NP vs RN

Nursing is one of the most flexible professions with abundant career paths. Nurses can work in clinical or non-clinical areas with varying degree types. The Registered Nurse (RN) license is the mainstay of all nursing professions and specialties. Without this license, nursing would not be credible.

To start your career as a nurse, you must get credentialed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. From there you can further your career in a variety of ways. Nurses can even continue their education to become practitioners and even practice independently in some states.

Registered Nurse (RN)

The RN license is issued by government entities to provide assurance to the public that nurses have met predetermined standards. Credentialing is a vital process for all healthcare institutions that must be performed to ensure that those healthcare workers who will be providing the clinical services are qualified to do so. Otherwise, there would be no way to know who is qualified to take care of patients. This would be a dangerous and chaotic situation.

The RN license can be obtained with an Associate Degree or a Bachelor’s degree. Both paths are used to achieve a RN license. Associates Degrees in Nursing (ADN) take 2 years to complete while Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees take 4 years to complete. A BSN is a higher-level degree than an ADN. 

Once you are issued a RN license you must keep up with continuing education and clinical practice in order to keep your license. The RN license is renewed every 2 years through your designated state at which time you submit your continuing education and clinical hours.

The Board of Nursing (BON) has the power to revoke your nursing license due to DUI convictions, improper patient care practice, and gross negligence. If your license is revoked due to drug usage or alcohol, there are programs in place to get reinstated, after proof of treatment.

The Role of the RN

Once a RN license is secured either by ADN or BSN route the graduate may begin their career as a registered nurse. Nurses work with a team of physicians and specialists. The roles of a Registered Nurse include:

  • Assess patients and their conditions.
  • Record medical histories and symptoms of patients.
  • Observe patients and record the observations.
  • Notify the physician of changes in condition or abnormal values.
  • Administer medicines and treatments to patients.
  • Set up care plans for patients and contribute information to existing plans.
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals.
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment.
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results.
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries.
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment.

RNs fresh out of school typically find work in hospitals, clinics or physician offices. While gaining clinical experience is advised, some new graduates move on to obtain a nurse practitioner license.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse Practitioners (NP) are advanced practice nurses who are able to practice beyond the scope of a Registered Nurse (RN). The NP license is granted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and is overseen by the state Board of Nursing as well as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Nurse practitioners must first have an RN license to sit for the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) licensure exam. NPs can further their specialty by taking specialty certifications through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Before becoming an NP, you must have a RN license, BSN degree and clinical experience. The amount of experience needed varies per program and specialty track. For example, you may work as a bedside nurse in an intensive care unit and then pursue a NP degree with a specialty in adult critical care. Many NP specialties are offered but the most common specialties include:

  • NP- Family practice 
  • NP- Adult critical care
  • NP- Psychiatric and mental health
  • NP- Pediatrics
  • NP- Women’s health 

NPs have many options to choose from when deciding on a specialty track. There is even flexibility within each specialty as to what experience is needed because nursing experience can be applied to all areas of nursing.

Nurses usually go into the NP specialty in which they worked during their RN career, but not always. You are allowed to switch specialties.  For example, if you worked as an emergency room nurse, you could choose to pursue a NP in women’s health.

The Role of the NP

Once the graduate has obtained an APRN-NP license either via MSN or DNP program they may begin work as a nurse practitioner. 

Nurse practitioners usually work independently or in coordination with physicians and other team members. NPs typically work in hospitals, clinics, and physician offices. The most common roles for NPs include:

  • Take and record medical histories and symptoms of patients.
  • Perform physical exams and observe patients.
  • Create patient care plans or contribute to existing plans.
  • Perform and prescribe diagnostic tests.
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment.
  • Diagnose various health problems.
  • Analyze test results or changes in a patient’s condition and alter treatment plans, as needed.
  • Evaluate a patient’s response to medicines and treatments.
  • Consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals, as needed.
  • Counsel and teach patients and their families how to stay healthy or manage their illnesses or injuries.
  • Conduct research.

What’s Right For Me?

The main difference between a RN and a NP is that a NP has prescriptive authority, can diagnose illnesses, and interpret clinical findings from exams and diagnostic tests. RNs are seen as entry level nurses while NPs are seen as advanced practice nurses. NPs are higher level RNs.

When deciding between a RN and NP degree, decide which route you wish you take. Do you want to begin work as an entry level nurse or take the necessary steps to become an advanced practice nurse? Not all RNs must become NPs, just know that it is an option. Either choice solidifies job security as well as personal fulfilment.


Bureau of Labor and Statistics.(2021). Occupational Employment Handbook. Registered nurse. Duties. Accessed from 

Bureau of Labor and Statistics.(2021). Occupational Employment Handbook. Nurse practitioner. Duties. Accessed from 

Patel R, Sharma S. Credentialing. [Updated 2020 Nov 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.