What Are the Differences Between a Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner?

Knowing the differences between a registered nurse (RN) and a nurse practitioner (NP) is essential to determine your right career path. Both are skilled healthcare professionals who specialize in providing direct patient treatment. They share the goal of treating acute or chronic medical conditions and educating patients on the best choices for healthy living. Rising demand in the healthcare industry is building a favorable hiring outlook for both professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs are growing by 16 percent for RNs and 31 percent for NPs. Despite the similarities, being a registered nurse vastly differs from working as a nurse practitioner. Below we’ve outlined the four biggest differences separating these nursing titles.

Job Responsibilities

Registered nurses coordinate basic care and lend emotional support to patients undergoing treatment by a licensed doctor. RNs handle more fundamental duties, including recording symptoms, lifting patients, administering IVs, operating diagnostic equipment, giving recovery instructions, and monitoring vitals. A nurse’s performance is supervised by an attending physician or nurse manager. On the other hand, nurse practitioners are given independence in providing primary and specialized care with or without a physician. In most states, NPs are able to diagnose patients, order tests, design treatments, and prescribe medicine. Most nurse practitioners aren’t generalists, so they’ll treat certain populations like children, seniors, or mentally ill adults.

Work Environment

It’s true that nurses and nurse practitioners can occupy the same workplaces. Nearly all healthcare organizations have positions for RNs and NPs. However, more than 60 percent of nurses work at the hospital beside. Nurses are most frequently employed in nursing homes, residential facilities, home healthcare, schools, and outpatient clinics. Some RNs even serve in the military or government. The majority (48 percent) of nurse practitioners work in physician offices. NPs usually see their own patients in medical groups, private practices, and community clinics. Both RNs and NPs generally work full-time, but nurses are more likely to have fluctuating shifts with odd night and weekend hours.

Education Requirements

When looking at the differences between a nurse and a nurse practitioner, the most striking is the amount of clinical training. Some RNs function effectively with only a one-year diploma or associate degree in nursing (ADN). It’s an increasing trend for nurses to obtain a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for more in-depth education though. Certified NPs hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Nurse practitioners need to have at least 500 supervised clinical hours before certification. Some even possess a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Please see: What is the Difference Between an MSN and a DNP?

Salary Potential

Since the responsibilities differ greatly, it’s no surprise that average salaries do too. The BLS reports that registered nurses make a mean annual wage of $71,000, or $34.14 per hour. RNs employed in hospitals, outpatient centers, and the government typically make above-average. For nurse practitioners, the mean yearly salary is $101,260, or $48.68. NPs receive a higher salary along with greater autonomy and authority. Nurse practitioners make the most in specialty hospitals, personal care services, and dentist offices.

High-quality patient care is the foremost duty granted to RNs and NPs, but the professions diverge from there. Nurse practitioners are basically nurses who have gained the extra training and experience to advance into independent practice. The differences between a nurse and a nurse practitioner show that pursuing an MSN can pay off.