Expertise in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner vs. RN

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An ever-growing field, nursing creates opportunities to change lives. Nurses can work in a variety of settings and choose from specialties including nurse practitioner (NP) and registered nurse (RN). If you’re deciding between nurse practitioner and RN careers, it’s important to look at what NPs and RNs do in their day-to-day work as well as the paths to get there. While both interact with patients and impact outcomes, they operate in different capacities.

Group of nurses pose in their scrubs and white coats.

Nurse Practitioner Overview

Nurse practitioners have gone beyond their undergraduate schooling to earn an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). While nurse practitioners often begin their careers as registered nurses, advanced education is a requirement to move into the more specialized role.

The advanced skill set of nurse practitioners allows them to take on more clinical responsibilities, including diagnosing and treating illnesses. On the path to becoming a nurse practitioner, students take a wide range of science courses covering anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. They then follow this coursework with direct clinical experience. They also tend to choose a specialty, such as primary care, pediatric care, or mental health. Nurse practitioners in training refine their leadership skills, resourcefulness, communication skills, and empathy.

After earning an advanced degree and securing a role as a nurse practitioner, graduates can coordinate patient care and provide general healthcare or care in a specialized discipline, such as cardiology or women’s health. Nurse practitioners are responsible for a wide array of tasks, from ordering tests or X-rays for patients to administering medication and consulting with patients and doctors about the best treatment plans. Nurse practitioners can work in specializations such as a certified nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, or family nurse practitioner. Each role comes with unique requirements and expectations, often including licensure and experience.

Nurse Practitioner Salary and Job Outlook

The nursing field is experiencing tremendous growth in response to increased healthcare needs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the nurse practitioner position will grow 31% from 2016 to 2026. This projected growth is encouraging for RNs considering a future as a nurse practitioner. In addition, nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $113,930 per year according to the BLS. This salary may vary depending on specialty, experience, and other factors.

RN Overview

Aspiring registered nurses can choose to earn either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree, such as Maryville University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). BSN students immerse themselves in the study of anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and psychology. Those who pursue a BSN delve deeper into the topics that will enhance their clinical skills. Graduates must apply for licensure with their state’s nursing board, as well as pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Regardless of whether future RNs earn an associate or bachelor’s degree, they will likely work with patients in a capacity that requires empathy, strong communication skills, and attention to detail. Daily tasks often include performing diagnostic tests and assessing the results, administering medication, operating medical equipment, and guiding patients through each step of their care plans.

Once certified, RNs can pursue a rewarding career in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, community clinics, hospice centers, mental health clinics, and emergency clinics. RNs take charge of planning and coordinating patient care, working with physicians to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.

RN Salary and Job Outlook

Like nurse practitioners, RNs benefit from the growth in the healthcare field. The BLS projects a 15% increase in the demand for RNs between 2016 and 2026. The median annual salary for RNs is $71,730, making this a stable career. Salary may vary based on experience, certifications, the type of organization one works for, and geographic region.

Similarities Between NPs and RNs

Both RNs and NPs help patients in a wide variety of medical settings and assist physicians and larger medical teams. In both positions, nurses often work directly with patients and their families. These interactions facilitate the development of strong relationships and positive rapport, which can lead to improved health outcomes.

RNs and nurse practitioners both need licenses to practice and may need to seek additional certifications depending on the area of work. Both RNs and nurse practitioners should have strong attention to detail and great interpersonal skills.

Differences Between NPs and RNs

Although nurse practitioners and RNs both work with patients, there are key differences in a nurse practitioner vs. RN.

Educational Paths for RNs and NPs

The RN position is one of the first stops on the path to a robust nursing career. Aspiring nurses often begin by entering an RN program, which provides the opportunity to gain both academic and clinical experience. Those who choose to remain at the RN level can carve out a lifelong career for themselves with only an associate degree and state licensure.

Future nurse practitioners need to pursue advanced education and potentially additional licenses. These mid-level roles require an MSN, both of which offer students the opportunity to specialize and hone their leadership skills.

Differing Daily Responsibilities

Nurse practitioners, having earned an advanced degree and more specialization, have more autonomy in making decisions for their patients. For example, they can interpret diagnostics and medical tests, create plans for treatment, and even prescribe medicine. Thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the nursing profession, they may choose to step into leadership roles that influence health policy, conducting quality improvement projects and advocating for change at an organizational level. Furthermore, NPs who pursue a doctorate can specialize in research, administration, or education.

RNs cannot diagnose or prescribe medicine. Instead, they typically care for the day-to-day needs of patients, keeping records of their symptoms, assisting doctors, and monitoring patient progress. They may also work to teach patients and the community about health and wellness and guide patients and their families to choose the best course of treatment.

Nurse Practitioner vs. RN: Which Is Right for You?

If you’re beginning your career, earning your RN certification is a solid first step. If you’re a practicing RN looking for more autonomy and responsibility, an advanced degree may be for you. Nurse practitioners with DNPs can step into leadership roles that can make an impact on the healthcare system, from individual patients to entire institutions. See how Maryville University’s online BSN to DNP program can help you advance your nursing career.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “What’s a Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “State Practice Environment”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice

PayScale, Chief Nursing OfficerU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses