Being an RN as well as a psoriatic arthritis patient, I thought it was great when CreakyJoints and the Rheumatology Nurses Society teamed up to create the CreakyJoints Patient Choice Nurse Award.  Now patients like me can acknowledge nurses who have gone above and beyond by nominating them.  What a perfect way to honor your favorite rheumatology nurse!


But then it occurred to me: What rheumatology nurse could I actually nominate? I’ve never had contact with any of the nurses in my rheumatologist’s office.
When I visit my rheumatologist, I relay my questions or concerns to Lisa, a CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) who might also take my blood pressure or weigh me.  The only RNs I’m aware of  in my doctor’s office are in the infusion therapy side, and since I’ve always been on either Enbrel,  Humira, or an oral medication, I’ve never had reason to have interaction with them.


I am not alone in noticing the increasing lack of registered nurses. I’ve heard from fellow patients that some clinics/offices will have one RN on duty to oversee the office and to help triage phone calls but most of the staff is made up of CMAs.


Not to disparage hardworking CMAs but I suspect that doctors’ offices are now employing CMAs over RNs because they are way cheaper. Labor statistics back this up. In 2012-2013, medical assistants made on average $28,860 a year and registered nurses, $64,690.*


That’s right; registered nurses make twice as much as certified medical assistants.


In terms of education, training has changed since I became a registered nurse in the late 1970s where I took the nursing school route, first becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and then working weekends in a hospital setting under the supervision of an RN while I finished my Associates Degree in Nursing. Nowadays, becoming an RN means a college degree from an accredited institution, minimally a two-year Associates, while many earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or go on for a Masters.  And of course one must take tough licensing exams and have supervised clinical work experience.


How does training for a CMA compare to that of an RN? In my opinion, it doesn’t.


According to the Medical Assistant Atlas,, “There is no legally required minimum level of education for a Medical Assistant because no formal qualification is required. However, most CMAs these days do want to be certified, and that generally requires between 6 and 12 months of study.”


Six to twelve months of study?  It sounds like becoming a CMA may be a steppingstone to becoming a registered nurse someday—but the bottom line; CMAs and RNs are not the same.


CMAs do learn how to prepare and administer medications, interview and record patient medical information, how to measure and record blood pressure, pulse, weight much like the LPN programs of yesteryear.  They also learn some administrative duties including scheduling appointments, maintaining medical records, billing and coding for insurance purposes.


However, a CMA cannot counsel you on how to manage your condition. So next time you are visiting your physician, before you pour out your health concerns and ask for guidance on how to manage your illness from someone you may assume is a trained nurse, check out the name badge of the staff and what credentials they have.


*Source: PARENT RESOURCE GUIDE 2012-2013 American Careers