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Nurse Practitioner vs Registered Nurse: Key Distinctions

April 14, 2024

Being a nurse is a fulfilling profession, not only in the opportunity to positively change the lives of patients by providing them quality care but also in the opportunity to progress in your career. This is because there are various levels of practice and specialization within the nursing profession, from nursing assistants to nurse practitioners.

Two common roles that often get confused are nurse practitioners (NPs) and registered nurses (RNs). While they share a commitment to patient care, there are distinct differences between them, from the extent of their clinical training to job duties and median annual salaries.

In this article, we will explore the key distinctions between Nurse Practitioners and Registered Nurses, shedding light on their education, scope of practice, work environment, and more.

Similarities Between Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners

Both NPs and RNs are licensed healthcare professionals who work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They are both essential members of the healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, other nurses (including practical nurses), and interdisciplinary professionals to ensure the best possible patient outcomes.

Additionally, both NPs and RNs are dedicated to providing compassionate and evidence-based care to their patients. They're responsible for assessing patients, developing care plans, administering medications, and educating patients and their families on health management. Both roles require strong communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Differences Between Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners

Registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) both play vital roles in the healthcare industry, collaborating with other healthcare professionals to alleviate patients' health problems and emphasize health promotion for the public. However, these positions are at different levels within the hierarchy of nursing careers, with nurse practitioners having more advanced practice in the nursing field. As such, they may differ in several aspects, as summarized in the table below:

Table summarizing the differences between registered nurses and nurse practitioners.

Completed Level of Education

One of the primary differences between registered nurses and nurse practitioners lies in the educational requirements that one must complete before one can be called as such.

Registered nurses typically hold an associate degree (ADN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing and complete their registration in their respective authoritative bodies.

In contrast, nurse practitioners need to pursue a more advanced education than a bachelor's (i.e., they need to complete their graduate degrees), with earning a master’s degree in nursing (MSN degree) as a minimum requirement. They can also choose to pursue a more advanced degree than an MSN program, such as Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD).

As such, one may consider becoming a nurse practitioner as the next step in their nursing career, with being a registered nurse a direct path to becoming a nurse practitioner. This is because nurses need to have several years of experience as registered nurses in addition to the education requirements before they can become nurse practitioners.

Scope of Practice

The scope of practice is another area where nurse practitioners and registered nurses differ.

Registered nurses provide direct patient care, administer medications, perform treatments, and monitor patient conditions. They collaborate with the healthcare team to develop care plans and ensure patient safety.

Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, have an expanded scope of practice. They are authorized to diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic illnesses independently. NPs can order diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and even perform certain procedures, depending on the regulations within the province or territory that they're practicing in and their specialty area.

Work Environment

While both nurse practitioners and registered nurses work in various healthcare settings, their work environments can also differ.

Registered nurses are typically found in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and home healthcare agencies. They provide care to patients of all ages and conditions, working in shifts to ensure round-the-clock coverage.

Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, have a more specialized practice. They often work in primary care settings, specialty care clinics, urgent care clinics, or private practices. NPs may choose to focus on specific populations, such as pediatrics, women’s health, or geriatrics, tailoring their practice to meet the unique needs of their patients. They may also take on leadership roles, working in medical offices or health systems, where they may be directly involved in decision-making for health care.

Autonomy and Practice Authority

Autonomy and practice authority are key distinctions between nurse practitioners and registered nurses. While registered nurses work under the supervision of physicians or nurse practitioners, NPs have a higher level of autonomy and greater authority in their practice compared to registered nurses.

Nurse practitioners may practice independently, meaning they can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications without direct oversight from a physician. This autonomy allows NPs to provide timely and comprehensive care, particularly in underserved areas where access to physicians may be limited.

Registered nurses, on the other hand, rely on the orders and guidance of physicians and nurse practitioners to carry out their nursing interventions.

Expected Salary

The expected salary for nurse practitioners is considerably higher than that of registered nurses, with NPs earning a national median hourly rate of $54/hour compared to the national median hourly rate of $40.39/hour for registered nurses. This difference in salary is attributed to the differences that were previously described, such as the extended role and scope of practice of NPs, their higher degree qualifications, and increased demand for their specialized services.

Do RNs and NPs Ever Work Together?

While there are clear distinctions between nurse practitioners and registered nurses, it's important to note that these roles often work collaboratively to provide the best possible care to patients. Registered nurses can work alongside nurse practitioners in various healthcare settings, assisting with patient assessments, implementing treatment plans, and providing support. NPs and RNs share a common goal of improving patient outcomes, and their collaboration enhances the overall quality of care delivered.

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In conclusion, nurse practitioners and registered nurses are both integral members of the healthcare team, each playing a unique role in patient care. While registered nurses provide direct care under the guidance of physicians and NPs, nurse practitioners have an advanced level of education, expanded scope of practice, and greater autonomy.

Understanding the distinctions between these roles is essential for aspiring nurses and patients alike. Whether working independently or collaboratively, NPs and RNs work tirelessly to promote health, prevent illness, and advocate for their patients' well-being.

At Caring Support, we're committed to working together with various post-secondary institutions and healthcare organizations in Canada to empower our nurses to reach their full potential within their chosen career path. Through our comprehensive services within our all-in-one, intuitive, healthcare-focused platform, we aim to streamline nurses in their job search and career progression, allowing them to connect with prospective employers and other healthcare professionals for professional networking.

Create your free account today to experience the benefits of our built-in healthcare job search engine and other solutions to help you progress your career further.

About The Author
Cam Adajar
Content Writer

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