Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Comparing Two Growing Careers

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Due to the growing U.S. patient population, the health care system faces increasing demand for nursing professionals. However, the level of education and experience nurses have helps determine how effective they can be. Licensed nurses (LPNs) handle the most basic nursing duties, but registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) have more advanced responsibilities. Comparing the educational requirements and duties of a nurse practitioner vs. RN will help practicing RNs determine whether they should pursue a postgraduate degree and nurse practitioner certification.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses are the most populous group of nursing professionals. They collaborate with other health care professionals, such as doctors, to implement treatment strategies for patients. Their services are necessary in most fields of medicine, as they are taught how to administer many of the basic health services that patients receive in medical facilities. Therefore, registered nurses can specialize in a variety of fields, such as addiction nursing, cardiovascular nursing, critical care nursing, or public health nursing.

What Is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

Advanced practice registered nurses operate at a higher tier of nursing and provide specialized health services to their patients. Here is an overview of some of the branches of advanced practice nursing:
● Nurse midwives provide different types of advanced care to women — including gynecological exams, family planning services, and pre- or postnatal care.
● Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients before, during, and after a surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, or obstetrical procedure.
● Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care to patients. They are trained to administer advanced nursing services to a specific population of people, like children or the mentally disabled.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Although midwives and anesthetists have a relatively straightforward career path, nurse practitioners have a wide range of options for the direction they wish to take their education and careers. Many postgraduate nursing programs offer students the option to concentrate their education on a particular group of patients. These are some of the typical career specializations offered to nurse practitioners:

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner — Pediatric nurse practitioners provide advanced nursing care to patients between infancy and early adulthood. They perform routine checkups, conduct diagnostic tests, and prescribe medication. Usually, they work alongside pediatricians to achieve positive health outcomes, but some are qualified to practice privately.
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner — Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners treat adult patients, ranging from young adults to the elderly. In some instances, they may also choose to focus their careers on either primary or acute care. The primary care adult-gerontology nurse practitioner provides primary care services that aim to further objectives like health promotion, disease prevention, patient education, and health maintenance. Acute specialists focus on helping solve health problems that demand immediate attention, such as bone injuries or acute illnesses like influenza.

Family Nurse Practitioner — Family nurse practitioners are versatile in that they are trained to administer care to patients across all ages. Depending on their educational background, they may also be qualified to provide primary care to patients in their own practice as well. Some of their common responsibilities include performing routine checkups for families, developing treatment plans for acute and chronic diseases, and educating patients about how they can prevent disease and pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner — The types of treatments offered to mental health patients are often different from the ones provided to patients with physical illnesses. Mental health nurse practitioners focus their postgraduate studies on learning how to develop and administer mental health interventions based on their patients’ needs.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Educational Requirements

The first step toward becoming a registered nurse is usually completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing. Either degree can qualify prospective RNs to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is required for registered nurse licensure. Prior to applying for licensure, graduates may benefit from obtaining one to two years of experience working in a health care-related role.

Following their certification as registered nurses, these professionals can pursue becoming a nurse practitioner. This requires earning at least a Master of Science in Nursing, although a Doctor of Nursing Practice can open the door to more rewarding career opportunities. Both programs should offer their students the option to concentrate their studies on the area of nursing they wish to specialize in. This is beneficial, especially because these people will need to pass a specific nurse practitioner exam that is a comprehensive test of the techniques and theories that are prominently used in their desired field of practice. Passing the test allows nursing professionals to apply for state licensure. Once they are accepted, they are qualified nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Earning Potential

Registered nurses are important professionals in the health care community, but nurse practitioners provide the specialized health services that RNs are not trained to manage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this skill disparity means that median salaries are $107,460 for nurse practitioners, vs. RNs only earning a median salary of $68,450.

Learn More

Nursing is a tough but rewarding job with many career opportunities for both NPs and RNs. Regis College offers an online BSN to DNP degree that provides career-minded students with a challenging curriculum. Visit the Regis College Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Degree Program website page to learn more.

Recommended Reading

The Fast Track Toward Leadership: BSN to DNP Online Degrees
BSN to DNP Programs Online – Making It Happen
Online BSN to DNP Programs: A Solution for the High-Level Talent Shortage


Bureau of Labor Statistics
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Regis College