Skip to main content

RN to Nurse Practitioner (NP):
Career Path + Programs

A comprehensive guide to advancing your nursing career from RN to nurse practitioner

You can utilize your education, training, and experience as a registered nurse to become a successful nurse practitioner.

However, you have many options as an RN with an associate or bachelor’s degree, and nurse practitioner is only one of them. There are a few key things you need to keep in mind when considering nurse practitioner as a future career pathway.

We have put together this detailed guide to help you get an idea of what it will be like to transition from registered nurse to nurse practitioner: what to expect, how your life will change, and what you need to do to get started.

Banner Image
Healthcare team including RN and nurse practitioner discussing patient data

Advancing to a role in primary care

Stepping up from RN to NP means a significant change in your daily roles and responsibilities, scope of practice, and overall autonomy in delivering healthcare.

A registered nurse 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.

As an RN, you also have the capability to potentially specialize in an area of interest with the right education and experience, including medical/surgical nursingoncology, pediatricneonatal/NICU, and many more. You don’t need to enroll in an ASN or BSN program in these specialties to practice as an RN—your experience and continuing education contribute to your qualifications to practice in these focus areas.

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) 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 nursing practice, and increased earning potential, making it a great career step after working as a registered nurse.

Nurse practitioners also specialize, but pursuing certifications in advanced practice nursing often requires completing an educational program in that specialty. Moving laterally across different focus areas takes additional time and education at the level of nurse practitioner.

Keep in mind specific roles and responsibilities for both RNs and NPs can vary by state due to state regulations and licensure.

Becoming a nurse practitioner typically means transitioning from bedside to preventative or outpatient care, representing a significant change in your relationship with patients. You can become a primary care provider and long-term partner with greater responsibility for your patients’ health outcomes. However, this isn’t universally the case. Some NPs specializing in acute care may continue working in a bedside role, albeit with a more advanced scope of practice as an NP.

Where RNs and NPs work

While registered nurses and nurse practitioners can often work in the same facility, there are different levels of concentration of RNs and NPs in different types of industries:

Percent of total occupational employment in industry, May 2023i

IndustryNurse practitionersRegistered nurses
Offices of Physicians49.5%6.9%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals22.3%55.1%
Outpatient Care Centers9.2%5.2%
Offices of Other Health Practitioners4.1%0.6%
Home Health Care Services2.7%5.7%
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools2.5%0.9%
Employment Services1.3%4.1%
Local Government, excluding Schools and Hospitals (OEWS Designation)1.0%1.2%
Other Ambulatory Health Care Services1.0%0.6%
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals0.9%2.0%

i. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Occupational employment and wage statistics, May 2022: All data. United States Department of Labor. This table includes a selection of the top industries for each occupation. That’s why there are only 10 industries listed and percentages do not add to 100%.

Examples of how to interpret this data:

  • 49.5% of all nurse practitioners work in Offices of Physicians
  • 55.1% of all registered nurses are employed in General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

If you become a nurse practitioner, you are much more likely to work in a physician’s office and less likely to work in a hospital. RNs working in a bedside role seeking a lower-stress environment may welcome this change. However, you still may be able to find work in a general hospital environment if you prefer, especially if you specialize in acute care. You may be able to stay at the hospital you work at now if they offer tuition assistance or a partnership program to help you become an NP.

Different schedules

RNs and NPs can potentially work very different hours. 

While becoming an NP can give you more autonomy in delivering patient care, you might discover less autonomy when it comes to the flexibility of working hours.

As an RN, depending on where you work, you may work highly variable hours and have more flexibility to pick up different types of shifts at different times of day. Some RNs may work longer and fewer days over the course of the week and may have more choice about working weekends vs. weekdays.

Nurse Practitioners typically work in a primary care environment which is usually a more conventional 9-5pm schedule 5 days a week. Those who work in urgent/acute care may have more variable hours depending on the employer.

Consider this dynamic when thinking about what kind of nursing specialty you want to pursue. If you really want to become a nurse practitioner but value a flexible schedule and don’t mind working weekends, choosing an acute care NP specialty may increase the likelihood you can find a job where this is possible. 

Areas of NP specialization

  1. RN to Family Nurse Practitioner (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.

    How to become an FNP

  2. RN to 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.

    How to become a PMHNP

  3. RN to Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)

    Adult gerontological nurse practitioners provide medical services for adult patients and help them manage all aspects of adult healthcare needs and the aging process. 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.

    How to become an AGNP

  4. RN to 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.

    How to become an AGNP

  5. RN to Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

    These types of NPs, like AGNPs, can potentially work in a primary care or acute care capacity. They specialize in the care of infants, toddlers, adolescents, and young adults.

    How to become a PNP

  6. RN to Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

    Focus your care specifically on women by pursuing a WHNP specialty. This is similar to FNP in that you'll work with patients across the lifespan, but you can emphasize in diagnosing and treating conditions most prevalent for women.

    How to become a WHNP

Education requirements

To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in a chosen specialty. While earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is not currently required, earning a DNP may help you qualify for competitive NP job postings in the future.

Educational options are available to current RNs who hold an ASN/ADN or BSN. Current, active, and unrestricted licensure as an RN in the state in which you live is a prerequisite for enrollment. We offer BSN to MSN and BSN to DNP pathways, as well as options for those looking to bridge from ASN/ADN to MSN.

"I firmly believe nurses are lifelong learners that must have a desire to continually grow and develop new skills. If this is you, now may be the time to consider pursuing your graduate nursing education. I would like to invite you to join us at Herzing University!"

Dr. Elicia Sutton, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, Department Chair of Practice Programs

Which program is right for me?

You have a couple options to earn an MSN. The fastest path is to choose an accelerated RN to MSN program, designed for RNs with an ADN/ASN to be able to work towards an MSN without first earning a BSN.

You also have the choice of stopping for a BSN, which involves enrolling in our online RN to BSN program, then choosing an MSN program in your chosen NP specialty. This will take longer to complete, but you may prefer the more methodical pace compared to a rigorous accelerated program.

View accelerated RN to MSN options

Because you’ve already earned a BSN, your path to earning an MSN will be shorter. You can potentially earn an MSN in an NP specialty in 20-24 months - or earn a DNP in an NP specialty in 32 months.

View MSN programs for BSN holders

View DNP programs for BSN holders

If you’ve already earned a master’s degree in another specialty, or completed an MSN Direct Entry program, you may be eligible for a post master’s certificate program in the specialty of your choosing.

View post master’s certificates in nursing

Discover your potential

Get in touch to learn more about our school and how we can help you reach your highest career goals.

Opt-In to Receive SMS Messages

By selecting this button you agree to receive updates and alerts from Herzing University. Text HELP to 85109 for help, Text STOP to 85109 to end. Msg & Data Rates May Apply. By opting in, I authorize Herzing University to deliver SMS messages and I understand that I am not required to opt in as a condition of enrollment. By leaving this box unchecked you will not be opted in for SMS messages. Click to read Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

How long does it take to go from RN to NP?

The answer depends on the education you’ve already received and the specialty you choose. Considering all possibilities, it could take you roughly 16-32 months to complete the program(s) you need to sit for certification and become eligible to practice as an NP.


  • If you’ve already earned an MSN and choose a post master’s FNP certificate program, our program length range is 16-20 months
  • If you’ve earned an ASN and choose the accelerated RN to MSN option in FNP, you could earn an MSN in as few as 24 months

You can view all of our nursing programs to find the pathway most appropriate for you and determine a rough estimate of time needed to complete.

The cost of returning to school

You’ll need to go back to nursing school to earn the education you need to go from RN to nurse practitioner. The total cost of an NP program can vary widely depending on the program you choose and potential financial aid.

Your employer may be able to help. One of the benefits some organizations have for RNs is tuition assistance to encourage an RN to return to school and advance their degree.

How much it can cost ultimately depends on the education you’ve already earned, and how many courses you need to earn the education required to sit for certification in the specialty of your choosing. RNs who hold an ADN/ASN have a longer journey ahead than those who have already earned an MSN.

Our school offers a consistent tuition rate for our NP-related programs in terms of cost per credit. You can use our Tuition Wizard to find more details about the total cost of attending Herzing University and enrolling in one of our nurse practitioner specializations.

Remember, tuition is not just an expense—it’s an investment in yourself and your future. Going from RN to NP can represent a potentially significant increase in salary and additional career opportunities in advanced practice nursing.

Salary potential


RN and NP represent two different rungs on the nursing ladder.

Because of their greater scope of practice, nurse practitioners earn a higher salary on average than registered nurses.

RN vs. NP average salary*

Job / careerPer hourPer year
Registered Nurses (BLS)$45.42$94,480
Nurse Practitioners (BLS)$61.78$128,490

Recall the scheduling flexibility discussed earlier: because RNs can work more variable hours and potentially pick up more overtime than an NP working in a primary care role, RNs can sometimes make as much or even more than nurse practitioners. 

The average salaries cited above are general starting points but can vary widely depending on a number of factors. Experience, education, focus area, and state of employment all play a key role in determining how much you can potentially make as a registered nurse or nurse practitioner.

Employment outlook


Both RNs and NPs will be in high demand from 2022-2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

In fact, the 45% figure for nurse practitioners is tied for the highest projected employment growth rate across all occupations from 2022-2032.

RN vs. NP employment outlook*

Job / career% increaseNumeric increase
Registered Nurses (BLS)6%177,400
Nurse Practitioners (BLS)45%118,600

The projected rate of increase isn’t as high for registered nurses, but there are far more employed registered nurses than nurse practitioners. While the rate of increase is lower, the total number of additional RNs expected to be hired is greater than NPs.

Each type of nurse is projected to be in demand over the next 10 years. The widely publicized nursing shortage continues in 2024, creating a great need for both registered nurses and nurse practitioners.

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.
  • A steadier schedule. While some RNs may prefer a more variable schedule, many seek a more conventional and predictable schedule. Becoming a nurse practitioner typically means a more typical 9-5 schedule 5 days a week.
  • 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.

Your next step is possible

We hope this guide helped you better understand what to expect when considering advancing from RN to NP. 

Our goal is your career success. If you have any questions about becoming a nurse practitioner and want more detail on your educational options, please contact our admissions team and we can help you get started.

Explore nurse practitioner program options with Herzing University


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

Request Information
Ready to get started?

Contact us to request more information

Opt-In to Receive SMS Messages

By selecting this button you agree to receive updates and alerts from Herzing University. Text HELP to 85109 for help, Text STOP to 85109 to end. Msg & Data Rates May Apply. By opting in, I authorize Herzing University to deliver SMS messages and I understand that I am not required to opt in as a condition of enrollment. By leaving this box unchecked you will not be opted in for SMS messages. Click to read Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.