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

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Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two healthcare professionals discuss the difference between a nurse practitioner vs. RN.

In the world of healthcare, the roles of nurse practitioners (NPs) and registered nurses (RNs) frequently leave people scratching their heads — are they peas in a pod or worlds apart? While both are vital healthcare professions, there are some key differences between a nurse practitioner vs. RN.

In terms of levels of nursing, NPs are at the top because their license requires more education, and they have a broader scope of practice than RNs. In this article, we’ll shed more light on what separates these two healthcare roles. We’ll explore their daily tasks, training requirements, and earning potential, putting an end to any doubts about the distinctions between these two professions.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Responsibilities

To get a deeper understanding of RN vs. nurse practitioner, let’s discuss the key responsibilities of each position.

RN Responsibilities

RNs are like soldiers in the healthcare arena, performing a wide range of essential duties. Their responsibilities can vary depending on their specific work setting (i.e., hospital, mental health institution, community center, etc.) and nursing specialization (i.e., pediatric, psychiatric, surgical, etc.), but here are some common tasks registered nurses do:

  • Provide direct patient care: assessing patients’ health conditions, taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, monitoring vital signs, and assisting with treatments and procedures
  • Administer medication: administering medications as prescribed by physicians
  • Create treatment plans: developing and implementing patient care plans
  • Advocate for patients: ensuring that patient rights and preferences are protected and respected
  • Document relevant data: maintaining detailed patient records, documenting observations, treatments, and any changes in a patient’s condition
  • Educate patients: informing patients and their families about health conditions, preventive care, and self-management
  • Monitor medical equipment: operating and monitoring various medical devices and equipment, such as ventilators, IV pumps, and cardiac monitors

Check out the latest RN jobs to get a clearer picture of the typical duties for this position.

NP Responsibilities

Now, what is the contrast between nurse practitioners vs. RN in their scope of practice? NPs, unlike RNs, are like the generals of healthcare, directing the course of treatment. They’re advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have gained specialized training and deeper clinical knowledge. Therefore, they can often diagnose conditions and prescribe medications. Some of the responsibilities of NPs are:

  • Assess and diagnose patients: conducting comprehensive health assessments, including physical examinations, medical histories, and diagnostic tests, and diagnosing health conditions
  • Treat and manage conditions: prescribing medications, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and developing treatment plans
  • Perform procedures: performing minor medical procedures, such as suturing wounds, removing sutures, and conducting skin biopsies
  • Educate patients: teaching patients about their health conditions, treatment options, and self-management strategies
  • Research best practices: engaging in research activities and quality improvement initiatives to enhance patient care and healthcare practices
  • Refer patients to other professionals: collaborating with other healthcare professionals, including physicians, specialists, and nurses

Review some of the latest NP jobs currently available to learn more about the typical duties for this position.

In addition to the tasks mentioned above, NPs can work as primary care providers, offering a wide range of healthcare services, such as routine check-ups, vaccinations, and health screenings. Other NPs receive specialized training in areas like family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, gerontology, psychiatry, or acute care. Additionally, they may choose to work in telehealth, offering remote consultations, medication management, and follow-up care.

Now you may wonder, what’s the difference between a nurse practitioner vs. doctor? The difference lies in their education and scope of practice. Doctors undergo more education — therefore, they typically have broader authority and a more extensive range of medical procedures in their practice. Nevertheless, NPs have the autonomy to practice independently in specific states, similar to doctors.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Schooling

RN Education

Understanding the differences in educational paths is crucial when considering these two career options. To become an RN, you need to enroll in one of the board-approved nursing schools and gain education. While the process may seem a bit challenging at first, breaking it down into steps can make it much more manageable. Here’s a simplified guide on how to become an RN:

  1. Receive a high school diploma: Start by obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent.
  2. Choose the nursing program: Research accredited nursing programs and decide whether you want to pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
  3. Complete prerequisites: Depending on the nursing program you choose, you will need to complete prerequisite courses to get accepted to nursing school.
  4. Enroll in a nursing program: Once you’ve made your choice, enroll in an accredited nursing school or program. These programs will provide you with the necessary knowledge and clinical skills.
  5. Complete all required coursework: Graduate from your chosen program by completing all the academic tasks and clinical hours. Hands-on experience through clinical rotations is a critical part of your education.
  6. Pass licensure exam: After completing your nursing program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). It’s essential to prepare thoroughly for this exam.
  7. Apply for licensure: Once you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN, apply for your RN licensure. Each state has its requirements, so be sure to check with your state’s nursing board.

The minimum education requirement you need to practice nursing is an associate degree, so you can become an RN in just a few years. However, BSN programs offer more comprehensive training and can open up more opportunities for you.

NP Education

Now let’s switch gears and talk about nurse practitioner schooling. Becoming an NP is a longer process — around six years — than becoming an RN. Here are the steps you need to take to become an NP:

  1. Get a BSN degree: Begin by obtaining a BSN degree. If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can explore accelerated BSN programs designed for career-changers.
  2. Gain experience: Before pursuing NP education, work as an RN to gain valuable clinical experience. Most NP programs require a minimum of one year of RN experience, though some may require more.
  3. Choose your specialty: Decide on your desired NP specialty. NPs can specialize in areas such as family practice, pediatrics, adult gerontology, psychiatry, and more.
  4. Enroll in a chosen program: Find an accredited program that aligns with your chosen specialty. These programs typically lead to a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.
  5. Complete all required coursework: Graduate from your NP program by completing all the coursework and supervised clinical hours. Hands-on experience is a critical part of your NP education.
  6. Pass a certification exam: Pass a national certification exam in your specialty.
  7. Apply for licensure: Each state has its own licensing requirements, so ensure you meet your state’s criteria.

If you’re switching from RN to nurse practitioner, how long will it take? When making this transition, the duration of the program can depend on factors like the chosen specialty and whether you pursue a full-time or part-time schedule.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Salary

When comparing earnings in the healthcare field, registered nurses earn $89,010 on average annually, while the average nurse practitioner salary is notably higher at $124,680.

Top 5 highest paying states for RNs:

Top 5 highest paying states for NPs:

Overall employment for NPs is projected to grow 38% in the next decade — significantly faster than the average. The job growth for RNs, in contrast, is expected to grow 6% in the same time frame, which is still faster than the average for all occupations.

Find Great Nursing Jobs

Now that you know the key difference between a nurse practitioner vs. RN, you are ready to take your next exciting step in your nursing journey — applying for a job. We can help you find work you love. Learn how IntelyCare can match you with nursing jobs that would be a great fit.