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RN or Nurse Practitioner?

If you’re considering a nursing career, you may be wondering what the difference is between a registered nurse (RN) and a nurse practitioner (NP). Although they have many similarities in that they both provide care to patients, there are differences in job descriptions and nursing education requirements.

Learn more about the RN program at Charter College.

Nursing Job Descriptions

Registered nurses are general healthcare workers who specialize in treating and educating patients while assisting medical doctors. They assess patient health problems and needs, develop and implement nursing care plans, and maintain medical records. Also, they may advise patients on health maintenance and disease prevention or provide case management.

RN job description:

  • Monitoring, recording, and reporting symptoms or changes in patients' conditions.
  • Maintaining accurate, detailed reports, and records.
  • Recording patients' medical information and vital signs.
  • Ordering, interpreting, and evaluating diagnostic tests to identify and assess a patient's condition.
  • Modifying treatment plans as indicated by patients' responses and conditions.
  • Directing or supervising less-skilled personnel or a particular unit.
  • Consulting and coordinating with healthcare team members to assess, plan, implement, or evaluate patient care plans.
  • Monitoring all aspects of patient care, including diet and physical activity.
  • Instructing individuals, families, or others on topics such as health education, disease prevention, or childbirth and developing health improvement programs.
  • Preparing patients for and assisting with examinations or treatments.1   

Nurse practitioners are advanced-practice nurses who are able to prescribe medications, unlike registered nurses. They diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness and may focus on health promotion and disease prevention. They often perform duties outside the realm of a registered nurse and may specialize in a particular area of care. In 25 states, nurse practitioners have authority to practice independently.2

Nurse Practitioner job description:

  • Prescribing medication dosages, routes, and frequencies.
  • Ordering, performing, or interpreting the results of diagnostic tests such as complete blood counts, electrocardiograms, and x-rays.
  • Analyzing and interpreting patients' histories, symptoms, physical findings, or diagnostic information to develop appropriate diagnoses.
  • Developing treatment plans based on scientific rationale, standards of care, and professional practice guidelines.
  • Diagnosing or treating acute health care problems such as illnesses, infections, and injuries.
  • Prescribing medications based on efficacy, safety, and cost as legally authorized.
  • Counseling patients about drug regimens and possible side effects or interactions with other substances such over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies.
  • Recommending interventions to modify behavior associated with health risks.
  • Detecting and responding to adverse drug reactions, with special attention to vulnerable populations.
  • Educating patients about self-management of acute or chronic illnesses. 3

Where Do They Work?

More than half of all registered nurses are employed in general medical and surgical hospitals. Others work in physicians’ offices, home health care services, and nursing care facilities. The remainder work mainly in government agencies, administrative and support services, educational services, correctional facilities, schools, summer camps, and with the military.

In addition to working in clinics, office practices, managed care organizations, and hospitals, nurse practitioners deliver care in rural sites, community health centers, college campuses, and other locations. NPs also work for healthcare technology companies, perform health care research, teach in schools and universities, and serve in governmental agencies. Approximately 15% of all NPs have their own private practices. 2


Aspiring registered nurses have two educational pathways to choose from: an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires earning a master's degree in nursing (MSN) or higher. Students need to have a bachelor degree prior to applying to a master of science program. Many MSN programs encourage applicants to work as a registered nurse for at least a year before applying.4

Nursing Salary and Job Prospects

Both RNs and nurse practitioners are experiencing an annual growth rate of 20-22 percent, which is faster than national average.1,3      

As the number of primary care physicians decreases and the demand for health care services increases, registered nurses and nurse practitioners are highly recruited professionals. Nursing careers are both gratifying and rewarding in countless ways.



1. O*Net OnLine/ Summary Report for: 
29-1141.00 - Registered Nurses at (visited July 16, 2013)
2. Explore Health Practitioner at (visited July 15, 2013)
3. O*Net OnLine /Summary Report for:  29-1171.00 - Nurse Practitioners at (visited July 16, 2013)
4. Education Portal/Nurse Vs. Nurse Practitioner: What’s the Difference at (visited July 15, 2013)