If you’re thinking about a job in healthcare, you’ve got good timing. The US Department of Labor projects that healthcare occupations employment will grow 18 percent between 2016 and 2026.

There are a few reasons why that’s happening, but aging baby boomers play a big role in the surplus of healthcare jobs. 10,000 baby boomers are retiring per day, and many of them will have medical needs that intensify with every passing year.

If you want a career in this field, you’ve got a variety of options, but let’s focus on two right now: medical assistants and nurses. Both serve people in need, but let’s take a closer look at some commonalities and differences.

What medical assistants do

Medical nurses act as support staff for physicians and nurses. Some of them work in offices, while others work in hospitals. Medical assistants can be administrative or clinical. Some work in both capacities. For instance, let’s say you go to your primary care office for an annual checkup. The person at the front desk who asks you to fill out some insurance paperwork may very well be an administrative medical assistant.

Medical assistants often deal with paperwork or other clerical tasks, but they can also perform clinical tasks like, for instance, taking your blood pressure or pulse. Regulations vary from state to state, so some medical assistants can also do things like take your blood or run lab tests.

A medical assistant training program gives you the knowledge you need to perform medical assistant duties capably. The right program for you will cover a wide range of possible activities, since the things you’ll do as a medical assistant can vary considerably from day to day or even hour to hour.

For many people with an interest in the medical field, becoming a medical assistant is how they get their foot in the door. Some decide they’d like to continue their education and advance further, while others are content to remain where they are. In general, schooling to become a certified medical assistant takes about a year, though it can sometimes take longer.

What nurses do

Broadly speaking, there are two types of nurses: a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and a registered nurse (RN). LPNs are higher up the chain than medical assistants, but they don’t have all the training that registered nurses have. That’s why some nurses become LPNs first, then go for their RN degree a bit later in their career.

The biggest difference between LPNs and RNs might be the setting in which they typically work. You’re more likely to see an LPN at a nursing home or rehab center. They do things like help elderly patients bathe or get dressed while also giving them medications and checking their vital signs.

It’s an important role, but an LPN often works in an environment that’s a bit calmer than a hospital — although that varies quite a bit, of course. An LPN is just as worthy of respect as an RN, though. The job still requires a significant amount of training and education.

As far RNs, they often supervise the work of LPNs, but that’s not all they do. They assist doctors with medical treatments. In many cases, they do more on-the-ground work than doctors who swoop in once a day to check on the patient. For instance, a nurse will often listen to a patient to describe their symptoms. Then they’ll give the doctor the full rundown before the doctor goes in and sees the patient. They have the most medical knowledge of anyone besides the physicians because they got a nursing degree that took two or three years to complete.

But just because a nurse is an RN doesn’t mean they’ve run out of opportunities to advance their education. Many hospitals will encourage nurses to keep studying medicine by, for instance, enrolling in an RN-BSN program.. The medical field is constantly changing, which means there’s always something new to learn.

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