Difference Between A Nurse Practitioner and A Registered Nurse?


If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse, here is your answer. They’re both healthcare professionals who work closely with patients but have different education levels and responsibilities. 

Nurse practitioners, or NPs, are advanced practice nurses with a certain level of graduate education and training in nursing. Registered nurses, or RNs, typically have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the field. Both NPs and RNs provide patient care, monitor patients, and assist with medical procedures, yet their roles aren’t quite the same. 

So, what are these differences, and does that mean anything for patient care? This article will dive deeper into the unique roles that NPs and RNs play in healthcare, so you can better understand what to expect from these important healthcare professionals. 

  1. Their Training and Education

One of the biggest differences between registered nurses and nurse practitioners is their level of education. If you were to become a registered nurse, you’d first need to complete an accredited program and then pass the National Council Licensure Examination or the NCLEX. After that, you’d have to apply for state licensure. 

The exact degree you’d need would depend on what state you’re in since some only ask for an associate’s degree, while others would want you to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Either way, bachelor’s degrees are becoming more popular across the country and among employers, so if being an RN is what you want, follow this path.

On the flip side, nurse practitioners require a master’s or greater in nursing. On top of that, they must fulfill more clinical hours. If you want to work with a specific patient group, you’ll need to get relevant certifications and training. This is one of the most prominent Nurse Practitioner vs RN differences.

  • Requirements for Continuing Education

RNs and NPs both need to continue their education, but their requirements to do so are different. Both registered nurses and nurse practitioners need to attend continuing education classes to make sure their licenses are valid. But for RNs, this usually means completing continuing education units, or CEUs. The specific requirements for CEUs are different for each state and the specialty of the nurse. If you take California, for example, it requires registered nurses to fulfill at least 30 contact hours of certified training to keep their licenses.

Now, coming to nurse practitioners. Of course, CEUs are also required for their license renewals. To update their license with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, nurse practitioners must have completed at least 1,000 clinical hours since their last renewal. And besides that, they should have completed 75 contact hours of continuing education. 

  • Their Scope of Practice

Another key difference is that nurse practitioners have a wider scope of practice than RNs do. Not only can they provide patient care, but they can also diagnose and treat medical conditions, prescribe drugs, and even order and analyze diagnostic tests. So, what does that mean? It means that nurse practitioners can assume the role of primary caregivers. This is especially beneficial in lower socio-economic areas where there may be a shortage of doctors.

Now, let’s talk about registered nurses. These nurses provide essential patient care but don’t have the same level of power to diagnose or treat patients. They work with doctors and other healthcare providers to administer care to patients. RNs often focus on providing patient education, monitoring the health of their patients, providing medications, and performing some procedures.

One point to note is that the scope of practice for nurse practitioners varies by state and may depend on their specialty or certification. But still, in general, nurse practitioners have a wider range of responsibilities and can take on more advanced roles in healthcare.

  • Their Areas of Specialization 

When it comes to specialization in healthcare, nurse practitioners and registered nurse differ a bit. Nurse practitioners can specialize in specific areas of healthcare, like pediatrics, family practice, or geriatrics, and they can provide care to patients across the lifespan. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, approximately 88% of NPs certify in primary care.

So, what about RNs? Well, they can also specialize in a specific area, but their practice is much more general. For example, a registered nurse could specialize in oncology, emergency care, or critical care. They’d work with physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide care to patients in different settings, ranging from hospitals to nursing homes to clinics.

And did you know that nurse practitioners can also get additional certifications? They could specialize in areas such as women’s health, psychiatry, or acute care, which would allow them to expand their scope of practice even further and take on more advanced roles in patient care.

So, while both nurse practitioners and registered nurses can specialize in a particular area of healthcare, nurse practitioners have more opportunities to do so. 

  • Their Salaries

Now let’s talk about money. The good news is that both registered nurses and nurse practitioners are doing well in this regard. But still, there are some differences between the compensation of the two professions. Nurse practitioners usually tend to earn more than registered nurses because of their higher level of education, additional clinical hours, and certifications required. Also, nurse practitioners are likely to work in private settings, which means they get paid more.

Still, the wages for either position can change depending on geographical area, education level, working environment, and medical specialty. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $118,040 in 2021, while registered nurses earned an average annual salary of $82,750 in the same year.

Aside from higher salaries, nurse practitioners also have better job prospects than registered nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 40% growth in nurse practitioner employment from 2021 to 2031, which is much higher than the 6% growth projected for registered nurses. 


To sum it up, both nurse practitioners and registered nurses play vital roles in patient care, but the scope of their duties varies. It is important to realize the differences between nurse practitioners and registered nurses, especially if you’re considering a career in healthcare or need to choose a healthcare provider. Both professions are in high demand, and the job outlook for both is projected to grow in the coming years.