Nursing in a Clinic vs. Hospital Setting: What’s the Difference?

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Nurses with advanced degrees work in clinics, hospitals, and other settings.

At the intersection of growth in demand for health care and a shortage of primary care providers, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are helping to address health care industry challenges. APRNs, which include nurse practitioners, provide health care leadership in many ways and across various settings. Two of the most common environments where APRNs can help advance nursing practice and improve patient outcomes are hospitals and clinics. Programs such as an online Master of Science in Nursing can prepare nurses to pursue new roles as APRNs.

The Clinic vs. Hospital Nursing Environment

Hospitals bustle with activity, 24/7. Patients in hospitals are sometimes in life-threatening situations and require proactive care and monitoring. The flow of patients into hospitals is often continuous, with patients arriving in emergency rooms at all hours and with other patients getting discharged. A hospital environment provides an unpredictable setting, which for many nurses can be exciting. At the same time, a hospital setting can expose nurses to distressing situations, such as a patient experiencing excruciating pain or even sudden death. The fast-moving, evolving nature of hospital settings means that nurses often have to work long shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Work schedules for nurses at clinics are more routine. In many facilities, weekend and holiday work isn’t required. Patients at clinics typically make appointments before seeing their health care providers, which gives APRNs the opportunity to prepare. APRNs in clinics may see the same patients repeatedly over time, giving them stronger insights into their patients’ health care needs. Clinics may be devoted to a specific type of care.

A Nurse’s Role in Either Setting

How can nurses seeking APRN roles know whether a hospital or a clinic is the best work environment for them? A comparison of clinical nursing vs. hospital nursing can provide perspectives on how each setting can shape a nurse’s responsibilities.

Hospital Settings, Skills, and Salary

APRNs in hospitals help patients with complex needs, including life-threatening injuries and illnesses. An APRN may order and interpret diagnostic tests to diagnose patients’ conditions and provide treatment plans, including prescribing medications. APRNs often work with physicians and perform various duties associated with acute care. They work with diverse types of patients. Working shifts for APRNs in hospitals can vary, and APRNs are often on call.

Hospital settings can often be challenging, and there may be regular interruptions, so nurses must demonstrate flexibility, patience, and perseverance to deal with the rapid changes that take place in the course of a shift. APRNs may work with patients with vastly different conditions, which requires strong interpersonal skills and the ability to multitask. Communication skills and compassion are necessary traits in an APRN, who may be asked to deliver information to patients’ families.

The annual  wage for nurse practitioners in hospitals was $113,820 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Clinical Settings, Skills, and Salary

Because clinics are typically much smaller than hospitals and APRNs don’t often provide emergency care in them, they can be less stressful settings for APRNs. Nurses in clinics see patients who need routine checkups, immunizations, and preventive care. They may order diagnostic tests and prescribe medicines. APRNs in clinics may combine nursing practice with more administrative duties than a hospital nurse would have, including supply management and appointment scheduling.

APRNs in clinics are leaders with strong communication and listening skills to interact with patients and understand their symptoms. They possess a combination of clinical, analytical, organizational, and problem-solving skills to perform a wide range of tasks, from clinical to administrative. Since APRNs spend a lot of time with patients, they need to have a friendly disposition and calm demeanor. Time management skills enable them to quickly take care of patient needs while ensuring the highest levels of care.

The annual mean wage for nurse practitioners in outpatient care centers was $116,550 in 2018, according to the BLS.

The Importance of an Advanced Degree

Whether working in a clinic vs. hospital setting, APRNs must have earned their master’s degree to qualify to sit for certification board examinations. Once in practice, APRNs can function as primary care providers. With the ability to diagnose conditions, prescribe medicines, and admit patients to hospitals, APRNs play a pivotal role in advancing nursing practice and addressing the shortage of physicians. Their advanced training also provides them with opportunities to take on managerial roles.

At Regis College, aspiring APRNs can build their clinical skill sets and augment competencies such as leadership and communication. Discover how the online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis can prepare students to advance in their careers as health care providers in clinical nursing or hospital nursing.

Recommended Readings

Nurse Administrator vs. Nurse Practitioner: What’s the Difference?
What Kind of Nurse Should I Be? Examining Advanced Practice Nursing Paths
What Are Some of the Best MSN Careers in the Nursing Field?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Practitioner Role Grows to More Than 270,000
American Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
American Public Health Association, Public Health vs. Clinical Health Professions: What’s the Difference?
MD Magazine, “Can Nurse Practitioners Fill the Void in Primary Care?”
Modern Healthcare, Growth in Outpatient Care
National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, What Is a CNS?
ScienceDirect, “Job Satisfaction Among Hospital Nurses: A Literature Review”
The Journal of Nurse Practitioners, Acute Care Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics – Hospitals
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics – Outpatient Care Centers
U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Balancing Nurses’ Workload in Hospital Wards: Study Protocol of Developing a Method to Manage Workload”