Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Understanding the Difference

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There are many differences between a nurse practitioner vs. RN. An RN is a registered nurse who has an undergraduate degree and licensure, while an NP is an advanced practice registered nurse or APRN. NPs have more education and training and broader roles and responsibilities.

nurse practitioner with child patient and mother

Nursing is one of the most popular and in-demand careers in healthcare. Many people switch careers to nursing because it offers an opportunity to make a positive difference. Plus, once you graduate from Averett University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, you can choose from a wide range of nursing careers and specialties.

Two common careers in nursing are nurse practitioner (NP) and registered nurse (RN). Both typically involve working directly with patients and helping them heal. However, there are some key differences between a nurse practitioner vs. RN. First, it’s helpful to know the answers to basic questions, such as “What is an NP?” and “What is an RN?” Let’s take a closer look.

What Is an RN?

A registered nurse, or RN, is a nursing professional with a nursing degree who has passed the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Within this broad category is a vast range of career possibilities.

RNs can provide direct patient care or work in a nontraditional nursing career away from the bedside. They can work in settings as varied as hospitals, patients’ private homes, nursing homes, schools, camps and emergency medical evacuation aircraft. They can choose from dozens of nursing specialties defined by specific areas of medicine or patient populations.

In short, becoming an RN is a pathway filled with possibilities. Although different types of RNs have other responsibilities, an RN generally serves as a patient educator, advocate and clinical care provider. They are often the professionals with whom patients interact with most.

ABSN student using stethoscope

What Is an NP?

An NP, or nurse practitioner, is similar to an RN in that they are a licensed nursing professional. All NPs were RNs earlier in their career. So, what’s the difference between a nurse practitioner vs. RN? NPs complete additional education, training and certification requirements to achieve career advancement. An NP is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

Like RNs, NPs can specialize in certain areas. Unlike physician assistants (PAs), NPs specialize in a patient population rather than a specific area of medicine or condition. Some types of NPs include:

  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP)
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP)
  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP)
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP)
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP)
nurse putting her hand on patient's shoulder

Interested in taking a closer look at the NP career pathway? Learn how to become a nurse practitioner here.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Key Differences

Now that you know the general definitions of an RN vs. NP, let’s look at some of the most notable differences between these two nursing professionals.

Education and Training Requirements

There isn’t one universal pathway toward becoming an RN or an NP, but both have essential requirements.

An aspiring RN must earn a nursing degree. Becoming an RN with an associate degree is possible, as this two-year nursing degree qualifies graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN. However, healthcare employers generally prefer to hire BSN-prepared RNs, as they contribute to better patient outcomes. In addition, if you have your sights set on becoming an NP, you’ll need a BSN.

While earning a BSN typically requires enrolling in a four-year BSN program, other options exist for individuals with non-nursing college credits or a bachelor’s degree. Accelerated BSN programs, such as Averett’s ABSN, allow students to earn their BSN on an accelerated timeline. For example, you can earn a BSN through Averett’s ABSN in as few as 16 months if you meet the eligibility requirements.

What is an accelerated nursing program, exactly? Learn all about it here.

nurses in simulation lab working with tools

In addition to earning a nursing degree, aspiring RNs must pass the NCLEX, a rigorous licensure exam. Passing it will allow you to obtain state licensure to work as an RN.

In addition, RNs are generally expected to hold specific basic certifications, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS) certifications. To expand their skillset further and enhance career opportunities, RNs may choose to earn additional voluntary certifications in specialty areas.

To become an NP, an RN first needs a baccalaureate nursing degree. If an RN earned an associate degree, they must return to school to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, passing the NCLEX a second time won’t be necessary. An RN should also plan on obtaining at least a few years of clinical bedside experience.

Then, an aspiring NP needs a graduate degree in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). In recent years, there has been a shift toward making the DNP the minimum requirement for APRNs.

After completing graduate-level education, a future NP must pass the board certification exam for their chosen NP specialty to obtain APRN licensure.

As you can see, one of the key differences between a nurse practitioner vs. RN is that becoming an NP requires far more education and training.

Averett ABSN student standing outside

Roles and Responsibilities

What is an RN’s job role, and what are their duties? An RN serves as a patient care provider, advocate and educator. Their job duties can vary considerably, as RNs work in various specialties and settings.

However, RNs who provide direct patient care will usually do the following:

  • Assess patients, recording observations and medical histories
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Develop patient care plans or contribute to existing plans
  • Set up and operate medical equipment
  • Teach patients and family caregivers how to manage conditions and injuries

RNs collaborate closely with other clinicians, including other nurses, physicians and specialists. They must also stay on top of the latest nursing research and emerging medical technologies to provide their patients with the best possible care.

An NP can do everything an RN can and fulfill some of the doctors’ responsibilities. The scope of practice and autonomy of NPs vary from state to state (and even from hospital to hospital). Yet, NPs can generally practice with greater autonomy and a broader scope of practice than RNs.

Averett ABSN student in simulation lab

In some states, NPs serve as primary care providers who work independently of a doctor’s supervision. This is known as full practice authority.

What is an NP’s job role, and what are their job duties? It varies, depending on practice authority, but an NP can generally do the following:

  • Perform physical exams
  • Order diagnostic tests and interpret the results
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries
  • Develop patient care plans
  • Prescribe (depending on practice authority) and administer medication
  • Provide referrals for specialists
  • Provide patient education and serve as advocates
nurse with blue scrubs standing and holding patient charts

Beyond the typical RN and NP roles, many nursing careers exist to pursue. Read all about 7 nursing specialties in demand here.

RN vs. NP: Career Outlook

No matter which specific career in nursing you choose, you’re likely to enjoy strong job growth in your field for years to come. There is an ongoing shortage of qualified nursing professionals in the US — a demand fueled partly by an aging population with an ever-increasing need for healthcare services.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates job growth for RNs to be 6% from 2022 through 2032, faster than average. This indicates that healthcare employers expect to hire about 177,400 new RNs during this period.

The demand for NPs is even stronger. The BLS estimates job growth for NPs to be 45% from 2022 through 2032, much faster than the average for all professions. At this rate of job growth, healthcare employers will hire about 118,600 new NPs during this period.

Salary Potential for RNs vs. NPs

Many people enroll in an ABSN program like ours at Averett because they genuinely desire to help others heal. Whether recovering from an orthopedic surgery or dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, patients are often going through one of the most difficult times in their lives, and a compassionate nurse can make all the difference for them.

However, altruistic motivations aren’t the only reason for considering a career in nursing. The salary potential for both RNs and NPs is certainly attractive, as well.

Averett ABSN student walking outside with backpack

A nurse’s salary potential depends largely on their academic qualifications, additional certifications, experience, employer and geographic location. However, the BLS provides median pay statistics for a general idea of how much you might expect to earn. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses as of May 2022 was $81,220.

The BLS doesn’t track salary data for NPs alone; rather, it groups NPs in the same category as other APRNs, like nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. As of May 2022, the median annual salary for these three types of APRNs was $125,900. The higher salary potential compared to RNs reflects an APRN’s advanced academic qualifications and additional certifications.

Begin Your Nursing Journey at Averett

Now that you know the answers to questions like, “What is an RN? What is an NP? And what’s the difference between an RN vs. NP?” you may feel ready to pursue your nursing journey. Averett University’s ABSN program will allow you to graduate with your nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

Learn how you can fast-track your nursing career by contacting our friendly admissions advisors today.