RN vs NP: Which Nursing License Should You Get?

The Registered Nurse (RN) license is the mainstay of all nursing specialties and professions. Without this license, nursing would not be credible.

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) license, on the other hand, goes beyond the scope of the 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.

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 continue their education to become Nurse Practitioners and even practice independently in some states.

What Is a Registered Nurse (RN) License?

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. It must be performed to ensure that healthcare workers providing 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.

How To Obtain Your RN License

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 your 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. When you renew, 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
  • 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 your 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:

  • Assessing patients and their conditions
  • Recording medical histories and symptoms of patients
  • Observing patients and recording the observations
  • Notifying the physician of changes in condition or abnormal values.
  • Administering medicines and treatments to patients
  • Setting up care plans for patients and contributing information to existing plans
  • Consulting and collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing the results
  • Teaching patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Explaining what to do at home after treatment

Where Do RNs Work?

RNs fresh out of school typically find work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Physician offices

While gaining clinical experience is advised, some new graduates move on to obtain a nurse practitioner license.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner (NP) License?

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) 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. It is overseen by the state Board of Nursing, as well as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

How To Obtain Your NP License

Nurse practitioners must first have an RN license to sit for the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) licensure exam.

NPs can further their careers 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:

  • Your RN license
  • Your BSN degree
  • Clinical experience

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

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. However, the most common specialties include:

  • Family practice 
  • Adult critical care
  • Psychiatric and mental health
  • Pediatrics
  • 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. This is 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. 

 The most common roles for NPs include:

  • Taking and recording medical histories and symptoms of patients
  • Performing physical exams and observing patients
  • Creating patient care plans or contributing to existing plans
  • Performing and prescribing diagnostic tests
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Diagnosing various health problems
  • Analyzing test results or changes in a patient’s condition and altering treatment plans as needed
  • Evaluating a patient’s response to medicines and treatments
  • Consulting with doctors and other healthcare professionals as needed
  • Counseling and teaching patients and their families how to stay healthy or manage their illnesses or injuries
  • Conducting research

Where Do NPs Work?

Nurse practitioners usually work independently or in coordination with physicians and other team members.

NPs typically work in hospitals, clinics, and physician offices.

RN vs NP: What’s The Difference?

The main difference between a RN and a NP is that a NP:

  • Has prescriptive authority
  • Can diagnose illnesses
  • Interprets clinical findings from exams and diagnostic tests

RNs are seen as entry-level nurses, while NPs are seen as advanced practice nurses. In other words, NPs are higher-level RNs.

RN vs NP: Which Should You Choose?

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 fulfillment.


Bureau of Labor and Statistics.(2021). Occupational Employment Handbook. Registered nurse. Duties. Accessed from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/registered-nurses.htm 

Bureau of Labor and Statistics.(2021). Occupational Employment Handbook. Nurse practitioner. Duties. Accessed from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm 

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