While both Nurse Practitioners and Registered Nurses provide direct patient care to patients, the most notable differences are the education requirements and their scope of practice. Below is a brief overview of the differences between an RN and an NP.

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • A Registered Nurse has earned either an Associate's Degree or a Bachelor's Degree
  • An RN must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
  • RNs typically do not have a specialization but may have additional knowledge in a specific area through experience and are able to move freely between different RN career paths such as ER, critical care, med/surg, etc.
  • The majority of RNs are found in a hospital or acute care setting; however, they can be found in clinics, offices, hospitals, home care agencies, skilled nursing facilities, insurance agencies and community services
  • Operate under the direction of an MD or in some instances an NP or PA

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

  • A Nurse Practitioner has earned at least a Master's Degree in Nursing
  • The Master's program has different specialties such as geriatric, primary care, maternal child health, psychiatric etc. and an NP must pick a track to study for successful completion of the program
  • An NP must pass the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certificate Exam
  • Typically, the NP has worked previously as an RN and has accrued sufficient experience to be accepted into an NP program
  • Nurse Practitioners specialized in a specific area and can see their own patients, diagnose, treat illnesses and prescribe medications
  • State by state scope varies for NPs, some need an MD to sign off on all orders while in others the NP has more autonomy
  • The majority of NPs are found in clinic settings; however, they can also be found in a variety of medical settings similar to an RN

Regarding pay, an NP can expect to make somewhere around $15,000-$40,000 a year more than an RN due to their higher level of education and expertise