Registered Nurses vs. Nurse Practitioners: What’s the Difference?

Registered nurses and nurse practitioners receive the same educational foundation necessary to provide exceptional patient care.

Moreover, nurse practitioners begin careers as registered nurses before pursuing an advanced practice registered nurse degree.

The primary distinction between registered nurses and nurse practitioners is their general education, training, and scope of practice.

Registered nurses earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to become licensed.

It takes approximately 2 – 5 years to complete an ADN or BSN degree to work as a licensed registered nurse.

However, it requires 6- 10 years to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

Thus, nurse practitioners have a broader scope of practice and competencies than registered nurses.

Registered Nurse Competencies | Scope of Practice

Registered nurses provide exceptional patient care and most interactions, monitoring, and attention for hospital patients.

These medical professionals administer medications, monitor patient vitals, perform health assessments, and perform bedside care.

They also manage CNAs/LPN, perform rehabilitation treatments, document/update medical records, and do various other tasks.

Finally, registered nurses provide consultation and emotional support to patients and their families.

As a result, they must develop strong analytical and communication skills and a resilient mindset.

The following list covers numerous responsibilities within a registered nurse’s scope of practice.

Notably, these functions can be performed by a nurse practitioner as well.

Registered Nurse Competencies Include:

  • Assess their patient’s medical condition (observe and interpret symptoms)
  • Evaluate patients throughout the rehabilitation process
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Educate patients about their injuries, illness, and ailments
  • Collaborate with nurses and doctors/physicians to develop patient care plans
  • Update medical records and documentation
  • Supervise LPNs, CNAs, and nursing assistants
  • Assist patients in the ICU, ED, critical care, trauma unit, and other sensitive environments
  • Feed, bathe, and clean patients unable to care for themselves
  • Remove Stitches

Note: Nurse practitioners can perform all these tasks.

However, registered nurses cannot perform all the duties of nurse practitioners.

Why Purse Registered Nursing

There are many reasons to pursue a career in registered nursing.

For instance, registered nurses have very secure positions, and demand for the profession grows continually.

As a result, numerous career advancement opportunities, excellent pay, and work flexibility exist.

Highly skilled registered nurses negotiate their benefits and bonuses and relocate all over the country depending on their interests.

There are various professions for those who don’t want to pursue careers at hospitals or perform bedside care.

It includes legal consulting, research, education, entrepreneurship, counseling, and many other careers.

Finally, registered nurses find satisfaction in providing care and emotional support to their patients.

Many nurses pursue careers in this profession primarily because they want to improve the lives of others.

However, numerous benefits and perks of registered nurses also positively impact their careers.

5 Reasons to Become a Registered Nurse

  1. Faster entry into the nursing profession
  2. Over 100 career paths are available
  3. Excellent income potential and industry growth
  4. Perfect job security and demand
  5. Flexible work schedule

The following section explores the nurse practitioner profession and its scope of practice.

In particular, it covers nurse practitioners’ responsibilities outside of a registered nurse’s competencies.

Nurse Practitioner Competencies (Scope of Practice)

There are numerous responsibilities nurse practitioners perform compared to being a registered nurse.

The most apparent responsibilities include prescribing medications, diagnosing patient conditions, and ordering diagnostic tests.

However, nurse practitioners act as primary care providers, evaluable diagnostic tests, and open clinics.

Some nurse practitioners work independently of supervision in the full scope of practice states, while those in limited or restricted states work under a physician’s care.

Nurse Practitioner Competencies Include:

  • Prescribing medications
  • Diagnosing patient conditions
  • Acting as primary care providers
  • Opening/operating clinics
  • Evaluating medical and test results
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Managing registered nurses
  • Working independently of a physician or supervisor (*depending on the state)

The preliminary list does not fall within a registered nurse’s scope of practice.

Therefore, they’re more limited in these respects than nurse practitioners.

Why Become a Nurse Practitioner

There are several excellent reasons to become a nurse practitioner.

Firstly, nurse practitioners earn the highest incomes due to their expertise and scope of practice.

It includes pursuing entrepreneurship opportunities, where nurses have unlimited earning potential.

They also have the most autonomy as they work in various occupations.

However, most nurse practitioners follow one of four advanced registered nurse specializations.

The specializations include certified registered nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioners provide the most comprehensive patient care through extensive education and training.

Nurse practitioners prescribe medications, diagnose patients and open and run clinics as primary care providers.

These skills are essential because nurse practitioners operate in underserved areas requiring qualified medical professionals.

As a result, they fill healthcare gaps in areas with zero or few physicians to provide adequate patient care.

Finally, nurse practitioners have the highest respect of all nursing professions due to their discipline and prominent roles in healthcare.

5 Reasons to Become a Nurse Practitioner

  1. Highest income potential among all nursing professions
  2. Most flexibility/autonomy among various nursing professions
  3. Ability to provide the most comprehensive patient care
  4. Self-employment opportunities (in some states)
  5. Highly respected profession

Now that you understand the differences between registered nurses and nurse practitioners let’s see how it impacts income potential.

RN and NP Income Potential

Nurses’ income continually rises yearly due to the high demand for qualified medical professionals.

As a result, both RNs and NPs earn exceptional incomes.

That said, the money nurses earn depends on several factors.

It includes their location, expertise, education, and specialization.

As you can expect, nurse practitioners generally earn more than registered nurses.

Nurse practitioners earn 25% to 100% more than registered nurses depending on their specialization.

According to, nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $112,868 as of October 29, 2021, in the United States.

Conversely, in the United States, registered nurses earned a median salary of $80,940 as of October 29, 2021.

It does not include higher-level nursing positions.

As a result, registered nurses and nurse practitioners’ salaries increase or decrease widely depending on specialization.

Notably, registered nursing jobs offer over $100,000 yearly for qualified medical professionals.

Occupations also pay nurse practitioners over $150,000 yearly for their expertise.

That said, nurse practitioners who operate clinics in some locations have high-income potential due to their occupation and business.

RN to NP Programs

One of the best things about nursing is starting at any level and pursuing higher education for better career opportunities.

Those interested in pursuing nursing can start as a CNA or LPN and work towards earning their license as a registered nurse if desired.

Moreover, registered nurses can become APRNs and pursue a profession as nurse practitioners.

There are various RN-to-NP programs for registered nurses who want to become nurse practitioners to further their education and transition careers.

These programs ensure that registered nurses have a solid educational foundation to succeed in higher education and work.


Registered nurses and nurse practitioners have a broad assortment of career advancement opportunities.

Those who pursue registered nursing careers pick from over 100 distinct professions inside and outside hospital settings.

Many nurses operate outside hospitals and clinics and pursue non-bedside care jobs.

To illustrate, countless nurses work as researchers, legal nurse consultants, freelance medical writers, and educators.

Some nurses pursue careers as nurse entrepreneurs, aesthetic nurse injectors, and healthcare advocates/coaches.

On the other hand, nurse practitioners earn advanced degrees to pursue the broadest scope of healthcare occupations.

They work as primary care providers, open clinics, and specialize in advanced fields.

Those who want to become nurse practitioners first earn a registered nursing license.

As a result, they can take on jobs as registered nurses to determine whether becoming a nurse practitioner is the right choice.

Whether registered nurses become nurse practitioners, there are numerous opportunities to earn excellent incomes and provide exceptional patient care.

Ultimately, choosing whether to pursue registered nursing or become a nurse practitioner is a personal choice.

There is no best profession in nursing.

Accordingly, it’s up to them to determine the most fulfilling and satisfying occupations.

It’s also vital for those who want a career change to look into the diverse opportunities possible within their profession.

Additional Resources: