How to Go from a Medical Assistant to a Registered Nurse (MA to RN)

Being a medical assistant is a good way to get some experience in the medical field and learn some of the basics of healthcare. People who would like to pursue an advanced medical career may want to start as a medical assistant. 

Many medical assistants go on to become registered nurses. Also, some nursing students will work as medical assistants during school. If you are already a medical assistant or are planning to become one, you may be wondering how to transition from medical assisting to nursing. 

This article will review the steps for transitioning from a medical assistant to a registered nurse, including how to start school, how long it takes, and how much it costs. 

Can a Medical Assistant Become a Registered Nurse?

Yes! A medical assistant can become a registered nurse.

In fact, medical assisting is a great way to get some experience and earn money before you begin nursing school. Many nursing students are able to work as medical assistants while in school, if they structure their schedules well. 

Medical assisting exposes you to a lot of medical terminology and basic healthcare skills, and helps you learn about things like normal vital signs. That knowledge can be very helpful as you begin your first nursing school courses. Medical assisting experience can also help your nursing school application stand out. 

How to Go from a Medical Assistant to a Registered Nurse

While medical assisting is generally considered a good career, becoming a registered nurse can help you earn more money and take on more responsibilities.

Going from a medical assistant to a registered nurse will require you to go back to school. You will have to apply and be accepted to a program first, then decide whether you want to complete an associate or bachelors degree program. 

Note that if you've completed your CCMA exam, you may be able to get college credit thanks to a partnership between the NHA and ACE.

If you choose an associate degree program (ADN) you can usually finish in two to three years. A bachelor's degree program (BSN) usually takes four years. There are some accelerated programs that can be completed more quickly.

After you complete your nursing program, you will have to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a licensing exam that consists of anywhere from 75 to 145 questions. 

Your exam will be shorter if you are getting a large majority of the questions correct or incorrect. If you are borderline between passing and failing, the test will give you more chances to increase your score. 

Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse Programs

Many schools offer programs that will prepare you to take your NCLEX-RN and start working as a registered nurse. Most ADN programs have options to extend your schooling and earn your BSN.

Many programs will allow you to get an LPN and then bridge to RN, so you can earn more money and get experience while working towards your RN degree. 

Unfortunately, there are no MA to RN bridge programs. This is because you can become a medical assistant without any school. When you start an RN program, you have to start from the beginning. 

Here are some examples of schools offering RN programs: 

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (ADN, In Person)

With campuses located in Green Bay, Marinette, Sturgeon Bay, Aurora, Oconto Falls, Shawano, Crivitz, and Luxemburg, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has quite a few options for people looking to start nursing school. 

They are known as a good associate degree program and are one of the most affordable, even for out-of-state students. 

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Associate degree
  • In-person courses
  • 2 years to complete
  • $9,400 in-state tuition
  • $13,000 out-of-state tuition
  • ACEN accreditation

Rasmussen College (ADN, In Person)

Rasmussen College is considered the #1 nursing school in the nation, according to IPEDS. Rasmussen College has campuses in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, and Illinois. 

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Associate degree
  • In-person courses
  • 5 semesters to complete
  • $30,000 tuition
  • HLC accreditation

University of Massachusetts Amherst (BSN, In Person)

University of Massachusetts Amherst is known as one of the best nursing programs in the country. Admissions are quite competitive, so build up a good application with good grades, service, and experience in the medical field by working as a medical assistant or certified nursing assistant. They are also one of the most expensive programs, but have scholarships available. UMass Amherst has an 87% NCLEX passing rate

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Bachelor's Degree
  • In-person courses
  • 4 years to complete
  • $67,000 in-state tuition
  • $152,000 out-of-state tuition
  • CCNE accreditation

Weber State University (BSN or ADN, In Person or Online)

Weber State University is located in Ogden, Utah, with several other campuses around the state. Most of their programs are in person, but they do provide some partial online options for students who live more than 50 miles from campus. They have an 85% NCLEX pass rate.

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Bachelor's Degree or Associate Degree options
  • In person or partially online
  • 3 to 4 years to complete
  • $25,000 in-state tuition
  • $66,000 out-of-state tuition
  • NWCCU accreditation

Grand Canyon University (BSN, Online)

Grand Canyon University is an online learning BSN program and they provide an option for accelerated learning if you already have 60 college credits under your belt. While they are one of the more expensive programs, they have less-strict admission requirements. If you have poor grades from high school or a previous college, you may still get accepted at Grand Canyon University. 

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Bachelor's Degree Program
  • Online classroom with in-person clinicals
  • $41,000 tuition
  • 1-3 years to complete
  • HLC accreditation

Arizona College of Nursing (BSN, Online)

The Arizona College of Nursing has campuses in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Michigan. Their program accepts all applicants and as of November 2022, they do not have a waitlist for admission. They are one of the most expensive programs, but are a good option if you do not want to wait years or don’t feel that you have a strong application to be accepted into a University program.

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Bachelor's Degree Program
  • Online learning with in-person clinicals
  • 3 years to complete
  • $70,000
  • CCNE accreditation

Bristol Community College (ADN, Online & In Person)

Bristol Community College is located in Fall River, MA. They combine online and in-person learning to give you some flexibility while still providing enough hands-on experience to prepare you for your nursing career. 

Here are some key details about this nursing program:

  • Associate Degree Program
  • Partially Online
  • $18,000 tuition for in-state students
  • $32,500 tuition for out-of-state students
  • 2 years to complete
  • NECHE accreditation

John A Logan College (ADN, Online & In Person)

John A Logan College is located in Carterville, Illinois. They offer online learning opportunities with flexible clinical schedules. This college has an impressive 88% NCLEX pass rate as of 2020. Before you can begin their program, you must pass the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) entrance exam.

Here are some key details about this nursing program: 

  • Associate Degree Program
  • Partially Online
  • $10,000 tuition cost
  • 2 years to complete
  • HLC accreditation

How to Choose a Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse Program

There are many factors to consider when choosing a nursing program. Finances, family obligations, living situation, and future goals should all be taken into account before you commit to any program.

For example, many more expensive programs have a faster and easier application process. Also, some ADN credits will not transfer to higher education programs. It is always wise to speak to an academic advisor to go over your options before starting a nursing program. 

Schedule

One of the first things you’ll need to consider is whether or not a nursing program fits into your schedule and lifestyle. Some people have the ability to choose an accelerated program, while others need part-time. Online works well for a lot of non-traditional students, but it can be a challenge to learn online. 

Some schools may provide evening and weekend learning opportunities as well as flexible clinical schedules. Others stick to a more-traditional classroom schedule. Keep in mind that every nursing program will require roughly 600 clinical hours, which you will have to attend in person. 

Location

Imagine where you want to live during your 2 to 4 years of nursing school. For some people, staying in their hometowns where they have family support makes the most sense. Others prefer to branch out and live somewhere new. 

Keep in mind that even online programs require some in-person attendance, so you may have to travel if you choose an out-of-state online program. 

Cost

Nursing programs vary widely in cost. Some of the least expensive programs can be completed for around $10,000, while the more expensive ones can cost $100,000 or more. Before you immediately apply to the least expensive program, make sure you look at financial aid, grants, and scholarship opportunities to help you attend a school that works well for you. 

Accreditation

Make sure you choose an accredited nursing program. Accreditation ensures that a program meets specific educational requirements and helps students be able to receive things like financial aid and counseling services. Graduating from an accredited program improves your chances of getting a job, and some hospitals like VA hospitals require that their nurses graduate from an accredited program. 

You must attend an accredited school if you plan to pursue a higher nursing degree like a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Practitioner.

Time to Complete

Of course, you may be tempted to choose the shortest program. Graduating and starting to earn a nursing salary as soon as possible sounds great. However, keep in mind that accelerated programs require a much heavier workload and may not give you enough time to prepare to take your NCLEX-RN exam. 

Degree

Try to plan ahead for your future goals as a registered nurse. Many clinics and care centers will accept any registered nurse who passed the NCLEX. However, more and more hospitals are requiring their nurses to obtain bachelor's degrees. This is because in order to earn “magnet status”—a prestigious title for a hospital—80% of their Registered Nurses must have a bachelor's degree or higher.  

Clinical Opportunities

Looking into clinical opportunities is especially important for online programs. A few online programs may require you to travel quite a distance for clinical hours. Some programs are only able to offer night shifts and some only day shifts. Throughout an RN program, most schools require at least 600 hands-on hours before your graduation. 

NCLEX Passing Rate

While looking at different schools, Make sure you take into consideration their NCLEX passing rate. Anything lower than 80% is concerning. The NCLEX is both challenging and expensive, and you'll want to choose a program that prepares you well. While you can retake the test if you fail, it costs nearly $300 per attempt. 

How Long It Takes to Become an RN from an MA

The length of time it will take to go from a medical assistant to a registered nurse varies from one year to five years depending on your situation.

If you attended a medical assisting training program and earned your medical assistant degree, you may be able to use some of those general education credits towards your nursing education. You might also be eligible for an accelerated nursing program. 

If you did not attend school prior to becoming a medical assistant, there are still some advantages to having healthcare experience. Some nursing school programs are constantly at capacity and have to turn away a large number of applicants. 

Having medical assisting experience might help you stand out and get accepted into a nursing program more quickly. 

MA to ADN vs. MA to BSN vs. MA to LPN to RN

With several different pathways to become an RN from a MA, you'll need to consider the differences between each one. 

Here’s a look at each:

MA to ADN 

The MA to ADN is the fastest and usually least expensive option. It generally takes 2 years, and most programs allow you to return at a later date to complete your BSN, if you would like. The ADN is the minimal requirement to become licensed as a Registered Nurse. 

MA to BSN

The MA to BSN takes longer, usually taking 3 to 5 years of school. The cost per semester is the same as for ADN programs, but since more credit hours are required, the BSN ends up being more expensive. Many big hospitals require nurses to have their BSN. 

MA to LPN to RN 

MA to LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) to RN programs are generally the same length and cost of an MA to ADN or MA to BSN program. The only difference is that they are structured in a way that will allow you to take your NCLEX-PN exam halfway through the program. Many nurses like this option because they can begin working as an LPN while completing their schooling, and the NCLEX-PN is good practice for the NCLEX-RN. 

>> Read More: Medical Assistant vs Licensed Practical Nurse

Key Differences Between MAs & RNs

While both MAs and RNs work in the medical field, they have some differences to be aware of. 

  • Pay. The average medical assistant salary is around $37,000 per year. The average registered nurse makes about $77,600 per year.
  • Job outlook. The job outlook for medical assistants is 18% and 9% for nurses. These are both higher than the national average. 
  • Scope of practice. A registered nurse has a much larger scope of practice than a medical assistant’s scope of practice. Nurses generally have more responsibilities than medical assistants. 
  • Education requirements. Medical assistants can look for work immediately after high school or obtaining their GED. Registered nurses require at least an associate degree. 

>> Read More: Medical Assistant vs Nurse

Other Career Progressions After You Become an RN from a MA

After you become an RN, you can return to school to pursue an even higher level career. Nurses can easily transition into either a nurse practitioner or a certified registered nurse anesthetist. 

Either of these options requires some nursing experience before returning to school and an additional 3 to 4 years of school beyond a BSN. 

>> Read More: Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant

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