If your purpose in life is to help others and you’re fascinated by the medical field, then you likely already know that you want to be a nurse. Now, you just need to decide what kind of nursing career you want to pursue.
You can also go down the most well-known and well-worn path by becoming a registered nurse (RN). RNs work with a network of physicians and other health_care professionals in settings including hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes.
However, there’s an additional step you can take, which many RNs do. You can eventually choose to become a nurse practitioner (NP). NPs act as primary or specialty care providers and will typically hold a master’s nursing degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
In this guide, we’ll outline the differences—and the similarities—between NPs and RNs, including:
- Education requirements
- Job responsibilities
- Job prospects
Ready to learn more about your future as a nurse? Read on.
Nurse Practitioner vs Registered Nurse: Everything You Need to Know
While every NP is an RN, not every RN is an NP—nurse practitioners undertake additional schooling, licensing, and training.
Both nursing career paths require a certain level of education, plus certificates, licenses, and a certain number of clinical hours. Let’s dive into what each of these valuable career choices requires, includes, and promises, in terms of job prospects, salary, and advancement opportunities.
#1 Education Requirements for Registered Nurses
If you’re looking to join the ever-growing healthcare industry, studying and training to become an RN is an excellent point of entry. Registered nurses have a great deal of responsibility, and interact directly with patients and their families.
There are two main types of RN programs: an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).1
If both allow you to become a registered nurse, then what’s the difference?
- An ADN is the minimum required to become a registered nurse. These programs are available at community colleges, some four-year universities, career colleges, and vocational-technical colleges—just be sure to check their accreditation and reputation before committing to a program.
The two-year ADN program focuses entirely on nursing classes and clinical experience—no mandatory writing or general education requirements involved—and is typically more affordable than a four-year BSN degree. The downside to an ADN is that some healthcare facilities will only hire BSN-educated nurses, which could limit your job opportunities.
- The four-year BSN degree focuses on a nursing core curriculum plus liberal arts courses. This nursing degree is typically more expensive (and time-consuming) than an ADN, but it will also open the door to more nursing job opportunities.
A bachelor’s degree may be considered the more “traditional” educational pathway, but there’s a slightly less conventional, less common way to earn the same degree, called an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). These programs are for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and can take anywhere from a duration of 12 to 24 months to complete.
After completing one of the above programs from an accredited school, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination to officially become an RN.
In Comparison: Education Requirements for Nurse Practitioners
The education and hands-on experience required of an NP are somewhere between that of an RN and a physician. Some states will allow NPs to operate independently while other states require that NPs work collaboratively with a doctor.2
Like RNs, NPs must obtain a certain level of education and meet a set number of clinical hours while also keeping their licenses up to date. Nurse practitioners are able to take on increased responsibilities and more specialized duties, which is why NPs require a higher level of formal education. At a minimum, NPs must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN); some will earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.2
Because NPs take on specialized roles in healthcare facilities, an NP program consists of specialized educational requirements. There are many MSN specializations to choose from, including:3
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Anesthetist
These degrees typically take two years to obtain.
DNP programs differ from MSN programs in that they have an added focus on “leadership, statistical analysis, and employee management.”4 These programs can sometimes take three to four years to complete but can prepare graduates for top-level administrative and research job opportunities.
- The barrier to entry is lower for RNs, who require only a two-year associate’s degree, than for NPs, who require at least a master’s degree.
- NPs engage in more specialized education to prepare them for more specialized job responsibilities.
- Even within these two different levels of nursing, there are further distinctions between ADN-educated and BSN-educated registered nurses, as well as between MSN-educated and DNP-education nurse practitioners.
#2 Job Responsibilities for Registered Nurses
Once you pass the requisite licensing exams, the rewarding work of a registered nurse begins.
Because of the unpredictability in the healthcare industry, RNs don’t have one specific focus or set of tasks for each day. Instead, their responsibilities vary greatly depending on the day, the need, and the facility for which they are working.
Some common RN duties include:5
- Assessing and evaluating a patient’s needs
- Executing a doctor’s orders
- Administering medication, including starting IVs, as directed by the doctor
- Performing treatments, procedures, and special tests
- Applying judgment when it comes to patient care
- Providing primary and emergency care in collaboration with fellow nurses
Nurses are almost always the patient’s most intimate and frequent point of contact, regardless of the RNs specific duties on that day. As such, registered nurses are the face and voice of education, guidance, and reassurance, helping patients navigate the often emotional journey of diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and more.
In Comparison: Job Responsibilities of Nurse Practitioners
NPs are similarly tackling myriad issues every day, from the mundane to the extraordinary, though nurse practitioners are offered more autonomy and responsibility than registered nurses.
Once an NP has earned their advanced degree, full licensing certifications, and completed their nursing practice, they can take on the following additional responsibilities:5
- Conducting health assessments and physical examinations
- Recording complete patient medical history
- Making a diagnosis on chronic or acute care conditions & treatments
- Developing treatment plans
- Providing patients with resources and education
- Collaborating with other healthcare providers
- Ordering and interpreting a patient’s lab results
While RNs can order diagnostic tests, NPs can actually interpret the results and determine a diagnosis. While an RN often provides treatment, an NP is the one to create the treatment plan. While RNs are responsible for carrying out the doctor’s orders, NPs are free to act independently, according to their professional opinion.
In short, NPs are primary healthcare providers. They’re tasked with making potentially life-changing decisions regarding the health and wellbeing of their patients, which is why the educational and licensing requirements are more intensive for NPs.
- NPs have more freedom, autonomy, and responsibility than RNs.
- RNs are typically the patient’s source of comfort and reassurance as their primary point of contact within the healthcare facility.
#3 Job Prospects for Registered Nurses
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession with more than 3.8 million registered nurses across the country.6
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has designated nursing as a field with a bright outlook. They predict that nursing careers will grow faster than average between 2019-2029.7
RNs with a BSN may secure better, higher-paying jobs more easily than RNs with an ADN; however, job prospects are still quite good for freshly licensed RNs looking for a full-time nursing career, including the standard salaries:7
- The median annual salary as of May 2019 was $73,300
- The top 10% of earners made more than $111,220 annually
- The bottom 10% earned less than $52,080
In Comparison: Job Prospects for Nurse Practitioners
Just as there is a demand for registered nurses, there is even more demand for nurse practitioners.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has concluded that the NP career field will see significant growth and continued job opportunities. They predict that the NP employment outlook will grow “much faster than average,” for a whopping 45% increase between 2019-2029.8
The annual pay for nurse practitioners is quite high, as well:9
- The median annual salary as of May 2020 was $114,510
- The top 10% of earners made a median annual salary of $156,160
- The bottom 10% earned a median annual salary of $82,960
These figures are significantly higher than the average annual RN salaries, but not without additional upfront costs.
- Nurse practitioners often earn higher salaries but they also spend more money upfront to complete the extra years in school. A higher salary down the road requires an initial financial investment.
- Both RNs and NPs will have many job opportunities available to them, with sustainable salaries and many benefits.
Nurse Practitioner vs RN: More Alike Than Different
Becoming a nurse practitioner requires more time, training, and educational costs, but when you look at the big picture, both careers are very similar. They require the same skills and competencies and are best suited to those who are interested in medicine, primary care, and in making a difference.
Both RNs and NPs are:
- Effective listeners and communicators
- Good problem solvers
- Compassionate, with excellent bedside manner
- Organized, patient, and stable
Take Your Nursing Career to the Next Level with Host Healthcare
Whether you’re a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner, there are facilities all over the country and world that could benefit from your skillset and experience. In turn, you could benefit from meeting new people, hearing new perspectives, learning from qualified professionals everywhere you go, and accessing incredible job placements.
You could unlock all that and more by becoming a traveler with Host Healthcare, one of the United States’ leading travel healthcare companies.
As a traveling nurse, you would have tenacious recruiters in your corner, great benefits from day one, and the opportunity to network with highly skilled healthcare providers in some of the coolest cities in the country.
So apply today—who knows where you might find yourself tomorrow?
- Gaines, Kathleen. “The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Nurse.” Nurse.org, www.nurse.org/resources/how-to-become-a-nurse/
- “Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: What’s the Difference?” Indeed, 30 Mar. 2021, www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/nurse-practitioner-vs-rn
- “8 Top Masters in Nursing MSN Specializations.” NurseJournal, 10 Mar. 2021, www.nursejournal.org/degrees/msn/popular-msn-degree-specializations/
- “MSN vs. DNP: Exploring the Differences.” Maryville University, www.online.maryville.edu/vs/dnp-vs-msn/
- Rosenberg McKay, Dawn. “What Does a Registered Nurse (RN) Do?” The Balance Careers, 18 June 2019, www.thebalancecareers.com/registered-nurse-526062
- “Nursing Fact Sheet.” American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 1 Apr. 2019, www.aacnnursing.org/news-Information/fact-sheets/nursing-fact-sheet
- “Registered Nurses: Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 Feb. 2021, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1
- “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners: Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 Feb. 2021, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: 29-1171 Nurse Practitioners.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 Mar. 2021, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm