RN vs APRN | Primary Differences and Similarities

The primary distinctions between an RN and an APRN are education, the scope of practice, and career choice differences.

APRNs (advanced practice registered nurses) are registered nurses with post-graduate education and academic degrees.

Their advanced education enables them to perform more duties than RNs and handle a broader scope of practice.

That said, registered nurses operate in many healthcare domains that affect patients and specialists directly and indirectly.

These specialists manage many day-to-day patient care responsibilities in hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities.

As a result, they enable physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and other specialists to manage high-level duties. 

This article explores the similarities and differences among RN and APRN disciplines to understand their roles better.


Registered nurses and APRNs manage a wide variety of patient care needs.

However, registered nurses have a more limited scope of practice regarding responsibilities.

These healthcare specialists generally work with patients in bedside settings like hospitals and outpatient care facilities.

In these environments, RNs monitor vitals, provide non-invasive treatments, administer medications, assist with rehabilitation and handle other duties.

They also act under the supervision and leadership of a nurse practitioner or physician.

Besides hospital and patient care facilities, registered nurses work in various non-bedside care disciplines.

It includes education, legal consulting, research, entrepreneurship, education, marketing and sales, advocacy, and other fields.

There are over one hundred specializations for RNs interested in diversifying their careers and expanding their skillset.

Registered Nurse Responsibilities:

  • Assess and prioritize patient care
  • Administer medications and treatment plans
  • Monitor medication intake and delivery
  • Monitor patient vitals
  • Develop nursing care plans
  • Collect specimens and samples
  • Assist with rehabilitation
  • Update medical records
  • Track the patient’s state of recovery
  • Coordinate care plans with hospital staff

APRNs or advanced practice registered nurses receive advanced education in a post-graduate program.

It enables them to obtain their MSN or DNP degrees and pursue the highest career levels within the nursing profession.

APRNS typically work as nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives.

Some advanced practice registered nurses also work in leadership, managerial or education roles within their discipline.

APRNs can perform many high-level healthcare duties.

It includes diagnosing conditions, prescribing medications and treatment plans, and acting as a primary care provider.

Some APRNs even operate family clinics or mental healthcare practices independently.

APRN Responsibilities:

  • Diagnose patient conditions
  • Treat various illnesses/disorders
  • Act as primary care providers
  • Prescribe medications
  • Perform minimally invasive procedures
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Coordinate with physicians

APRNs have the broadest scope of practice within the nursing profession.

As a result, they often oversee and supervise CNAs, LPNs, and registered nurses.

Patient Diagnosis and Treatment

An RNs education and training concentrate on nursing assessment and prioritization, care plans, and patient care.

These specialists assess, manage and treat various medical conditions under the supervision of a physician or APRN.

However, they cannot diagnose patients, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, or act as primary care providers.

An advanced practice registered nurse must conduct patient diagnosis and prescribe medications and treatment plans.

Commonly Asked Questions:


Registered nurses have two levels of education: an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor of science in nursing.

The ADN two-year degree provides primary education and a foundation of nursing to prepare students for entry-level jobs.

This degree is excellent for those who want to enter the field and gain experience quickly.

It also enables students to determine whether they want to pursue nursing without spending additional money on a BSN.

Nevertheless, nurses who want to move into specialized roles and earn more money must obtain a BSN degree.

The BSN takes approximately four years to complete (or two additional years for those with an ADN).

Obtaining a BSN allows registered nurses to specialize in various healthcare fields in direct and non-direct care settings.

A BSN degree is also becoming more critical for those looking to receive job offers.

Many healthcare facilities prefer registered nurses with a BSN due to the additional education and duties they can manage.

Post Graduate Education

As previously mentioned, APRNs receive additional schooling beyond an ADN or BSN degree.

These healthcare specialists receive an MSN (master of science in nursing) or DNP (doctor of nursing practice) degree.

The MSN program takes about two years to complete for full-time students.

It enables APRNs to pursue specific careers within the nursing profession after completing their two-year education.

Nonetheless, some careers require APRNs to possess a DNP degree to practice and operate independently.

The DNP program takes four to six years to complete (or an extra 2 – 4 years after obtaining an MSN).

Overall, the time students must spend in post-graduate education depends on their specialization.

To qualify for the post-graduate program, students must possess a BSN degree.

They may also need several years of work experience before joining a post-graduate program.

Registered nurses pursuing post-graduate education can focus on one of four career disciplines: CRNA, CNS, CNM, or NP.

Each discipline provides specialized education and training for high-level nursing, management/leadership, and academic roles.

For instance, CRNAs (certified registered nurse anesthetists) administer anesthesia to patients receiving surgery.

This profession requires a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology, medicine, and dosage calculations.

CRNAs must understand how to monitor and treat patients before, during, and after surgery to keep them healthy and stable.

Any mistakes with anesthesia can have significant and lifelong negative consequences.

As a result, CRNAs receive extensive training to prepare them for roles in this profession.

On the other hand, nurse practitioners may provide direct care to patients and families as primary care providers.

Being a primary care provider enables nurse practitioners to diagnose, treat and manage their patient’s health.

This discipline varies greatly from CRNAs.

However, it requires extensive training and education in diagnosing, treating, and managing various medical conditions.

Career Specializations

There are over one hundred unique specializations for registered nurses in direct and non-direct healthcare settings.

It includes direct care settings like hospitals, clinics, community health centers, schools, and other similar environments.

They also operate in non-direct care settings like legal consulting, education, research, advocacy, management/administration, marketing and sales, informatics, mental health, and infection control.

Each specialization requires specific skills and a deep understanding of nursing.

APRNs operate in the previously mentioned disciplines in advanced roles that require additional training and education.

They also work in management/leadership, academia, medicine/anesthesia, as mental health and primary care providers.

APRNs specialize in four core areas: certified registered nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives.

Their advanced education gives them more autonomy, a broader scope of practice, and more prestigious positions.

Unlike registered nurses, APRNs prescribe medications, act as primary care providers and diagnose patient conditions.

They also become educators and accept management/leadership positions at the highest levels of healthcare.

Work Setting

Registered nurses and APRNs work in a wide variety of healthcare settings.

It includes hospitals, physician’s offices, correctional facilities, schools, camps, nursing homes, government facilities, and outpatient establishments.

In addition, they may operate independently as legal nurse consultants, med spa owners, or private nurse practitioners and mental health specialists.

Each work environment has specific healthcare needs that require the assistance of registered nurses and APRNs.

Salary Expectations

Registered nurses and APRNs make exceptional salaries compared to other careers in the United States.

According to BLS.gov, registered nurses earn about $77,600 annually, while APRNs earn approximately $123,780 yearly.

These estimates show APRNs make over $45,000 more than registered nurses annually!

Nonetheless, the salary range for registered nurses and APRNs varies dramatically.

Some registered nurses earn six figures by accepting specific jobs, working overtime, and operating in high-paying states.

Likewise, APRNs, like certified registered nurse anesthetists, can earn 300K+ in specific healthcare careers.

Occupational Outlook for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses have excellent career outlooks due to their high demand.

A growing economy and nursing shortage lead to more job openings and unfilled positions.

According to BLS, the projected job growth for registered nurses over the next decade is roughly 6%.

However, an unresolved nursing shortage makes replacing qualified registered nurses increasingly tricky.

The shortage is due to a growing number of nurses retiring, insufficient nursing school staffing, nurse burnout, and career changes.

As a result, some hospitals and healthcare facilities offer registered nurses various incentives to maintain employment.

It includes childcare, tuition reimbursement, high wages, bonuses, vacation pay, healthcare and retirement benefits, and mental health services.

Those who become registered nurses earn exceptional incomes and benefits and enjoy excellent career stability.

In addition, there’s a broad assortment of careers for registered nurses in direct and non-direct care backgrounds.

Nevertheless, registered nurses must ensure they operate in healthcare settings that accommodate their needs.

Maintaining a good work/life balance is also vital to avoid burnout and remain motivated to work.

Occupational Outlook for APRNs

The career outlook for APRNs is even higher than for registered nurses.

According to BLS.gov, job growth for advanced practice registered nurses is roughly 40% over the next decade.

Advanced practice registered nurses operate in a wide variety of high-level healthcare domains.

As a result, they’re becoming increasingly important to ensure patients receive adequate medical care.

APRNs enable more patients to receive timely care at an affordable price and help healthcare facilities keep costs down.

They also allow patients to have more alternatives for healthcare providers specializing in particular domains.

For instance, family nurse practitioners specialize in primary healthcare services focusing on family care.

These healthcare specialists can operate independently, assisting individuals and families throughout their lifespan.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners focus on providing services to those with mental health needs.

They specialize in assessing, diagnosing, and treating various mental health conditions, enabling more people to receive essential care.

As previously mentioned, APRNs earn fantastic salaries, most earning over 100,000 annually for their services.

These specialists also benefit from excellent job stability, numerous career opportunities, and other occupational incentives.