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NP vs. APRN: What’s the Difference?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated March 22, 2023
Compare NP vs APRN positions, including the education and skills required to be successful in either role.
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If you seek a higher salary and more autonomy in your nursing career, getting a master’s degree and becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or nurse practitioner (NP) is an attractive option. NPs are a type of APRN. Both careers have distinct educational and career tracks.

This guide will help you decide on an NP vs. APRN career. Keep reading for more on the difference between NPs and APRNs, education and certification requirements, job and salary outlooks, and how to take the next step.

NP and APRN Key Similarities and Differences

APRNs, including NPs, are between RNs and physicians in the amount of training, responsibilities, scope of practice, and salaries. To become an APRN or NP, you need at least a master’s degree. NPs and some types of APRNs must earn board certification. All APRNs are authorized to diagnose and prescribe treatment for conditions.

The main NP vs APRN difference is in the job specialization and responsibilities. Unlike physician schooling, APRN education focuses on a particular specialty. Nurse practitioner specialties include:

  • Family practice
  • Adult-geriatric (acute or primary)
  • Pediatric (acute or primary)
  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Neonatal
  • Women’s health

APRN specialties include:

What is an NP?

An NP is a nurse with at least a master’s degree and board certification in a particular type of population. Most NPs are primary care providers in family health.

What is an APRN?

An APRN is a nurse with at least a master’s degree and typically board certification in a specific type of nursing, rather than a specific population. Some categories of APRNs, like nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialists, choose a population or condition as their specialty.

Both NPs and most specialties of APRNs are licensed to order medical tests, diagnose conditions, and prescribe medications. They have similar salaries, but NPs have the highest job growth rate.

Starting in 2025, new nurse anesthetists need a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice); all other APRNs, including NPs, can have either an MSN or a DNP.

Points to ConsiderNPAPRN
Certification OptionsAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)
National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)

American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)
Duties and ResponsibilitiesAssess patients, order medical tests, diagnose conditions, act as primary care provider or as part of a medical teamAssess patients, order medical tests, and diagnose conditions. CNMs supervise births, nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and pain medications. CNS can focus on leadership, research, or training
Average Annual Salary$118,040$123,780

Source: BLS

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Duties and Responsibilities

The primary NP vs. APRN differences lie in their specialty focus. APRNs deliver a particular type of care in a role such as nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners focus on a particular population, from the very broad family practice to the very narrow neonatal population.

What Does an NP Do?

NPs can work in hospitals and health systems, independent practices, clinics and other healthcare settings, or in non-healthcare settings such as onsite healthcare at corporations, in the correctional system, or on military bases.

Depending on the state’s practice authority, they may work entirely independently or must work in partnership with a physician or under a physician’s supervision. They are responsible for:

  • Assessing patients
  • Ordering tests
  • Diagnosing conditions
  • Prescribing treatment
  • Providing patient and family education

What Does an APRN Do?

APRN duties and responsibilities vary by role. Nurse midwives are authorized to supervise births, for example, and nurse anesthetists can administer anesthesia. Many APRN specialties are licensed to:

  • Assess patients
  • Order tests
  • Diagnose conditions
  • Prescribe treatment
  • Provide patient and family education

The CNS specialty often focuses more on nursing education, training, leadership, or research than direct patient care. A CNS therefore is not authorized to prescribe medications or order diagnostic tests.

Education and Certification

All APRNs need at least an MSN and starting in 2025, new nurse anesthetists need a DNP. Except for clinical nurse specialists, APRNs and NPs need board certification in their specialty area. MSN programs require an RN license and either a BSN or ADN. (If you have an ADN, you must enroll in an RN-to-MSN bridge program.)

How to Become an NP

To become an NP, you must enroll in an MSN program in your specialty area. The typical minimum GPA is 3.0, and you must have a current and unencumbered RN license.

Both NPs and APRNs need experience in their chosen RN specialties, though the amount of experience required may vary. For example, CRNAs need at least two years of ICU, ED, or post-anesthesia care unit experience.

Most programs take two years for full-time students. All programs include clinical hours. Once you graduate and pass the board certification examination (from the ANCC or AANPCB), you must apply for a state license.

How to Become an APRN

Like NP programs, APRN programs require a current and unencumbered RN license and an ADN or BSN degree. (Starting in 2025, nurse anesthesia DNP programs will require an MSN or equivalent through a bridge program.) MSN programs often take two years, while a DPN takes at least three years. The minimum GPA is generally a 3.0.

Graduates of CNS programs do not have to earn board certifications, but many employers require or prefer certifications. Certifying bodies include the NBCRNA, AMCB, ANCC, or AANPCB.

Salary and Career Outlook

There is not a significant NP vs. APRN difference in salaries; both earn six-figure salaries. However, job growth is much faster for NPs; the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 52% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for NPs, 13% for nurse anesthetists, and 11% for nurse midwives. (BLS does not track job growth for clinical nurse specialists.)

NP Salary and Career Outlook

Nurse practitioners are in high demand throughout the country because of the lack of primary care providers. This shortage will likely increase NP salary prospects even more. As fewer physicians enter primary care and a growing number of existing providers retire, nurse practitioners will fill this vital gap. The 52% job growth rate that the BLS projects for nurse practitioners is one of the highest in the country.

APRN Salary and Career Outlook

Job growth for other APRNs is also strong, just not as spectacular. Nurse anesthetists are projected to see 5,600 job openings between 2020 and 2030. Nurse midwife jobs are projected to grow 11%, representing 800 new jobs.

APRNs salary prospects are similar to NP salaries, except for nurse anesthetists, who earn a median annual wage of $195,610, according to the BLS. Nurse midwives earn a median $112,830. While the BLS does not track CNS salaries specifically, Salary.com reports a median CNS salary of $111,700, as of May 2022.

NP vs. APRN: Which Career is Right For Me?

Nurse practitioners have the most job opportunities. The BLS projects there will be 335,200 NP jobs in the United States by 2030, compared to 49,800 nurse anesthetists and 8,200 nurse-midwives.

Except for nurse anesthetists, APRN salaries are comparable to NP salaries. Nurse anesthetists earn significantly more, a median $195,610, according to the BLS.

If you like the idea of building lasting relationships with patients, then becoming an NP and primary care provider offers you multiple options. However, if you are interested in a particular type of medicine, such as oncology, emergency care, or critical care, then working as an APRN offers more opportunities to specialize.

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Page last reviewed: May 9, 2022

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