APRN vs. RN careers

Nurse Practitioner (NP) vs. Registered Nurse (RN): What’s the Difference?

Whether you are a nursing professional looking to advance your career or just starting in the healthcare industry, you should understand the different nursing opportunities available.

Two of the most popular nursing career paths are the nurse practitioner (NP) and registered nurse (RN). While both positions provide patient care, there are distinct differences between the two titles.

Furthermore, understanding these differences will help you decide if the nursing field is right for you and which role fits you best.

Let’s explore the differences between an NP and an RN.

What is a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Nurse practitioners have completed advanced graduate studies that allow them to perform more care duties, including some traditionally performed by a physician.

The advanced degrees that nurse practitioners pursue often include a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), with a dedicated NP specialization in their field of interest. Nurse practitioners also fulfill additional requirements for professional licensure.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Due to their advanced degree and training, nurse practitioners have greater authority and responsibility than RNs.

Nurse practitioners work collaboratively with the healthcare team while seeing and assessing patients, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, diagnosing conditions, creating treatment plans, and prescribing medication for their patients. They also help patients manage chronic conditions and adjust their treatment plans.

NPs usually work independently or in coordination with physicians and other team members. They often find employment in:

  • Hospitals
  • Health systems
  • Medical offices
  • Independent practices
  • Community health clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Urgent care centers
  • Health insurance companies
  • Corporations and industrial complexes

How Do You Become a Nurse Practitioner?

The most significant difference between an NP and an RN is the training and educational requirements involved.

Nurse practitioners need at least an MSN degree to earn their NP or APRN licensure. Candidates need their RN license (and must be in good standing) to be eligible for an MSN-APRN program. Many APRN programs will ask that candidates have a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN), but some schools offer RN-to-MSN programs that allow students with their associate degree in Nursing (ADN) and RN license to enroll.

Graduate nursing programs are offered at colleges and universities in full-time, part-time, and hybrid formats, allowing students to earn their degrees in a way that best suits their needs. For example, students can complete their MSN degree at Goodwin University part-time and fully online in as few as twenty months. However, an MSN won’t always be a direct path toward becoming a nurse practitioner.

An FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) program, a PMHNP (Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner) program, and other specialized MSN-APRN programs are more intensive and clinically focused. These lead directly to nurse practitioner eligibility. These advanced nursing programs offer students the opportunity to choose a specialty track. The most common specialties include family nurse practitioner, adult critical care, psychiatric mental health, pediatrics, and women’s health.


Learn more about Goodwin’s FNP and PMHNP programs by downloading your very own Get Started Guide!


After earning their degree, NP candidates must sit for their license granted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Nurse practitioners require more clinical training than RNs. While RNs usually need about 400 hours of clinical experience ahead of licensure, nurse practitioners typically require 500 or more additional clinical hours.

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

A registered nurse (RN) is a primary caregiver for patients in a medical setting. They are licensed healthcare professionals who assist physicians and other healthcare professionals in various environments. Registered nurses are typically the first (and most frequent) healthcare providers that patients see.

What Does an RN Do?

RNs coordinate, manage, and provide clinical and at-home patient care by:

  • Listening to and educating patients.
  • Preparing patients for clinical exams.
  • Recording medical histories.
  • Collecting samples.
  • Using medical equipment to diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of physicians and NPs.
  • Assisting with managing and navigating a patient’s care.

Unlike nurse practitioners, however, RNs cannot prescribe medication or order tests for patients. These high-level tasks require additional education and autonomy.

How Do You Become an RN?

An RN license can be obtained with an associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). ADN programs generally take two years, while BSN degree programs take four years, as a BSN is a higher degree than an ADN. Some schools also offer accelerated BSN and RN-to-BSN programs for candidates looking to expedite their studies and careers.

RNs must be licensed at the state level like nurse practitioners, and certification standards will differ depending on the state. Graduates of nursing programs should do their research and then register for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) or other required exams.

After successfully passing all examinations, an RN will receive their license. RN licenses must be renewed every two years through the designated states, so be sure to fulfill all continuing education and clinical hour requirements.

NP vs. RN: Which Career is Right for Me?

Careers as a nurse practitioner or an RN are both fulfilling and rewarding options that provide care and support to patients and their families. Many candidates become RNs because they can complete the educational requirements and launch a great career in just a few years.

Others choose the path of a nurse practitioner to specialize in certain areas of medicine and benefit from a high level of autonomy and responsibility. These individuals start as registered nurses and seek more advanced positions in the healthcare setting.

Candidates should consider how much time and money they can devote to their education, the types of nursing roles they want to hold, the environment they want to work in, and the level of care they want to provide when choosing to become an RN or advanced nurse practitioner.

Whatever path you choose, know you will enter an in-demand field and have a fulfilling, rewarding, and financially stable career helping people.

Contact us today to learn how you can start your exciting career as an NP or RN. We can’t wait to support you throughout your college and exciting career.