RN vs NP: Registered Nurse vs Nurse Practitioner 

Written by: Applied Nursing Research Editorial Team   •  May 19, 2024

Registered Nurse Vs Nurse Practitioner

The healthcare sector is a dynamic, complex field that encompasses a wide range of roles, each with its own set of skills, responsibilities, and opportunities. Among the most critical roles in healthcare are Registered Nurses (RNs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs). These nursing professionals are frontline providers of care, but their duties, scope of practice, and educational requirements differ substantially.

The purpose of this article is to shed light on these key roles, offering a comprehensive comparison of RNs and NPs. Whether you’re an aspiring nurse, a healthcare professional considering a career switch, or simply curious, this article aims to provide you with the insights you need.

Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner: An Overview

Before diving deep into the nuanced aspects of these roles, let’s get a quick overview of the major similarities and differences between RNs and NPs.

Key Similarities

  • Both are integral to healthcare teams, often working side-by-side to provide patient care.

  • Both roles require foundational education in nursing science.

  • Both RNs and NPs are involved in direct patient care, including assessments and administering medications.

Key Differences

  • Scope of Practice: Nurse Practitioners generally have a broader scope of practice, which often includes diagnosing conditions, interpreting diagnostic tests, and initiating treatment plans.

  • Autonomy: NPs often have more decision-making power and can practice independently in some states, whereas RNs typically work under the supervision of a physician or an NP.

  • Educational Requirements: Becoming an NP requires a Master’s Degree in Nursing at minimum, often followed by additional certifications, while an RN may start practice with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

A Registered Nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional licensed to provide a wide range of nursing services, often acting as an integral part of a healthcare team. RNs are usually the first point of contact for patients and their families, providing not only medical care but also emotional support.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Monitoring patient condition and symptoms

  • Administering medications and treatments as prescribed

  • Performing diagnostic tests

  • Collaborating with physicians and other healthcare professionals to develop care plans

  • Educating patients and families on treatment options and preventive care

Work Settings

RNs can be found in a variety of healthcare environments, including but not limited to:



Nursing homes


Home healthcare services

Specializations within Registered Nursing

The field of registered nursing offers numerous paths for specialization, such as:

  • Critical Care Nursing

  • Pediatric Nursing

  • Oncology Nursing

  • Emergency Nursing

  • Geriatric Nursing

By understanding the core responsibilities, settings, and specializations, one can get a well-rounded view of what it means to be an RN. In the subsequent sections, we will delve into similar details for Nurse Practitioners, followed by a comparison of the two roles in various aspects.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has completed additional education and training beyond the standard nursing curriculum. NPs hold a Master’s Degree in Nursing at the very least and are trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions, often enjoying a high level of autonomy in their practice.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Conducting physical examinations and taking patient histories

  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions

  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests such as X-rays and blood tests

  • Developing and managing treatment plans

  • Prescribing medications and other treatments

  • Providing education and counseling to patients and families

Work Settings

NPs can work in an array of healthcare settings, sometimes independently. These may include:

  • Primary care clinics

  • Hospitals

  • Specialty practices (e.g., cardiology, oncology)

  • Urgent care centers

  • Educational institutions as faculty

  • Private practice (in states where allowed)

Specializations within Nurse Practitioning

Nurse Practitioners can also specialize in areas like:

  • Family Practice

  • Women’s Health

  • Pediatrics

  • Psychiatric/Mental Health

  • Gerontology

Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

Understanding the financial implications of your career choice is crucial. Both RNs and NPs can expect competitive salaries and job opportunities, but there are distinct differences.

Nurse Practitioner Salary

Median Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, the median annual wage for Nurse Practitioners was $123,780.

Factors Influencing Salary:

  • Experience and seniority

  • Geographic location

  • Specialization

  • Type of healthcare setting (private practice, hospital, etc.)

Geographic Variations: Salary can vary widely depending on the state and even the city of practice. Typically, urban areas offer higher salaries but may also come with a higher cost of living.

Career Growth Opportunities: With the healthcare industry growing, NPs can also look forward to increased career growth opportunities, including roles in healthcare management, research, and education.

Registered Nurse Salary

Median Salary: The median annual wage for Registered Nurses was about $77,600 as of May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Factors Influencing Salary:

Experience level

Area of specialization

Type of healthcare setting

Geographic location

Geographic Variations: Like NPs, RNs can expect salary variations based on geographic location.

Career Growth Opportunities: RNs have numerous pathways for career growth, including pursuing advanced degrees to become Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists, or Nurse Midwives.

Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

Current Trends: There is a growing need for NPs, especially in primary care and in rural or underserved communities.

Future Predictions: The employment of Nurse Practitioners is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations, potentially seeing a growth rate of around 40% from 2021 to 2031.

Influencing Factors: An aging population, healthcare reform, and a focus on preventive care are some of the factors driving the demand for NPs.

Registered Nurse Job Outlook

Current Trends: The need for Registered Nurses is also on the rise, especially in outpatient care centers and home healthcare services.

Future Predictions: Employment for RNs is projected to grow by approximately 6% from 2021 to 2031.

Influencing Factors: The aging baby boomer population, increased rates of chronic conditions, and advancements in healthcare technology contribute to the growing need for RNs.

Absolutely, here’s the content for the next three sections, which cover the educational requirements and curriculum for Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners.

Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner Education and Curriculum

Educational requirements are one of the most distinct differences between RNs and NPs. Let’s delve into what you would need academically to pursue either career.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Registered Nurse?

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN): This is the minimum educational requirement for becoming an RN. An ADN program typically takes 2-3 years to complete and covers basic nursing skills.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A BSN program usually takes 4 years to complete and provides a more comprehensive education in nursing. Many healthcare settings are increasingly preferring RNs with a BSN.

Advanced Degrees: While not required for entry-level positions, RNs can pursue Master’s Degrees in Nursing (MSN) or even Doctoral Degrees for roles in research, teaching, or advanced clinical practice.

Registered Nurse Curriculum

A typical RN curriculum, whether ADN or BSN, includes:

  • Basic Nursing Skills

  • Anatomy and Physiology

  • Microbiology

  • Psychology

  • Patient Care Ethics

  • Clinical Rotations in Different Settings

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN): This is the minimum educational requirement for becoming an NP. MSN programs often allow nurses to specialize in areas like family practice, women’s health, or pediatrics.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Some NPs opt for a DNP for more advanced roles in clinical practice, healthcare policy, or administration.

Certification: Most states require NPs to be certified in their area of specialty. This often involves passing an exam after completing the MSN or DNP program.

Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

A typical MSN or DNP curriculum for aspiring NPs includes:

  • Advanced Pharmacology

  • Health Assessment

  • Pathophysiology

  • Healthcare Policy and Leadership

  • Specialized courses in chosen area of practice

  • Clinical Rotations with more complex case management

Nurse Practitioner vs Registered Nurse Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that educational programs meet certain quality standards, and it is essential for both RN and NP programs.

Nurse Practitioner Accreditation

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): Accredits MSN and DNP programs.

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN): Also accredits MSN and DNP programs.

Registered Nurse Accreditation

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN): Accredits both ADN and BSN programs.

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): Accredits BSN and MSN programs.

It is advisable to choose a program that is accredited by one of these recognized bodies, as this can affect your eligibility for licensure, certifications, and even future employment.

The educational paths for Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners diverge considerably, requiring different commitments in terms of time, depth of study, and specialized training. These factors, along with salary and job outlook, are crucial to consider when choosing between these two rewarding but distinct nursing careers.

Licensure for Registered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner

Licensure is a mandatory step in practicing as either a Registered Nurse or a Nurse Practitioner, and it serves to standardize the competencies required for each role.

Registered Nurse Licensure

To become a licensed RN, you must complete an accredited nursing program, whether that’s an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). After graduation, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) exam to receive licensure. This exam tests your knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for safe and effective nursing practice at the entry level. Requirements may vary by state, so it’s important to check the specific guidelines for the state where you intend to practice.

Nurse Practitioner Licensure

For Nurse Practitioners, licensure requirements are more stringent. After completing an accredited Master’s or Doctoral program, NPs must obtain advanced practice certification in their specialized area of practice. This usually involves passing a certification exam administered by a professional organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Additionally, Nurse Practitioners must also pass state licensure requirements, which often include maintaining an RN license and acquiring prescriptive authority.

Career Options for Nurse Practitioner and Registered Nurse

The career pathways for RNs and NPs vary significantly, shaped by their different scopes of practice and educational preparation.

Nurse Practitioner Careers

Nurse Practitioners often find themselves in roles where they can exercise greater autonomy, including diagnosing and treating medical conditions. They may run their own practices in states where it’s allowed, or they may take on roles in healthcare leadership, policy, or academia. Specializations such as acute care, gerontology, or psychiatric health open doors to specialized clinics, hospital departments, or even roles in public health organizations.

Registered Nurse Careers

Registered Nurses have a wide array of options but typically find themselves in roles that involve direct patient care rather than diagnosis and treatment planning. RNs work in settings ranging from hospitals and outpatient centers to schools and corporate health departments. They may specialize in fields like critical care, pediatrics, or oncology, and some move on to roles in case management, healthcare administration, or nursing education.

Tips for Choosing Between a Registered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner 

When choosing between becoming an RN and an NP, several factors come into play.

Firstly, consider your career aspirations. If you’re looking for a role with a broad scope of practice that includes diagnosis and treatment, and you’re willing to commit to additional years of education and specialization, becoming a Nurse Practitioner may be the right path for you.

On the other hand, if you’re eager to enter the healthcare field more quickly and are focused on direct patient care, then a career as a Registered Nurse would be more suitable. An RN role will also give you the flexibility to later advance your education and potentially become a Nurse Practitioner or pursue other advanced roles.

Secondly, think about your preferred work environment. Nurse Practitioners often have the opportunity to practice independently and may find themselves in a broader range of settings, including private practice. Registered Nurses usually work in more collaborative environments and have less autonomy in clinical decision-making.

Lastly, financial factors like salary expectations and the cost of education can also influence your decision. While Nurse Practitioners generally earn higher salaries, the educational pathway is longer and can be more expensive.

Both career paths offer rewarding opportunities to make a meaningful impact on patient care. Your choice will ultimately depend on your personal preferences, career goals, and the level of responsibility and autonomy you desire.


Making a well-informed decision between becoming a Registered Nurse or a Nurse Practitioner requires thorough research. Here are some trusted resources that can help you delve deeper into each career:

American Nurses Association (ANA): Offers comprehensive information on the nursing profession, including licensure and education.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP): Provides resources specifically focused on Nurse Practitioners, including career paths and educational programs.

National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN): Provides details on licensure requirements for both RNs and NPs, including information on the NCLEX-RN exam.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Provides the most current data on salary and job outlook for both professions.

Nursing Journals: Journals like the “American Journal of Nursing” or “Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners” offer scholarly articles that can give you a deeper understanding of each field.

Online Forums and Communities: Websites like AllNurses.com offer insights from people who are already in the field. These can provide a ‘real-world’ perspective that you might not find elsewhere.

By tapping into these resources, you can gain a holistic understanding of what each career entails and make a decision that aligns with your personal and professional goals.


Choosing between a career as a Registered Nurse or a Nurse Practitioner is a significant decision that will shape your future in healthcare. Both paths offer rewarding opportunities to impact patients’ lives, but they differ substantially in terms of educational requirements, scope of practice, earning potential, and job responsibilities.

Registered Nurses are often the backbone of direct patient care in various healthcare settings, focusing on carrying out medical regimens prescribed by physicians. Nurse Practitioners, on the other hand, have the ability to diagnose and treat patients, often serving as primary care providers with a higher degree of autonomy.

Your choice between the two will hinge on multiple factors, such as your educational aspirations, the level of autonomy you seek in your professional life, and your long-term career goals. Regardless of which path you choose, you’re entering a field that offers both personal and professional fulfillment.

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