Updated on January 15, 2021

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With an increase in the patient population, the demand for nurses is growing in the healthcare system. No wonder the need for nurses would never pipe down, thus opening doors for several job opportunities. Due to this reason, many students want to make a career in the nursing industry. However, the field has various degree titles and specialties that may seem hard to decide which one to pursue.

Chances are you may have interacted with a registered nurse or nurse practitioner in your medical visit. You may be considering both as interchangeable fields. Though, that’s not true. While RN and NP assess patients’ health and provide care, both are different in their education, specialization, work responsibilities, and salary. If you want to become any of these nurses, you must familiarize yourself with them appropriately. Understanding the critical differences between the two can help you decide which is the best suitable career path. Let’s look at each of these nursing roles to know how they vary from each other:


The first step in becoming a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP) is acquiring relevant education. Although the requirements may vary for each institution, students need to meet a certain level of education.

For NP:

For the role of nurse practitioners, students must earn a master’s of science in nursing degree. The good news is that most master’s level programs can intake students with a BSN, ASN, diploma, or any other undergraduate degree in nursing. However, many students go the extra mile by enrolling in a terminal degree in nursing, which serves as the gateway for exciting career opportunities. Some of the core subjects that students will get to study are:

  • Advanced health management
  • Research methodology and statistics
  • Leadership in nursing
  • Advanced nursing practice

Students should pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) after completing their degree. It allows them to register with the nursing board of the state where they will practice. It is up to the students which field they choose for specialization. Following are a few of them:

  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Women health
  • Family
  • Adult care
  • Neonatal

It would be best if graduates get clinical working experience. Generally, NP should undergo 500 hours of clinical training as it will also enhance their leadership skills. Students should analyze a nurse practitioner’s career before pursuing a degree since it requires additional time and effort.

For RN:

Fortunately, to become a registered nurse, students need to earn less education than a nurse practitioner. Those nurses that are ambitious about their career goals seem to start their nursing journey by pursuing an RN program. In this program, they get a chance to study academic knowledge and get hands-on experience by practicing in clinics. Many may believe that only a bachelor’s degree is the route for an RN. However, it is not the only degree; there are other alternatives for it. Below are substitute requirements for RN:

  • A bachelor’s degree of science in nursing (BSN)
  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN)
  • A nursing diploma from an accredited program

Be mindful of the fact that every degree has its timeline of completion. It is better to select the one that fits well with your future. A bachelor’s degree in nursing offers a more practical approach. However, students pursuing any primary-level degree should expect to study the following topics:

  • Basic nursing theory and practical
  • Human anatomy and microbiology
  • Chemistry and physiology
  • Fundamentals of pharmacy

Again, students have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to enter the field officially. They have to take this certification exam after completing ASN, BSN, or diploma in nursing. It will be in nurses’ best interest to experience working in the healthcare industry before applying for this license.

There are numerous specialization fields available for registered nurses. Some of the areas in which RNs can specialize are:

  • Pediatric
  • Intensive care
  • Neonatal
  • Cardiac
  • Orthopedic


Registered nurses often play the role of bridging a gap between a patient and a doctor. Some typical job duties of registered nurses are:

  • Maintaining records of patient history
  • Observe and monitor signs of patient’s vitals
  • Design a healthcare plan for the patient
  • Working together closely with other healthcare professionals
  • Educating and counseling patients and their families about the health condition
  • Examining medications, surgical equipment, and other supplies for the treatment of the patient
  • Assisting in diagnostic testing
  • Assisting doctors in the patient’s treatment

Nurse practitioners perform the same tasks as above and also the following duties:

  • Taking a patient’s history and analyzing it
  • Ordering and interpreting lab and diagnostics tests, including x-rays, blood tests, etc
  • Diagnose and providing treatment for severe medical conditions such as heart disease, respiratory problems, etc
  • Prescribe medications to their patients
  • Crafting healthcare plans for their patients
  • Counseling patients and their families to live a healthy lifestyle
  • Works as a mentor and guide other nurses


Nurses have a great range of choices regarding work settings. Registered Nurses can choose to work in nursing homes, hospitals, surgical clinics, schools, home healthcare, and doctor’s offices. Whereas nurse practitioners typically work in hospitals, community clinics, managed care facilities, and college campuses. Moreover, many nurse practitioners are filling in the roles of physicians in private clinical settings.


Regardless of some significant differences between the two roles, one good point is both have a positive job outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse is $73,300 per year as of 2019. It implies an RN earns approximately $35.24 per hour. An RN’s position will grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than average than all other professions. In contrast, the average wage of nurse practitioners was $115,800 per year as of May 2019. When it comes to job employment, BLS predicts that NP will grow by 45% from 2019 to 2029.


Both of these nursing paths are rewarding careers since each one of them significantly impacts individuals’ lives. If you choose to become an RN or NP, either way, both of them require compassion and technical aspects of the healthcare system. Those registered nurses that are looking to move forward in their careers should first analyze whether the duties of nurse practitioner suits them or not.

Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.