What is the Difference Between an RN and a Nurse Practitioner?

Contrary to common misconception, Registered Nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) hold distinct roles in the healthcare field. This post delves into the key differences between RNs and NPs.
What is the Difference Between an RN and a Nurse Practitioner?

If you've researched the various career opportunities available to Registered Nurses (RNs), you may be confused by the similarity of some job titles. Nurse practitioner is a prime example. People often confuse this position with that of a Registered Nurse (RN), but the two roles are quite different.

Nurse Practitioners versus Registered Nurses

The first thing to understand is that you cannot become a nurse practitioner without first earning the credentials of an RN. Additional schooling is required. However, many would agree that the extra effort is worthwhile because nurse practitioners enjoy higher pay and many other benefits. Learn more about the differences between RNs and nurse practitioners—and why many RNs choose to pursue careers as the latter—to determine which position aligns with your aspirations.

Educational Requirements for an RN

There are three main paths to becoming a Registered Nurse. All three prepare you to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which allows you to earn your nursing certification and officially become an RN. To qualify for entry-level nursing positions, you can complete a two-year program to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Another option is to complete a diploma program through a hospital. The third option is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which typically takes four years. If you have the time and resources, earning a BSN is ideal. You will qualify for more advanced positions and command higher pay.

Educational Requirements for a Nurse Practitioner

The first step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and pass your licensure exam. From there, you will need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which typically takes an additional two years. Therefore, you can expect it to take around six years to achieve the education needed to apply for jobs as a nurse practitioner.

Responsibilities of an RN

RNs spend their days handling an array of responsibilities that primarily revolve around directly caring for patients. They primarily focus on treating and educating their patients. In addition to administering medications, bandaging wounds, and otherwise rehabilitating patients, they record observations for physicians. Put simply, RNs provide support for doctors and other medical professionals and work on the "front lines" of patient care.

Responsibilities of a Nurse Practitioner

As advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners are far more autonomous than RNs. In fact, in 34 states, they can practice independently, which means they can take on their own patients and even open their own practices. NPs are authorized to prescribe medication. Many focus on providing primary care, but others focus on various specializations. Nurse practitioners manage the overall care of patients. They treat chronic disorders, order diagnostic tests, perform diagnostic tests, and essentially perform many of the same duties as physicians. While their educational requirements are more stringent than those of RNs, they are still far simpler to attain than the credentials needed to become a physician.

Should You Become an RN or a Nurse Practitioner?

Like many who are embarking on nursing careers, you may be torn between becoming an RN and becoming a nurse practitioner. The good news is that you don't need to decide right away. At least, that's the case if you plan to earn your BSN because you can then easily go on to pursue your master's degree if you decide to become an NP. Earning an associate degree will limit your prospects in the short-term, but you can always go ahead and complete your BSN later in order to progress into a role as a nurse practitioner.

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