CNA vs CMA vs QMA: What’s the Difference?
Healthcare is a field that is constantly growing and evolving. The need for healthcare professionals is higher than ever before and will only continue to increase in the coming years. In addition to the rising demand in the number of workers needed, there is an increased necessity for finely tuned roles and specialized training to meet a variety of patient care needs. Among the choices for entry level jobs into patient care are Qualified Medication Aides (QMAs), Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs), and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). Each of these roles requires specialized training that can usually be completed over the course of several weeks and then a rewarding career in healthcare can begin. There are several differences in these roles, mostly related to work setting, population served, and tasks required, so a knowledge of these differences is needed in order to choose which option is right for you. Below is a video briefly summarizing these exciting options and their differences, followed by a more detailed description of each career.
What is a QMA?
The role of a QMA involves administering both prescription and non-prescription medications to patients and then monitoring their reactions, all under the supervision of a licensed nurse. QMAs start out as CNAs, so they already have specialized training in direct patient care. After earning a certain amount of experience as a CNA (usually around 1,000 hours), those wishing to become a QMA must complete approximately 100 hours of extra training in pharmacology and medication knowledge and pass a written exam to become licensed. Typically, around half of the training involves supervised medication administration.
Earning potential for QMAs is around $30,000 per year and growth projections for this career choice are between 10% to 14%. Attention to detail is an important quality for anyone considering becoming a QMA, as dosage, route, and timing of medication administration must all be carefully understood and adhered to in order to avoid errors or harm to the patients. Understanding and monitoring for potential side effects is also an important part of medication administration.
QMAs serve an important function in settings where daily patient care is routine and ongoing, such as long term care facilities, assisted living facilities, or rehab centers. The number of patients with multiple medications needed daily can be quite large in settings like these and having a qualified professional to which administration of meds can be delegated allows LPNs and RNs more time to focus on higher level tasks of patient care, making QMAs extremely useful and important. The added pharmacology knowledge and experience administering meds may be particularly appealing to anyone who is considering a licensed nursing role, as pharmacology is a heavy focus of LPN and RN schooling, and experience as a QMA would offer an advantage over individuals with no prior pharmacology knowledge. Forming long term relationships with patients over time can also be a rewarding component of this career.
What is a CMA?
A CMA works directly with patients in settings like outpatient clinics, doctor’s offices, and primary or specialty care. This role involves collecting and documenting patient history information, taking vital signs, and preparing patients for an exam by a provider. CMAs can also perform more administrative tasks such as verifying insurance coverage, processing payments, and organizing patient records. CMA programs typically take 1-2 years to complete and include classroom and clinical time that must be completed before passing a certification exam. The CMA field is growing steadily, with a projected increase of 29% in the coming years. Those in this role can expect to earn a salary of around $33,000 per year.
This career choice is often fast paced, with the number and variety of patients encountered daily being larger than what CNAs or QMAs might experience. CMAs work closely with providers like doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, making strong interpersonal and communication skills very important as they learn a provider’s individual preferences for how to triage and prepare a patient for an exam. The variety of potential settings may be appealing to individuals who have interest in a particular area or specialty of healthcare. CMAs can be found in offices ranging from primary care, to oncology, pediatrics, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, and more. Additional skills or training, such as vaccine administration, dressing changes, or lab sample collection may be required depending on the setting, providing plenty of opportunities for professional growth.
What is a CNA?
CNAs provide direct patient care in a variety of settings, from hospitals to long term care facilities, assisting with activities of daily living, ambulation, and comfort and safety measures. Typical tasks for a CNA’s shift may include bathing and grooming patients, feeding patients, changing linens, taking vital signs, and keeping the patient’s environment tidy and safe. As the professionals most often in frequent direct contact with patients, CNAs must have good observation and assessment skills and be able to report any changes or concerns to the licensed nurses overseeing the patients’ care.
Most CNA programs take between 4 and 10 weeks to complete, encompassing classroom and clinical experiences and culminating in a written exam that must be passed for licensure. Earning potential for CNAs is close to $30,000 per year and the demand for CNAs is expected to increase around 14% in the coming years.
The CNA path is a great option for those wanting to jump right into a healthcare career and start building patient care experience. There is potential to form close and long term relationships with patients as well as learn the inner workings of hospitals or long term care facilities and their various roles along the clinical ladder. The CNA route serves as a rewarding and lucrative profession on its own, but is also a prudent option for those wanting to continue their education and eventually become a licensed nurse.