Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse Programs – Transition from MA to RN

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Being a medical assistant is undoubtedly a rewarding career option, and it is a profession practiced by highly skilled and dedicated professionals in the US. However, in recent years, medical assisting has been a stepping stone to other licensed careers in healthcare and allied healthcare. Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse programs is more popular than you would imagine.

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The need for medical assistants to upgrade their career arises from the promise of drawing better average annual salaries and earning more status and reputation in the field of allied healthcare professionals. While many experienced medical assistants eventually move into leadership roles, others opt for specialized roles that fetch them better employability and career advancement.

Some of the professions that allow for easy transition include a Registered Nurse (RN), Surgical Technician, Public Health Inspector, Medical Office Assistant, among many others.

Can a Medical Assistant Become an RN?

The profession of a Registered Nurse (RN) allows easy transition to erstwhile medical assistants, but it calls for some procedural involvement. One must enroll in a state-approved course for registered nurses. After completing ADN, BSN, or LPN degree, they must appear for the certification exam NCLEX-RN. The abbreviation stands for National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

Once they have completed their formal training and also received the state board certification, former MAs can start practicing as RNs in different clinical and ambulatory settings. One can continue to procure other specialized nursing licenses, which would later allow them to be Nurse Practitioners (NP) or Nurse Anaesthetists (CRNA).

Why Should a Medical Assistant Opt for Nursing Degree?

Most individuals employed in medical assisting harbor a desire to transition into the profession of a Registered Nurse because the RN enjoys a considerable sense of autonomy in their profession. Whereas MAs work under the direct supervision of physicians or primary caregivers, RNs work under their individual licensure and permits.

An MA should opt for a nursing degree because their foundations in allied healthcare are already laid out, and a nursing degree is state-approved. The reasons why MAs should opt for the nursing degree include:

  • RNs have better annual salary packages than MAs: It is no surprise that the RNs draw comparatively higher salaries than MAs, as per BLS wage estimates. As per, a medical assistant makes $18.28 per hour. The base hourly salary of MAs is almost half compared to the average RN hourly salary, which is reported to be $43.67 per hour, as per estimates.
  • Being an RN advances your career: Being an RN is better than being an MA, not just from the monetary point of view but also from the growth perspective. It enhances your chances to upgrade your career in the allied health profession, and you become eligible for leadership roles and managerial positions when you’re a qualified and experienced RN.
  • RNs are highly in demand: BLS Job Outlook Sepetember, 2022 predicts a 6% growth rate for RNs in the country between 2021and 2031, which is faster than all other average occupations. Their high demand is because the need for preventive care is on the rise, along with the overwhelming increase in chronic conditions.

Other jobs might become a victim to the recession or laying off, but healthcare is expected to boom, and RNs would continue to enjoy higher demands for they are well-trained in administering medicines and treatments and are licensed to do so, unlike medical assistants. As per BLS predictions for medical assistants, the projected growth rate is 16% from 2021 to 2031, which is significantly higher than RNs, but their dependence on primary healthcare professionals limits their career growth and chances to flourish.

Can you Bridge from Medical Assistant to RN Program?

It is possible to bridge from medical assistant programs to Registered Nurse programs if your college allows it. However, it has been noted for most schools engaged in traditional settings that it is not a possibility. The top 5 schools that allow for an easy transition to RN from medical assisting include:

  • Herzing University: Known for having several locations and three times round the year when courses start, Herzing University provides both ADN and BSN options.
  • Bellevue College: Being the largest institution in Washington state dedicated to higher learning, ADN programs are provided on campus.
  • Cleveland State University: BSN and accelerated BSN programs are provided at CSU. The traditional BSN program also allows evening and weekend slots besides regular slots.
  • Kent State University: ADN and BSN degrees are provided here, and it is the oldest university for the profession, operating since 1971.
  • Drexel University: A BSN Co-op Program provides you with real-world clinical experience, and their transfer program is the best reputed.

How Long Does it Take to Go from Medical Assistant to RN?

  • Duration: The duration of RN programs vary depending upon the type of the program. An associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) takes 2 years to complete, whereas a bachelor’s program in Nursing (BSN) takes around 4 years. An LPN program takes around 12 months, which is the shortest duration.
  • Cost: Similarly, the cost of the RN program varies depending upon the nature of the program. Tuition fees for ADN programs can be estimated at $20,000, but there are other costs involved of books, supplies, and medical equipment. The tuition fees for BSN programs are around $25000-$30,000.

How can a Medical Assistant Become a Registered Nurse?

An MA can become an RN by receiving relevant work experience in a clinic and obtaining formal training that’s state-approved besides state certification gained after clearing National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

  • Education Requirements

    A high school degree or an equivalent GED is required to enroll in nursing programs. One must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 with core courses in Algebra, English, and Science. A student’s transcript must show 3 years for math and science courses, 4 years of English, and 2 years of a foreign language.

  • Opt for a Nursing Program

    • MAs must procure an ADN from a reputed school with CAAHEP or ABHES accreditation: The formal training is supposed to equip RN aspirants with patient care skills. Their prior experience working as a medical assistant is expected to fulfill the need of procuring exposure to real-world clinical experience.
    • Medical assistants can also take the LPN pathway: If nursing is the desired goal, this might be a significant stepping stone to the career of an MA. Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can be a shorter route than the others, for program durations are usually between 12 months and 2 years. Some MA courses are also transferable to LPN degrees.
    • Medical assistants can also procure a BSN: This is the longest course that an MA has to take if they want to transition to nursing, as a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) is a program that has a duration of 3-4 years. However, the plus side of obtaining a BSN is the higher rate of employability they receive.
    • Online RN program: This is the best program for working medical assistants, as these hybrid online programs allow flexibility, individualized and self-paced learning, cost-effectiveness, and increased options of schools to choose from.
    • Test out: Test out is an efficient method that allows students to shorten the time taken to complete an RN program. To avoid a full semester in applicable courses, MAs are allowed to take programs that fulfill the prerequisites of the nursing course. One brilliant example is the Achieve Test Prep Program offered, which is not 100% online and requires some degree of attendance at a community college. However, Sociology, Algebra, English, and Psychology are courses that can be tested out for MAs transitioning to become RNs.
  • Get the Nursing License

    RN aspirants must complete state-approved formal training in an ADN or a BSN program and then proceed to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) for Registered Nurses. The steps include:

    • Initiating the process: They must approach a state licensing agency and appear for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses in the state of residence. All 50 states use the same examination, and it is a pass or fail examination that is computer-generated.
    • Ensuring eligibility: They must ensure they are eligible by meeting the standards outlined as prerequisites in the application. They must also complete a criminal background check. A self-disclosure about professional, legal, and medical issues is also needed. Some states also require a notary signature on the application. The examination tests students’ knowledge of relevant areas like care management, risk reduction, and pharmacology. Clearing this certification examination would ensure they receive licensure from the state board of nursing.
    • Endorsement: If RNs are operating in a different state with state certification, they can be allowed to receive certification without verification in a different state.

How Much More do RNs make than Medical Assistants?

Medical assistants in the US receive a median annual salary of $37,190, whereas Registered Nurses earn $77,600 as per BLS data on RNs. The highest paying state for medical assistants is Washington, where the median annual salary of $47,320 is paid according to BLS wage estimates of MAs.

The RNs employed in medicine manufacturing, and pharmaceutical receive an average annual salary of $105,207, while those in the federal executive branch receive an average annual salary of $97,600. The highest paying state for RNs is California, where the median annual salary is $124,000.

Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse Transition Challenges

The transition from MA to RN does have some challenges outlined in its path. They are:

  • MA transitioned – RNs are expected to perform more than just nursing tasks. They are responsible for preventive care, giving advice that is evidence-based, and patient education.
  • Similarly, RNs are also required to create a nursing diagnosis that is not the same as a medical diagnosis. Based on the assessment of the patient, they must develop and implement a comprehensive plan of care and keep evaluating its efficacy.
  • MAs must also perform leadership tasks like directing other allied healthcare personnel when they become an RN.
  • MAs transitioning to RN must note that they would become the go-to person for all issues within the staff as well as patient care concerns. They are also responsible for improving patient outcomes and making critical decisions.
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Written by : Casey Gardner

Casey Gardner is both a healthcare support professional and an accomplished content creator.  She has been working as a certified health care professional with marketable skills as a physician assistant,  and a qualified medical assistant for last two decades. She has dedicated her nursing career to produce over hundreds of content pieces since 2001, and her work has been published both online as well as offline.


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