Registered Nurse to Nurse Practitioner: Is It Worth It?

Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
Updated March 28, 2024
Edited by
NPs are the fastest growing profession compared to other professions. Sounds like something you want to be a part of? Read on and find out what it takes to become an NP, the benefits of becoming one, and if it's the right career for you.
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Working as a registered nurse (RN) can be a rewarding profession. After gaining experience as an RN, many nurses choose to advance their careers by becoming nurse practitioners (NPs). While returning to school can seem daunting, becoming an NP may prove worthwhile.

The demand for more primary care providers continues to grow, allowing for many opportunities for NPs.

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RN vs NP: Key Similarities and Differences

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). RNs and NPs have some similar responsibilities. Both complete physical assessments, take a holistic view of the patient’s health and consider outside factors impacting the patient’s well-being.

Registered nurses carry out the provider’s orders, administer medications, take vital signs, follow through on diagnostic testing, provide wound care and dressing changes, and can assist with procedures. RNs cannot practice independently and must have orders from a provider.

NPs can prescribe medication, order diagnostic testing and treatments, refer patients to specialty care providers, and practice independently in many states. NPs can specialize in a specific population, like pediatrics or adult gerontology, and must be certified and licensed to care for that population. RNs are generalists and can care for any patient within the unit they have been trained.

Another key difference between an RN and an NP is the amount of education. The minimum degree requirement for an RN is an associate degree in nursing (ADN), while an NP must have at least a master of science in nursing (MSN).

RN vs. NP
FactorRegistered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
Time to Become 2-4 years, depending on ADN vs. bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) 2-3 years, depending on part-time or full-time enrollment, plus at least one year of relevant RN experience
Minimum Degree Required ADNMSN
Duties and Responsibilities
  • Administering medication administration
  • Taking vital signs
  • Head-to-toe physical assessment
  • Carrying out provider orders
  • Inserting and maintaining IV access
  • Physical assessments
  • Creating a list of differential diagnoses based on the presenting problem
  • Prescribing appropriate medications and treatment plans
  • Ordering tests, labs, radiological studies
  • Referring to specialty providers based on the physical exam and identified differential diagnoses
Scope of Practice Limited to only things listed in their state’s nurse practice act. Cannot practice independently (cannot prescribe, order medications, or complete procedures).State-dependent. It can be restricted (must have a supervising physician) or full (no supervising physician required).
Most Common Work Setting Hospitals (59%)Offices of Physicians (47%)
Total Projected New Jobs Between 2022-2032 (BLS, May 2022) 177,400118,600
Average Annual Salary (BLS, May 2022)$89,010$124,680

RN vs. NP: Roles and Responsibilities Compared

As an RN, I followed the orders of the provider as instructed in the patient’s chart. This could mean administering a medication, starting an IV drip, prepping a patient for a procedure, or sending them for a diagnostic study. I would give a nursing assessment to the provider, updating them on how the patient was doing.

As an NP, I provide the orders rather than carrying them out. While I still assess and provide care, I decide on what diagnostic studies to order or medications to prescribe.

Benefits of Staying an RN

  • checkSchedule: Most RNs work three 12-hour shifts per week, while NPs often work Monday-Friday in eight-hour shifts. When looking at job postings of RNs and NPs, most RNs offer several shift options compared to the NP’s fixed schedule.
  • checkPractice Flexibility: RNs are generalists and not tied to a specific population unless they specialize and earn post-degree certification (e.g., CEN, OCN).
  • checkNurse Licensure Compact (NLC): The NLC allows RNs to be licensed in multiple states, meaning an RN can easily move to a different state or live in one state and work in another without needing multiple state licenses.
  • checkDirect Patient Care: RNs provide more direct patient care and do not have the same pressures as an NP to meet billing code requirements or the number of patients seen per day quotas). Less autonomy can be more freeing for RNs.
  • checkSalary and Education: RNs can still earn a high salary with an ADN or a BSN, rather than having to pay for a higher degree.

Benefits of Becoming an NP

  • checkLess Physical Demand: NPs very rarely have to move, turn, or ambulate patients.
  • checkSchedule: Most NPs work in outpatient settings, with weekends and major holidays off.
  • checkSalary: NPs earn higher salaries because of their advanced degrees and levels of professional autonomy.
  • checkProfessional Autonomy: Some states allow the NP to practice independently.
  • checkRelationship Building: NPs can form long-standing relationships with patients and their families in the primary care setting.

RN vs NP: Education and Licensure Requirements Compared

RNs can earn an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing. Licensure comes after passing the NCLEX from your state’s board of nursing.

NPs must have a master of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice. NPs specialize in a specific patient population in their graduate degree program. After graduation, the NP will take a board certification exam specific to their specialty. NPs must be both board-certified and then licensed by the state in which they practice.

RNs can be licensed for several states through the NLC. NPs do not have this benefit. Instead, NPs must apply for individual licenses in each state where they intend to practice. This means instead of paying one fee to practice in many states, they must pay each specific state’s fee and apply for state licensure. Most states charge anywhere from $150-$300 per license application.

Registered Nurse Education Requirements

  • Minimum Degree Required: Associate degree in nursing (ADN)
  • Practicum Hours: At least 400 practicum hours in an RN program
  • Licensing Exam: National Council Licensing Exam – Registered Nursing (NCLEX-RN)
  • Licensure: State-issued registered nurse licensure
  • Certification: Optional specialty certifications

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

  • Minimum Degree Required: Master of science in nursing (MSN)
  • Practicum Hours: At least 500 practicum hours in an MSN program
  • Licensing Exam: Specialty board certification exam
  • Licensure: State-issued nurse practitioner licensure
  • Certification: Required board-certification in your specialty

RN vs. NP: Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster than average job growth for both RNs and NPs. NPs have a higher earning power vs. RNs based on their advanced degree and increased scope of practice.

Annual Salary Range for Registered Nurses
Source: BLS

Annual Salary Range for Nurse Practitioners
Source: BLS

Registered Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects job growth for RNs to reach 6% between 2022 and 2023. Depending on the location, RNs can earn $61,250-$129,400, according to BLS data. Shift differentials can increase annual salary ranges as well. Working the night shift, holidays, and weekends can also increase an RN’s earning power, as those shifts often have a higher pay rate.

Factors influencing demand are an aging population and more RNs retiring or transitioning to other positions or careers. RNs also have a unique ability to work in various settings, from an outpatient to inpatient to telehealth. Having myriad options for positions allows nurses more job potential.

Nurse Practitioner Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS expects NP job growth to grow 38% from 2022-2032, much faster than average. Factors influencing growth include an aging population and more medical doctors leaving medicine for other fields. There has been an increased demand for some specialty practitioners, such as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. This is in part due to a lack of psychiatric providers, which has then increased the demand for nurse practitioners to fill that gap.

Depending on the specialty practice and certification, NPs earn $87,340-$165,240 depending on location and experience, according to BLS data.

RN vs. NP: Which Career Is Right for Me?

Both RNs and NPs have strong predicted job growth, higher than-average salary ranges, and many job opportunities across the United States. However, RNs and NPs differ in the scope of practice, work responsibilities, and education requirements.

RNs can work in a variety of settings and can switch jobs, specialties, or units throughout their careers. They are uniquely positioned to be frontline workers who provide care, support, and empathy at some of the most stressful times in a person’s life.

NPs can order diagnostic tests, write prescriptions, and complete simple procedures, such as suturing, incision, drainage, or wound debridement. They can work independently in some states, holding more professional autonomy than an RN. NPs also offer a deeper insight into patient care. NPs tend to have more time to assess their patients and provide one-on-one care at a visit compared to other healthcare providers.

NPs require a higher level of education but also have a higher earning potential.

Both NPs and RNs can be highly rewarding careers that allow you to make a meaningful impact in patients’ lives and overall health.

  • Scope of Practice: NPs have a larger scope of practice compared to RNs. Where RNs must carry out the orders of their provider, NPs are the ones to assess, diagnose, and treat their patients. As an RN, one may know exactly what the issue with their patient is, but they are unable to officially diagnose them. Conversely, an NP can officially diagnose and treat their patients without having to go through a provider.
  • Salary and Job Growth: NPs have a higher earning power than RNs because of the increased responsibility and requirement for an advanced degree and certification. While RNs are in high demand, NPs predicted job growth surpasses the predicted job growth for the RN.
  • Education Timeline and Cost: Depending on the program and degree track, it takes about 12-24 months to become an RN. It is faster and more cost-effective to complete an ADN or a BSN rather than an MSN or a DNP to become an NP. Furthermore, most MSN and DNP programs require 1-2 years of RN experience before program entry. NP programs are more expensive than ADN or BSN programs and can take anywhere from 18 months to three years to complete.

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