Nurse Administrator vs. Nurse Practitioner: What’s the Difference?

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Nurse administrators and nurse practitioners collaborate with teams to maintain standards and improve outcomes for patients.

Nurse and primary care physician shortages, exponential growth of health data, increasing concerns about patient safety and quality of care — these are just some of the factors igniting change in nursing education. Nurses with backgrounds in translational research — the process of applying scientific discovery to clinical practice — can help address these and other challenges in the health care system.

Registered nurses with master’s degrees in nursing (MSN) can develop translational research skills and prepare for transformative leadership roles by completing a doctoral degree, which the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has championed as a base requirement in advanced practice nursing. According to a recent report in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, only 2% of the nursing workforce hold doctoral degrees, despite increased demand for knowledgeable professionals who can pursue leadership roles in nursing. This is creating opportunities for MSN-prepared nurses to advance in their careers by earning doctoral degrees, such as Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

DNP-prepared nurses who possess clinical experience and research skills can serve in a variety of advanced clinical and administrative roles, including as nurse administrators and nurse practitioners. Students exploring career advancement opportunities and considering nurse administrator vs. nurse practitioner roles should note that academic rigor and commitment to scientific research is expected in preparation for either career.

Regis College’s MSN to DNP online program can prepare students to fill important leadership roles and elevate nursing practice standards using evidence-based methods. The core curriculum focuses on advanced general nursing concepts and advanced research methods. Students learn nurse leadership concepts to be able to address organizational challenges in nursing departments and help implement policies and solutions that drive improvement in the areas of quality of care and patient outcomes.

Comparing Nurse Administrator and Nurse Practitioner Roles

DNP-prepared nurses work to impact patient outcomes, improve systems performance, and address complex health care and patient issues. Both nurse administrators and nurse practitioners can focus on leadership, public health, and quality improvement because of their ability to measure the effectiveness of clinical programs, identify areas for improvement, and implement evidence-based solutions.

Nurse Administrator Roles, Skills, and Salary

Nurse administrators are licensed registered nurses with advanced education and nursing experience in clinical settings. They combine their experience in nursing practice with their critical thinking, administrative, organization, and financial management skills to maintain efficient nursing operations and ensure quality patient care. Nurse administrators know the intricacies of nursing workplace environments and have a strong understanding of the challenges in nursing roles.

They need leadership, employee supervision, and interpersonal skills to manage and mentor nurses and evaluate their performance. Other skills specific to the nurse administrator role include attention to detail, strong written and oral communication, and a calm demeanor to delegate tasks, make decisions, and address difficult situations. Using these skills, and their clinical knowledge, they set policies for their teams to promote patient safety and elevate nursing standards. Nurse administrators also must keep current on health care laws and regulations. At the executive level, nurse administrators can run whole health systems.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) medical and health services managers, including nurse administrators, earned a median annual salary of $99,730 in 2018.

Nurse Practitioner Roles, Skills, and Salary

Nurse practitioners promote healthy lifestyles and provide patients with health education, including disease prevention and management. They possess clinical knowledge to diagnose and treat health conditions, from acute and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure to injuries and infections. As clinicians, their duties go beyond typical registered nurse activities; for example, they can order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medications.

Nurse practitioners can practice autonomously or alongside physicians. In fact, they are important in helping to fill the gaps posed by the current and expected future shortage of physicians practicing primary care. Nurse practitioners can specialize in acute care, family health, pediatric health, psychiatric health, and other areas. Augmenting their clinical and research knowledge, nurse practitioners are resourceful and compassionate with strong interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills.

In addition to completing their doctoral degrees, nurse practitioners get advanced clinical training, go through certification processes for licensure, undergo peer reviews and clinical evaluations, and adhere to high ethical standards.

The BLS reports a median annual salary of $107,030 for nurse practitioners as of 2018.

Working Together in Nursing Practice

Both nurse administrators and nurse practitioners work to elevate the standards of nursing practice and improve patient outcomes. This often requires leadership and collaboration. For example, nurse administrators and nurse practitioners can join forces to encourage registered nursing staff to advance their clinical skills and acquire leadership skills.

DNP nurses serving as nurse administrators use their clinical experience and understanding of research methods and data analysis to solve problems and improve quality of care while balancing costs. Nurse practitioners are typically found working directly with patients in clinical settings, analyzing and interpreting patient health data to plan and implement individualized treatment strategies and elevate standards. In creating support structures that enable nurse practitioners to use their advanced skills, nurse administrators contribute to better clinical outcomes. And through collaborative leadership, nurse administrators and nurse practitioners can effectively resolve patient and nursing staff issues.

Benefits of an MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has called for making the DNP degree a requirement for advanced practice nursing by 2025. This means that earning a DNP degree is important for attaining a leadership position in nursing.

The curriculum for the Regis College MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program prepares students with skills in leadership, research methodologies, informatics, teaching, and project management. The program teaches students to consider the cultural and social environments of patients and to view nursing practice through the lens of social equity.

Learn more about how the MSN to DNP online program at Regis College can help nurses advance in their careers.


Recommended Readings

How to Become a Nurse Administrator
What Can I Do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Why Earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice: Potential DNP Salary and Career Outcomes


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Education
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet
American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Health Services Managers
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
The Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, “Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Practice Characteristics”
Nursing Open, “Describing the Leadership Capabilities of Advanced Practice Nurses Using a Qualitative Descriptive Study”
Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease, “Translational Research”
The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Advancing Scholarship Through Translational Research: The Role of PhD and DNP Prepared Nurses”
The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Enhancing Nurse Moral Agency: The Leadership Promise of Doctor of Nursing Practice Preparation”