The easiest answer to the question posed in the title is one word: education. While most states maintain no specific educational requirements for medical assistants (MAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) must complete approved LPN programs and pass the NCLEX-PN, the National Council Licensure Examination for practical nurses.
Once the decision has been made to move from MA to LPN, there are a number of campus-based and online nursing programs available for aspiring nurses ready to take a step up the career ladder. Here are some statistics about each career path, for anyone who's thinking about making this move, but hasn't yet decided to make the switch.
Why Transition from MA to LPN?
Going from MA to LPN can pay off in a few different ways, perhaps most noticeably in expected pay. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average median hourly wage for medical assistants was $15.34 in 2015, while LPNs took home a median hourly figure of $21.17. That's a big difference, which adds up to median annual wages of $30,590 for MAs and $43,170 for LPNS -- a difference of more than $12,500 over the course of a full year.
Besides the difference in pay, LPNs also have a range of more advanced nursing positions into which they can transition after taking on enough experience in the field. Completing the next tier of nursing education and passing the associated NCLEX can lead to a career as a registered nurse (RN), for which the BLS reports an hourly wage of $34.14 in 2015, or $67,490 for the year. Further education, including Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in nursing, can lead to careers as an advance practice nurse or nurse educator.
Ask an Expert: Going from MA to LPN
If education is the most important step in transitioning from MA to LPN, who better to give insight into the process than a program director of nursing education? Myra Griffin, who serves as director of nursing programs at Clover Park Technical College, was kind enough to take some time out of her schedule to answer a few questions on the subject of LPN programs and career prospects for nurses in the long run.
Myra Griffin, who serves as director of nursing programs at Clover Park Technical College.
What is the best course of action to take if a medical assistant (MA) wants to become an LPN?
Griffin: Unfortunately, other than any prerequisites you may have taken for your MA, the MA does not transfer to a practical nurse (PN) program so you will need to complete all the prerequisites listed for PN.
What other types of nurses are there? Can a nurse go even further in his/her career?
Griffin: From PN [the next step is typically] registered nurse (RN), then advanced registered nurse practitioner. You can get your master and doctorate degree in nursing as well, which would allow you to teach in a nursing program.
Can nurses work at the same time as they work toward getting a higher degree?
Griffin: Yes. Once you receive your RN there are several programs which allow you to work while working on your advanced degree. Some people work while in the LPN or RN program but it can be difficult.
What are the preferred qualities/skills of a nurse?
Griffin: Critical thinking and love of people.
Why would you recommend someone to enter the nursing field?
Griffin: Nursing is a hard field and not something you should go into just because there are jobs available. If you love caring for people and don't mind touching people and body fluids, it is a rewarding career. For people pursuing the path of nursing I recommend applying to as many programs as possible to keep your options open.
Career Prospects for Graduates of LPN Programs
The BLS reports jobs for both MAs and LPNs are projected to grow faster than average between 2014 and 2024 although jobs for medical assistants are expected to slightly outpace those for LPNs. However, LPNs who go on to become registered nurses can qualify for one of the more than 439,300 new RN jobs expected to open up by 2024.
All in all, LPNs have larger expected salaries, expanded job opportunity and greater chance for career advancement than MAs, even though the day-to-day duties of each job are fairly similar. If you're ready to take the step from MA to LPN and want to learn more about LPN programs in your area, there's more information on specific schools in the listings below.
- "Medical Assistants vs. Licensed Practical Nurses: How to Tell the Two Apart," Lauren Ramirez, Rasmussen College, January 30, 2013, accessed June 29, 2015, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/health-sciences/blog/medical-assistant-vs-licensed-practical-nurses-telling-the-two-ap/
- Medical Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Medical-assistants.htm
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
- Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016 http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm
- Medical Assistants, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319092.htm
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292061.htm
- Registered Nurses, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm