What Is The Difference Between A Registered Nurse And A Nurse Practitioner?

Nursing is one of the most respected and rewarding careers within healthcare. It offers great job security, competitive salaries, and the chance to advance your career over time. For these reasons, it is a popular job for those looking to work in health.

Another reason for the popularity of nursing as a job lies in the wide range of roles it offers. This gives the sector real depth and means there are many jobs to choose from.

Two of the most well-known jobs are that of registered nurse and nurse practitioner. These jobs are often confused with one another but they are not the same.

What is a registered nurse?

The number of registered nurses in US healthcare sits around the 3 million mark currently and this shows what an essential role it is. Qualifying as a registered nurse is the entry point for many people into the industry and the first role they move into after graduating from college/university. As such, it enables people to gain first-hand experience working as a nurse before deciding which direction to move in next.

But what do these kinds of nurses do? The common duties of RNs include:

  • Care and observation of patients
  • Recording patients’ medical history/symptoms
  • Drawing of bodily fluids to send for lab testing
  • Treating and caring for wounds
  • Administering medication/treatment plans
  • Talking to patients/family members about their care plan
  • Supervision of junior nurses/healthcare assistants

What is a nurse practitioner?

NPs are advanced practice registered nurses who deliver acute, speciality and primary healthcare to patients. Common areas for NPs to operate in are family nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner.

As with registered nurses, NPs have a range of duties. They include:

  • Collecting data and information from patients
  • Examining patients and diagnosis
  • Ordering and evaluating medical tests/results
  • Creating tailored treatment plans for patients
  • Prescribing medication
  • Supervising other medical staff/nurses (such as RNs)
  • Collaborating with other medical professionals to share knowledge

As the above shows, a nurse practitioner is clearly a separate role from a registered nurse. But what are the main differences between the two?

Training and education

The first major way these two key nursing positions differ is the qualifications you need to work in them. Due to it being a more senior role, you need more advanced qualifications to work as a nurse practitioner. This reflects the extra knowledge required for this position and highlights the high level of the role work.

To operate as a family nurse practitioner, you need to study at the master’s level. The online FNP from Walsh University is a good example of the type of course to enrol in as it offers a convenient, academically robust way to pick up the skills needed. You must be prepared to invest time and resources into further study to work as an NP.

Registered nurses also need to hold the right qualifications and have the proper training but at a less advanced level. This normally involves completing a course like a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As this shows, the amount of training needed to become an NP and the level you study are the key differences between these roles.

Level of responsibility

Just as preparing for your next job interview in nursing is key, you should take time to find out more about the role before you apply. This is certainly true for anyone who might be thinking of working as a registered nurse or nurse practitioner.

While both roles concentrate on patient care, the level of responsibility between them varies greatly. In short, nurse practitioners have a lot more responsibility and are more accountable for what happens in their facility/team than registered nurses are. When you think that the nurse practitioner is an advanced, managerial role, this makes sense.

We have already looked at the duties involved in each job, and this further highlights the extra responsibilities NPs have. While registered nurses can administer medication, for example, it is nurse practitioners who prescribe it. By the same token, it is nurse practitioners who are responsible for examining patients, diagnosing them, and coming up with an accurate treatment plan for registered nurses to follow.

Of course, this is not to downplay the responsibility and hard work involved in registered nursing jobs. They too have an important part to play in patient care and carry out many duties that have a direct impact on people’s health. It is true to say, though, that NPs have more responsibility on their shoulders, and this is where the two jobs differ.

NPs can work independently

For many people within healthcare, this is one of the biggest differences between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse. When you take a closer look at the roles, it becomes clear that NPs are qualified to work without supervision, but registered nurses are not.

People who value being able to manage their own healthcare practice and work independently are drawn to nurse practitioner roles. For those who would rather work with less independence while they build up more experience, working as part of a supervised registered nursing team in a clinic or hospital may be better.


It is impossible to talk about how registered nurses differ from nurse practitioners without mentioning salary levels. While registered nurses are not badly paid, they usually make less per annum than NPs. This is only fair though when you think of the extra responsibility nurse practitioners have and the extra training they have to complete for their role.

But how does this look in real terms? The average salary for registered nurses currently is around $69,000 while the average nurse practitioner salary is around $131,000. This clearly shows the difference between the two and highlights another way in which these roles diverge. For registered nurses who want to boost their earnings per year, training to become a nurse practitioner can help.

Working hours can vary between NPs and RNs

Most registered nurses will be required to work rotating shift patterns and do not have the luxury of a 9-to-5 existence. This is because healthcare services need to run 24/7, and RNs play a vital part in enabling this. For people who like the variety working shifts brings, this is not an issue.

Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, can often be found working more traditional hours than RNs. While some shift work could be needed at certain times of the year, most NPs enjoy steady 9-to-5 hours across the country. This can be very attractive for nurses who find shift work does not fit into their lifestyle anymore and prefer the convenience working standard office hours delivers.

How can you move from RN to NP smoothly?

If you currently work as a registered nurse but fancy working at more advanced levels as a nurse practitioner, it is worth finding out how to make the transition as smooth as possible. The first place to start is finding the course that gives you the qualifications needed to move into a nurse practitioner role.

But what about making the transition easier once you have bagged your dream NP job? A good tip is to find a mentor who can help you navigate your new career. This allows you to get useful advice on moving into life as an NP from someone who knows what they are talking about. It also gives you a source of emotional support when you need it.

Another useful tip is knowing the expectations of the nurse practitioner role you apply for in advance. This ensures you go in with your eyes open, knowing just what you will be required to do. The transition will be much smoother and there will be fewer unexpected surprises.

Registered nurse vs nurse practitioner: What’s the difference?

The above sets out not only what each nursing role involves but also how they differ. In the most basic sense, you could say that an NP is a more advanced version of an RN who is able to work autonomously.

When you dig a little deeper, however, other factors (such as salary, working hours, and specific duties) also mark them out as distinct from one another. If you are planning to follow a career in this sector, it is essential to know what both roles offer and which might be the best for you.