MA to RN Programs

How Does an MA Become an RN?

Medical Assistants (MAs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) both play a vital role in providing quality care to patients. Though both healthcare professionals tend to patients' clinical needs, explain procedures to them, and help put them at ease, the roles of MAs and RNs are quite different.

The MA job by design is a blend of office administration and patient care work. Unlike RNs, who can work in any medical setting, MAs can only work in outpatient medical centers such as doctor's offices. They are expected to answer phones, maintain medical records, and schedule patient appointments as well as perform patient in-take responsibilities, collect lab specimens, and ready patients for basic procedures. MAs have a limited scope of responsibility and work directly under a physician.

RNs, who are free to work in hospitals, outpatient centers, and patient homes, are licensed to provide a broad scope of clinical duties. From monitoring patients' vital signs to administering medication, performing diagnostics, and prepping patients for surgery, nurses are clinically trained to perform higher-level treatments. RNs typically do not perform office work. Though both MAs and RNs take direction from physicians, RNs, who possess their own license to practice, have more autonomy and decision-making authority.

While there is a high demand for both MAs and RNs, RNs can earn significantly higher compensation — between $36 to $44 per hour. MAs typically earn around $15 per hour and have limited opportunities for moving ahead. RNs, however, have nearly unlimited opportunities for advancement and specialization; an experienced RN can triage patients in the emergency room, help mothers deliver babies in the maternity ward, supervise nursing staff as a charge nurse, or treat elderly patients in their homes with minimal supervision.

MA to RN Program Pathways

Medical Assistants can leverage their associate degrees, training, and patient care experience to become RNs. The three most common pathways are MA to ADN, MA to BSN, and MA to LPN to RN. Because MAs already have a healthcare background and experience working with patients and physicians, they are well suited to make this transition.


The MA to ADN path is the fastest and most cost-effective way to earn your associate's degree in nursing and begin your new healthcare career. Two-year programs are offered at community colleges and provide students with the rigorous theory and clinical training they need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam, a requirement for all practicing RNs.


Though it is not required, students can commit to their nursing career by earning their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The longer MA to BSN pathway typically requires additional social sciences, language arts, or science coursework. Top hospitals prefer to hire RNs with a BSN and many healthcare experts believe that the BSN will become the standard nursing degree in the future.

MA to LPN to RN

The MA to LPN to RN path may include some twists and turns in the journey to becoming an RN. First, the student completes an LPN education program and successfully tests for the Licensed Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) exam. Upon gaining hands-on experience as an LPN, the student can complete an LPN to RN bridge program. This step by step approach may be preferable to students who don't want to over-commit to a nursing career.


What is ‘Testing Out'?

As a result of your MA educational background, training, and work experience, you have the option of testing out of certain required courses. By "testing out," you can save time and money by not having to retake or re-pay for courses you've already completed.

Third-party testing institutes evaluate your most recent transcripts and determine which courses you can test out of. You purchase their test-prep material and complete their abbreviated hands-on nursing class. When you're ready, you complete the test and, provided you pass, receive the appropriate college credits for a fraction of the cost of retaking the course.

What to Look for in an MA to RN Program?

When evaluating MA to RN options, first and foremost be sure to choose one that is accredited. Other important factors to consider include:

  • Program Cost - This will fluctuate depending on the type of program, what school you choose, and your location. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate the per-credit cost, as well as additional expenses including books, uniforms, etc. to get the true cost of the program.
  • Time to Completion - Both full-time and part-time MA to RN bridge programs are typically available, but keep in mind that part-time programs will take longer to complete.
  • Quality - Aside from choosing a properly accredited program, consider the school's reputation, how long the program has been around, and what kind of experience the faculty and instructors have.
  • Modern Equipment - Some schools give students access to state-of-the-art labs and simulation centers to practice in a more realistic environment.
  • Cohort Sizes - How many students will you be moving through the program with? Smaller cohorts generally allow for more personalized education and one-on-one time with instructors.
  • Partnerships with Area Hospitals - Does your school have affiliations with hospital systems in the area for things like clinical rotations?

Many nursing programs allow some courses to be completed online, yet practicum and clinical courses are generally on-site. Lastly, some colleges are more inclined to accept a transfer or test-out credits so consider this factor when applying for programs.