RN vs. NP: What’s the Difference?

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RN vs. NP: What’s the difference? While both careers focus on caring for patients, there are significant differences. Registered nurses work alongside and under the supervision of physicians as they carry out treatment plans. On the other hand, nurse practitioners practice with greater autonomy.

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As you consider healthcare careers, many paths may catch your eye. With so many options, choosing the right one takes time and effort. Becoming a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP) are two popular choices to pursue, but what’s the difference? If you are debating between becoming an RN vs. NP, understanding the differences can help you plan your future.

Whichever path you pursue, you must start with a strong nursing education. Concordia University Texas’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track establishes a solid nursing foundation that will serve you throughout your career. Through our ABSN track you can earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in as few as 16 months.

Below is an exploration of what RNs and NPs do, where they work, the required education, and their differences.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

RNs work closely with the healthcare team and typically provide direct patient care. Their primary responsibility is to carry out care plans while assessing patient conditions and identifying immediate needs.

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However, every day is different for nurses. Their day-to-day responsibilities vary depending on the patient population, clinical setting, and healthcare team size. At any given moment, an RN may perform the following tasks:

  • Maintain detailed patient records
  • Administer medications
  • Provide wound care
  • Obtain samples for lab work
  • Deliver patient education

RNs work in various clinical settings, at the bedside and beyond. While most are employed in state, local, and private hospitals, they can also work in long-term care facilities, military bases, schools, and patient homes.

RNs also have a variety of specialties to choose from. These specialties vary by patient population, such as pediatrics and geriatrics, and conditions, such as oncology and critical care. Nursing students can explore a selection of nursing specialties during clinical rotations. However, nurses are lifelong learners, and you can pursue a nursing specialty anytime during your career.

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Learn more about the roles of registered nurses and explore the many nursing specialties.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

NPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with the same responsibilities as RNs; however, NPs can also perform some of the duties of a doctor. As APRNs, NPs undergo advanced education to broaden their scope of practice.

In addition to the roles shared with RNs, NPs can do the following:

  • Diagnose patients
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Provide patients with referrals
  • Prescribe medications
  • Order diagnostic tests
  • Evaluate test results

Like RNs, NPs work in a variety of clinical settings. In some states, they can provide primary care in physician offices. They can also work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, colleges, and clinics.

NPs can pursue several specialties, including family health, women’s health, psychiatric mental health, and adult-gerontology.

Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

While they share many responsibilities, the differences between an RN and NP are significant. As APRNs, NPs must receive graduate-level education and additional licensure. Additionally, because NPs have a greater scope of practice, they have higher projected salaries.

Education Requirements

To become an RN or NP, you must first earn a nursing degree and license. There are a few pathways to becoming an RN. You can earn an associate’s degree — typically through a two-year program — or a BSN, which can take up to four years.

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While an associate’s degree qualifies you for the licensing exam, a BSN is preferred. Studies have shown that a higher population of BSN-educated nurses in a clinical setting leads to improved patient outcomes. Additionally, if you plan to advance your career and become an NP or other APRN, you will need a BSN to enroll in a graduate program.

Returning to school for four years is not ideal if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or previous college credits from an accredited institution. Fortunately, an accelerated nursing track can help you earn your BSN fast.

Accelerated nursing tracks, such as Concordia Texas’s ABSN, build upon your previous education and help fast-track your education. In our ABSN track, you can earn your BSN in as few as 16 months, not including the time needed to complete prerequisites.

A quality education is critical to a successful career. Read more to learn how to choose a nursing school.

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Once you’ve earned a BSN, you qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). After receiving a passing grade, you can apply to your state’s board of nursing for a nursing license.

To become an NP, you first need to earn a BSN before you can enroll in a graduate program. Many APRN graduate programs require clinical RN experience. NPs must earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Depending on your desired specialty, you may need to complete additional education. Once you complete the program, you are eligible for the certification board exam.

Duties and Responsibilities

Comparing an RN vs. NP reveals many similar duties and responsibilities. Both focus on observing patients and providing care; however, the NP scope of practice allows for greater autonomy.

The NP scope of practice varies by state. In 27 states, NPs can work autonomously with full practice authority. In contrast, other state regulations require reduced practice, meaning NPs can only perform specific tasks without physician supervision, or restricted practice, meaning NPs must work under complete physician supervision.

Salary and Career Outlook

Both RNs and NPs experience high projected salaries and employment. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, RNs make a median salary of $86,070, much higher than the national median for all occupations. NPs, on the other hand, earn significantly more, with an APRN median salary of $129,480.

The national registered nurse shortage has increased demand for RN employment, projected to grow 6% between 2022 and 2032. APRN employment is also projected to grow during the same period by 38%, significantly higher than the national average.

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Take the First Step Toward a Career in Nursing

Whether you’re debating becoming an RN vs. NP, Concordia University Texas’s ABSN track can help you meet your goals. Through a combination of online coursework, in-person nursing simulation labs, and clinical rotations, you can earn your BSN in as few as 16 months.

Our students experience a collaborative educational environment, with the support they need to succeed. As Samantha Allen, ABSN graduate, shares, “The professors have been really good, they're very approachable. If we ever have any questions, we are able to go to them and ask.” Those who graduate from the track will have gained the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to take the NCLEX and earn their nursing licenses. Our ABSN track sets you on the path toward a rewarding nursing career, whether you wish to become an RN or advance your career in the future.

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or a minimum of 60 college credits, you may meet the ABSN admission requirements.

Contact us to learn more about the ABSN track at Concordia Texas. You will be assigned an admissions counselor to answer your questions and walk you through the admission process.