Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and registered nurses (RNs) play vital roles in delivering high-quality patient care, although they possess distinct scope of practice, educational requirements, and responsibilities. NPs have advanced nursing degrees, which allows them the autonomy to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and administer comprehensive care independently. RNs, on the other hand, work in direct patient care alongside physicians and other health care providers.

These two careers have a great deal of overlap. In fact, all NPs must first be RNs. To become an RN, students must complete a nursing education program. These can take one to four years, depending on the previous level of education. Nurses who then pursue additional education and training can then become NPs. NPs will specialize in several fields, including adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatology, women’s health, or psychiatry. 

All RNs and NPs must be licensed by their state board of nursing. The requirements will vary by state but will include education and testing. For RNs, the exam they must pass is the NCLEX-RN. NPs will typically be required to pass an exam from a national certification agency in their given specialization. 

Keep reading to discover more about the differences and similarities between NPs and RNs.

What is a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a highly skilled healthcare professional who has completed advanced education and training beyond that of a registered nurse (RN). They have the authority to diagnose and treat various health conditions, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and provide ongoing care and counseling.

Their level of autonomy will vary by state, and they may or may not be required to work under the supervision of or in collaboration with a physician. 

Nurse practitioners can choose from various specialization areas, such as family, psychiatric-mental health, women’s health, adult-gerontology, and pediatrics. These specializations can be pursued at the master’s level or through post-master’s certificates or doctoral programs.

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

Registered nurses (RNs) are healthcare providers who have completed nursing school and are licensed to practice nursing in their state. Typically, RNs provide direct care to patients in clinics, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and outpatient centers. Each state’s board of nursing practice act defines the scope of practice. Generally, it includes working under the supervision of a physician to administer medications, monitor illnesses, assist with surgeries, or provide treatments.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Nurse Practitioner (NP) vs. Registered Nurse (RN)

Nurse Practitioner (NP)Registered Nurse (RN)
Minimum Degrees

Master of science in nursing (MSN) or post-master’s certificates

Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN)

Optional Doctoral Degree

Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)


Career Outlook (from 2022-2032)

45 percent (BLS 2023)

6 percent (BLS 2023)

Average Annual Salary

$124,680 per year (BLS May 2022)

$89,010 per year (BLS May 2022)

Program Accreditation

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

Clinical Hours Requirements (approximate; hours vary by program)

500 clinical hours (MSN degree);

1,000 clinical hours (DNP degree)

Hours vary by program, and most states do not have a required number of hours for licensure. In general, students will complete at least 600 hours of clinical experience.
Licensing & Certification OrganizationsAmerican Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

See the complete list in the licensure & certification section below

State Boards of Nursing (SBONs)

There are over 180 registered nurse certifications from numerous organizations, including the  American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN), American Nurses Association (ANA), Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), and more

Career Outlook: NP vs. RN

When it comes to the career outlook, both NPs and RNs have promising futures in the healthcare industry.

Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

Jobs for NPs will grow 45 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023), making this the second fastest-growing occupation in the country. Overall, the growth for NP jobs is 15 times the national average of 3 percent for all other occupations and will translate into 118,600 new jobs in this field between 2022 and 2032. 

Registered Nurse Career Outlook

According to the BLS, jobs for RNs will grow 6 percent between 2022 and 2032, which is on par with the national average of five percent for all other jobs. This will mean there will be 177,400 new jobs in this field over the next ten years.

How Much Do NPs and RNs Make?

NPs and RNs earn wages higher than the national average of $61,900. Here is a breakdown of median annual salary data for NPs and RNs, including salary percentiles and the top-paying employers.

Nurse Practitioner Salaries

The average yearly pay for nurse practitioners was $124,680 with the following percentiles (BLS May 2022):

  • 10th percentile: $87,340
  • 25th percentile: $103,250
  • 50th percentile (median): $121,610
  • 75th percentile: $135,470
  • 90th percentile: $165,240

Here are the highest-paying employers and their average annual salaries for NPs:

  • Home Health Care Services: $148,960
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services: $139,640
  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations: $137,310
  • Grantmaking and Giving Services: $137,300
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: $134,540

Registered Nurse Salaries

The average yearly pay for physician assistants was $89,010 with the following percentiles (BLS May 2022):

  • 10th percentile: $61,250
  • 25th percentile: $66,680
  • 50th percentile (median): $81,220
  • 75th percentile: $101,100
  • 90th percentile: $129,400

The work environments that offered the highest pay for RNs were:

  • Wholesale Trade Agents and Brokers: $112,480
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing: $110,270
  • Non Scheduled Air Transportation: $109,160
  • Employment Services: $109,050
  • Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods: $107,360

While some NPs and RNs work typical daytime hours, many work on-call, swing, or overnight shifts. Working outside daytime hours can include significant pay differentials.

Accredited Programs: NPs and RNs

NP programs take two to five years to complete, depending on the level of education completed, while RN programs can be completed in one to four years. Graduates of accredited NP or RN programs are eligible to sit for state licensure exams and national certification tests. Students should ensure the program they complete meets the eligibility for licensure in their state.

Nurse Practitioner Programs

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredit both master’s and doctoral nurse practitioner programs. Here are three NP programs:

Western Governors University

The Western Governors University master’s of science in nursing family nurse practitioner curriculum is an evidence-based online program that prepares students to become effective and caring nurse practitioners. The program is structured with courses that can be completed one at a time, allowing students to progress at their own pace. Graduates will have the necessary knowledge and competencies to sit for the national FNP certification exam and obtain state licensure.

The program culminates with clinical internship courses that involve 650 direct patient care clinical hours. These internships are conducted in students’ home communities whenever possible. 

  • Location: Millcreek, UT 
  • Duration: As little as 24 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $6,525 per semester

Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing

The doctor of nursing practice program at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing is a comprehensive and innovative program designed to prepare family nurse practitioners (FNPs) for successful careers in healthcare. The program offers small class sizes with practicing clinician faculty, state-of-the-art clinical simulation, and an emphasis on practice-ready graduates. OHSU handles clinical placements and preceptor arrangements, ensuring students have diverse experiences and learn from experienced professionals.

This program features a comprehensive curriculum combining advanced practice core, FNP specialty, and DNP core courses. This well-rounded degree equips students with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in this field while fostering clinical scholarship and leadership proficiency. Upon completing the program, graduates are fully prepared to enter the field of practice as FNPs. 

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $891 per credit 

University of Michigan School of Nursing

The primary care pediatric nurse practitioner master’s program at the University of Michigan School of Nursing offers a comprehensive curriculum focused on well-baby/well-child care and management of minor acute illnesses. With a blend of theoretical knowledge and hands-on clinical experience, students gain expertise in providing quality care to children. This program includes closely supervised clinical immersion, allowing students to accumulate extensive practical experience and a subspecialty component. 

Starting in Fall 2024, the program will transition to an all-digital format, offering the same rigorous education with increased accessibility and flexibility for students nationwide. Students will attend on-campus intensives each term for competency assessments and expert seminars, fostering a dynamic learning environment.

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI 
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $3,488 per credit hour

Registered Nurse Programs

The two main accrediting bodies for RN programs are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

Here are three RN degree programs at the associate’s and bachelor’s levels. 

University of Pennsylvania – School of Nursing

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing bachelor’s of science program is designed to provide a comprehensive education that prepares students for a diverse range of patient care settings. With a strong emphasis on community involvement and cultural awareness, this program ensures that students develop the necessary skills and knowledge to serve diverse populations effectively. The curriculum is highly kinetic, featuring a state-of-the-art simulation lab and team-based clinical practice, allowing students to gain hands-on experience and build confidence in their abilities.

In addition to the rigorous coursework, students have opportunities to expand their experiences through student-driven initiatives, study abroad programs, and faculty-advised internships. This enables students to broaden their perspectives and gain a deeper understanding of healthcare practices worldwide. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $58,620 per year

Washington State Community College

Washington State Community College offers an associate’s of applied science degree in nursing. This degree combines classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience, equipping graduates to excel as valuable healthcare team members. Upon completion of the program, students are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN. Graduates have access to a diverse range of employment opportunities and have the option to further their nursing education with a BSN or MSN degree.

 Admission to this program is selective. The admission requirements include a completed application; a high school diploma or GED; ACT, SAT, or TEAS test scores; three references; and prerequisite coursework in biology, math, and chemistry with at least a 2.5 GPA. 

  • Location: Marietta, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Ohio Board of Nursing  
  • Tuition: $171 per credit 

University of Colorado – College of Nursing

The University of Colorado College of Nursing offers a range of bachelor’s programs designed to meet the diverse needs of prospective students. Those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field and wish to fast-track their nursing education can complete a bachelor of science in nursing within 12 months. If a student does not have a bachelor’s degree or has a degree in a different field, the traditional BSN takes 24 months. 

There is also an Integrated Nursing Pathway program in collaboration with Aurora, Denver, and Red Rocks community colleges at Arvada that allows students to seamlessly transition from community college to the university to pursue their nursing education.

With outstanding faculty, cutting-edge facilities, and innovative programs, students who complete their degrees here are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their nursing careers. Admission requirements will vary based on the program selected. 

  • Location: Aurora, CO
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $36,720 per year

Licensure & Certification: NPs and RNs

All NPs and RNs must be licensed to practice in the state where they provide care. Here are the certification and licensing requirements:

Nurse Practitioner Licensure & Certification

Licensure requirements for NPs will vary by state. All NPs must have a minimum of a master’s degree in nursing and have an active and unencumbered RN license. NPs must also hold a national certification. The two most common agencies offering NP certification are the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

NPs will earn their certification in a given specialty. This allows them to work with a particular population and demonstrates they have a high level of competency in this field. Specializations include: 

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACPCNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Certified Nephrology Nurse Practitioner (CNN-NP)
  • Certified Urologic Nurse Practitioner (CUNP)
  • Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner (DCNP)
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP-BC)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Registered Nurse Licensure & Certification

Aspiring nurses must complete a nursing education program to be eligible for a license. This program can be either a bachelor’s or an associate’s. After completing the degree, graduates must sit for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

Certification for nurses is voluntary for the most part, although some employers may require it. There are many different certifications nurses can earn. Some certification associations include:

  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
  • American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) 
  • Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education (CBDCE) 
  • Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) 
  • Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI) 
  • Infusion Nurses Certification Corporation (INCC) 
  • National Assistant at Surgery Certification (NASC) 
  • National League for Nursing (NLN) 
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) 
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) 
  • The National Certification Corporation (NCC) 
  • Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about nursing careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning, which drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.