1. Job roles & responsibilities
Registered nurses (RN) and nurse practitioners (NP) are different types of nurses with unique scopes of practice:
- An RN works directly with patients, managing assessments, daily activities, and scheduled procedures and operations. RNs work closely with a care team including doctors and specialists. They are not allowed to prescribe medications, diagnose patients, or write treatment plans.
- An NP is an advanced practice registered nurse who works directly with patients, but functions more like a physician. Nurse practitioners can make diagnoses, create and manage treatment plans, prescribe medication, and more. NPs tend to enjoy more autonomy, a greater scope of practice, and increased earning potential, making it a great career step after working as a registered nurse.
Keep in mind specific roles and responsibilities for both RNs and NPs can vary by state due to state regulations and licensure.
2. Education requirements
To become an RN, you’ll generally need two to four years of schooling, depending on your school, degree choice, and any prior college courses you’ve already completed. You will need to earn an undergraduate degree, either an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
After completing a degree, graduates will need to take the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses exam (NCLEX-RN). This nationwide exam tests graduates on the application and analysis using the nursing knowledge they gained in school, to confirm that they are qualified to practice entry-level nursing.
As an RN, you also have the capability to potentially specialize in an area of interest with the right education and experience, including med/surgical nursing, oncology, pediatric, neonatal/NICU, and many more.
To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Schools can offer programs focusing on NP specialties to prepare you best to pass the certification exam and become eligible to practice soon after graduation.
There are many different types of nurse practitioners, including:
- Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP). Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide primary and specialty care to patients of all ages, from pediatric to adults. They examine, diagnose issues, develop and manage treatment plans with patients. You’ll find FNPs working in a variety of environments, including hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, and even schools or corporations.
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) provide a full range of primary health care services, including diagnosing and caring for patients with mental illness and co-occurring disorders. PMHNPs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private psychiatrist practices, and community-based mental health services.
- Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP). Gerontological nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) provide medical services for older patients and help them manage all aspects of aging. AGPCNPs conduct physicals, analyze results, evaluate well-being and create full treatment and wellness plans. They often work in hospitals and nursing homes, and may do home visits or work in private practice.
- Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP). These nurse practitioners also work specifically with adult and geriatric patients, although they specialize in providing acute and chronic care in an intensive care or emergency environment.
RN and NP represent two different rungs on the nursing ladder.
Depending on the state, it’s possible you may not need to work as an RN first before becoming an NP. However, most nurses start out practicing as RNs before eventually furthering their education to become an NP, a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). One of the benefits some organizations have for RNs is tuition assistance to encourage an RN to return to school and advance their degree.
Because of their greater scope of practice, nurse practitioners earn a higher salary on average than registered nurses.
4. Job outlook
The job outlook for both RNs and nurse practitioners is positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of registered nurses will grow 9 percent through 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. This is due in part to an aging population, a greater emphasis on preventive care, and increasing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
The job outlook for nurse practitioners is even better. Employment for this group is expected to grow 52% through 2030, much faster than average.
The significant need for primary healthcare services more in line with what physicians typically provide, particularly in rural and inner city areas, is responsible for the huge expected increase in coming years.
5. Quality of life
Nurse practitioners may see their work/life balance or quality of life improved when they advanced from being an RN. Key reasons include:
- Growing your clinical practice skills. Nurse practitioners may see patients with more complicated health issues, so they have an opportunity to expand their nursing skills beyond the RN role.
- Greater flexibility and autonomy. Nurse practitioners often get to have more control over their schedule and patient appointments than RNs.
- More time with patients. Nurse practitioners have many of the same responsibilities of a physician, meaning they can make diagnoses, create treatment plans, and prescribe medication. Because of this, they are often able to spend more time with individual patients and develop long-term relationships.
Despite these positives when compared to working as an RN, the NP role can be very challenging and more demanding. Their duties may be more stressful compared to RNs because nurse practitioners often manage complicated patient cases and are responsible for making higher-level decisions. However, this is often seen as a positive challenge, and the benefits of playing a larger role in patient lives is very rewarding and worth it.