RN vs NP: What are the Differences?

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RN vs NP: what’s the difference? Registered Nurses (RNs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) play different but equally essential roles in healthcare. The main differences include the scope of care and the level of education and certification required to care for patients.

nurses working together

Nursing is undoubtedly a great career if you want to learn new things daily, earn a good salary, and have many career path options. There are many kinds of nurses. You may have heard of registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs), but what are the differences? If you are about to start your nursing journey, you may be debating between the RN vs NP paths. Understanding the differences is essential to planning your future career.

Regardless of your path, you must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you have previous college experience, such as college credits or a bachelor’s degree, you can earn your BSN in as few as 16 months through Pacific Lutheran University’s (PLU) Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program near Seattle, Washington. Our ABSN program prepares you for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) so you can earn your licensure and become a registered nurse. This also puts you on the path to becoming a nurse practitioner.

Here, you will learn what various nursing titles mean, what each role does, and the key difference between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse.

Registered Nurses: What Does an RN Do?

An RN has completed an accredited nursing program, such as the ABSN at PLU, passed the NCLEX exam and obtained a nursing license. The role of the RN centers around hands-on patient care, collaboration with other healthcare professionals and providing the best patient outcomes.

But what does an RN do in their job? The specific duties of an RN can vary depending on the setting in which they work, but generally, they are responsible for the following:

nurse with coworkers

Patient Assessment

RNs assess a patient’s health by asking about their medical history, performing physical examinations, analyzing laboratory values and reporting abnormalities to the care team.

Care Planning

RNs develop and implement individualized nursing care plans for patients based on their assessments. The nursing care plan includes setting goals and providing treatments to help patients achieve these goals.

Nursing Skills

RNs are often responsible for administering medications, monitoring their effects and educating patients about proper medication usage. RNs also perform IV insertion, bathing and wound care procedures. RNs may also help patients with safe mobility and exercise after surgery to help promote recovery.

Collaboration with Healthcare Teams

RNs work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurse practitioners and therapists, to coordinate and manage patient care. They advocate for patients, ensuring the healthcare team communicates and addresses their needs and concerns.

Educate Patients

RNs excel at educating patients and their families about illness, post-treatment care and overall health.

Work in a Variety of Settings and Specialties

Registered Nurses can work in various locations, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools and community health settings. They may specialize in pediatrics, geriatrics, critical care, obstetrics or mental health. An RN’s role requires clinical skills, critical thinking, compassion and effective communication.

nurse with child

Thinking about pursuing a nursing career? Read more to learn 10 reasons you should consider becoming a nurse.

Nurse Practitioners: What Does an NP Do?

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has additional education and training beyond that required for a registered nurse (RN), usually a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, in addition to passing the National NP Certification Board Exam. Their education includes advanced coursework in pharmacology, pathophysiology and health assessment. But what does an NP do in their job? Here are some of the advanced skills NPs possess:

Advanced Scope of Practice

NPs perform more advanced physical exams than RNs to gather more information. They are authorized to assess, diagnose and treat medical conditions, order and interpret diagnostic tests such as blood analysis, X-rays, or MRIs, prescribe medications, and manage overall patient care.

Many NPs have training in ultrasound to assess a patient’s condition in real-time. In some states, NPs practice and care for patients autonomously, without direct supervision from a physician, to the full extent of their education and training.

Advanced Care Planning and Collaboration

NPs provide myriad healthcare services, including conducting physical exams, taking medical histories, developing treatment plans and managing chronic conditions. They may also offer counseling, health education and preventive care.

While NPs can work autonomously, they often collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals to ensure comprehensive patient care. Collaboration may involve consulting on complex cases, making referrals or working together on treatment plans.

Work within Various Specialties

Many NPs, called Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs), work as primary care providers, offering cost-effective, more accessible healthcare. They can manage various health issues and often focus on preventive care and health promotion. NPs can also specialize in midwifery and women’s health, pediatrics, gerontology, psychiatric-mental health and acute care, to name a few. The specialization influences the population and type of healthcare services they provide.

nurses talking with each other

Nurse practitioners have the authority to provide a wide range of healthcare services, often focusing on preventive care, health education and the management of common acute and chronic illnesses. NPs also work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, community health centers, schools, insurance companies and governmental departments, such as the military or with policymakers.

Differences Between RNs and NPs

As you can see, NPs have a broader scope of care than RNs. Another significant difference when comparing RNs vs NPs is their education. An RN must complete a nursing degree program — such as an associate or bachelor’s degree — to qualify for the NCLEX. Once they pass the licensure exam, they can earn their nursing license and start practicing as an RN.

However, NPs must first earn their BSN and be licensed as registered nurses to obtain certification as nurse practitioners. Certification requirements vary by jurisdiction, but generally, requirements involve completing a master’s or doctoral NP program in your chosen specialty, passing the NP board certification exam and then applying for state licensure. NPs who wish to prescribe medications must also obtain a prescriptive license from their state and sometimes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Some nurses pursue their RN and NP degrees together in one continuous program, while most work as an RN for a few years and then return to get their NP degrees.

All RNs and NPs must pass competency tests and maintain their licensure in the state they practice. Both must complete annual continuing education credits, but the number of credits and topics required vary with each and with their specialty.

Want to learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner? Learn how to become a nurse practitioner in six steps.

nurses with clipboards

RN vs NP: Striving for the Same Goals

Despite the difference between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse in education and certification, their goal is the same — to provide the best possible care for patients and improve their quality of life. Depending on how much schooling you desire and the scope of skills you want to learn, RN vs NP both offer great career options. RNs and NPs are invaluable parts of the healthcare ecosystem, providing high-quality patient care and family support throughout the lifespan.

Contact our admissions team today, and take the first step to becoming an RN or NP by earning your BSN in as few as 16 months.