures. They typically complete a shorter training program and earn a lower salary than nurses.

On the other hand, nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare industry by providing direct patient care and supporting physicians in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. They normally complete a more extensive education and training program, earning a higher salary than medical assistants.

Is medical assistant harder than nursing?

Comparing the difficulty level between a medical assistant and a nursing profession is tricky because both have unique challenges and requirements. These professions’ difficulty level depends on individual abilities, interests, and aspirations.

Medical assistants primarily focus on administrative and clinical duties, such as taking vital signs, performing medical procedures, scheduling appointments, and maintaining patient records.

They require a solid foundation of medical knowledge, good communication skills, and attention to detail. Medical assistants must complete a training program that can last between 9 to 18 months, depending on the program’s length and the level of certification they want to achieve.

On the other hand, nurses have a broader scope of practice and perform more advanced clinical duties, such as administering medications, performing diagnostic tests, developing care plans, and providing direct patient care.

They require a more extensive education and training program, typically completing a nursing degree program that takes 2 to 4 years. Nurses also need to pass a national certification exam to obtain their licenses.

Ready for a fulfilling and enriching career in healthcare?

Both medical assistants and nursing professionals play essential roles in the healthcare industry. Medical assistants typically provide clinical and administrative support, while nurses offer direct patient care and medical expertise.

The decision to pursue a career in medical assisting or nursing depends on an individual’s interests, career aspirations, and personal strengths. When making this decision, it is essential to consider the differences in education and training requirements, job responsibilities, work environment, and salary.

Ultimately, medical assistants and nursing professions offer rewarding career opportunities for individuals passionate about helping others and positively impacting healthcare.

Allied Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing fields in Australia. If you want to start a career in the field, read our detailed guide on How to Start a Career in Allied Health.

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Lorea is a content marketing writer who simplifies complex topics for brands. With a knack for research, she creates engaging articles on various subjects. She enjoys reading, hiking, and trying new foods in her free time.