CMA vs. CNA: What’s the Difference?

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Written by Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN Freelance Writer, IntelyCare
CMA nurse in blue scrubs handing pills and water to a senior patient.

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help make up the backbone of the healthcare industry. They work closely with registered nurses (RNs), helping them directly care for patients in a variety of ways and settings. Once a person becomes a CNA, they may choose to further their education to become a certified medication aide (CMA). Let’s take a look at CMA vs. CNA to see what each job does.

CMA vs. CNA: What They Do

It may seem a little confusing, but both CNAs and CMAs are important members of the healthcare team who deal directly with patients. They also work under the supervision of one or more RNs. Learning more about the difference between a CNA and CMA can help you decide which is right for you.

CNA

In the course of a shift, a certified nursing assistant may help patients complete daily tasks related to everyday life. CNAs often help bathe and dress patients. Other CNA duties may include:

  • Answering patient calls
  • Cleaning and prepare patient rooms as necessary
  • Documenting issues arising for patients
  • Dressing wounds
  • Feeding patients who cannot feed themselves
  • Helping with certain medical procedures
  • Reporting problems or concerns to the RN
  • Stocking supplies
  • Taking vital signs including blood pressure and temperature
  • Turning and repositioning patients as necessary

To learn more about duties you might perform in this role, look at this sample CNA job description.

CMA

CMAs, also known as certified med techs or med aides, are CNAs with additional qualifications that allow them to dispense certain drugs to patients under the supervision of an RN. They also monitor patients and document any response to the drug’s dosing and use. Other job tasks performed by CMAs may include:

  • Collecting samples for analysis in a lab
  • Educating patients on proper medication use
  • Stocking the medication dispensary with supplies
  • Reporting any change in the patient’s condition to supervisors

To learn more about what CMAs do in their role, look at this sample CMA job description, but be sure to check with your board of nursing to learn the full scope of practice for medication aides in your state.

CMA vs. CNA: Work Environments

The workplaces that hire CNAs and CMAs are similar. Both jobs allow you to work in many different healthcare settings. These may include hospitals, doctors’ offices, urgent care centers, clinics, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and assisted living facilities.

CMA vs. CNA: Education Requirements

CNA

In order to become a CNA, you’ll need to have your high school diploma or GED. Then, you’ll need to complete nursing assistant training. These programs usually only last a few months and take place at community colleges, technical schools, and some medical facilities.

After you’ve completed your education, you’ll take a certification examination. This test consists of written questions and a skills test where you demonstrate you know how to correctly perform several clinical skills.

Once you’re certified, you’ll immediately be able to apply to CNA jobs.

CMA

You can only earn a CMA certification if you are already a certified nursing assistant. In some states, you may have to work as a CNA for a period of time before you can get your CMA. You don’t need a college degree to become a CMA. Instead, CMA programs can be taken community colleges or trade schools. They usually take around four months to complete.

After you’ve completed your training, you’ll need to pass an examination to get your certification. You’ll also need to continue your education — a medication aide certificate isn’t permanent, and you’ll need to renew it at certain intervals. Learn more about how to earn a medication aide certification in your state.

When you’re a certified med tech, you can start applying to CMA jobs.

CMA vs CNA Pay

Because of the country’s aging population, you’ll be in demand as a medical professional, whether you’re a CNA vs. CMA. That said, there’s a slight difference between medication aide vs CNA salary. While it takes more training and time to become a CMA, if you decide to pursue this career option, you’ll probably make more than you would as a CNA.

Remember that your level of experience, geographical location, and facility type can impact your salary.

CNA vs. CMA? It’s really more of a progression. Both CNAs and CMAs are important parts of the healthcare team. If you’re looking to start a new career quickly, becoming a CNA can help you achieve your goal. However, if you want to take your career a step further without going to a four-year college, becoming a CMA can be a great choice.

CMA vs. CNA: Take Your Next Step With IntelyCare

No matter where you are in your career, as a CNA, CMA, or even an RN, you can keep an eye on the latest opportunities. Learn how IntelyCare can help you find nursing roles that align with your goals.