NP vs. APRN: What’s the Difference?

Keith Carlson, RN, NC-BC
Updated April 22, 2024
Edited by
Reviewed by
Our Integrity Network is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

Compare NP vs APRN positions, including the education and skills required to be successful in either role.
mini logo

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Featured ImageCredit: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

A common cause of confusion in choosing an advanced practice nursing career path is understanding the difference between nurse practitioners (NPs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). This page compares and contrasts NPs vs. APRNs, including education, certification, salaries, and job growth potential, along with typical duties and responsibilities. Read on to gain the necessary understanding to make the right choice for your advanced practice nursing career journey.

Popular Online MSN Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

NP and APRN Key Similarities and Differences

Nurse practitioners provide high-quality care in several specializations to patients across the lifespan. While NPs are a type of APRN, not all APRNs are nurse practitioners.

These differences may cause patients difficulty understanding the qualifications of their care providers. Individuals seeking a career pathway to becoming NPs or APRNs may also seek clarity in distinguishing the two roles.

NPs are types of APRNs who have earned certification in roles such as family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontological nurse practitioner (AGNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), or neonatal nurse practitioner. Of note, AGNPs and PNPs can serve in either an acute or primary care capacity, depending on their training and certification.

The various roles of APRNs include nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), and certified nurse midwife (CNM).

What is an NP?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing position with at least graduate-level education and board certification in their chosen specialty. NPs provide many of the same services as physicians, including assessing patients, ordering diagnostic tests, prescribing treatments and medications, and making referrals to specialists.

What is an APRN?

Advanced practice registered nurse roles include nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist with at least a master’s degree and specialty certification. APRNs can provide care in primary, acute, and specialty settings for patients across the lifespan through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses and injuries.

As of 2025, new nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners need a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), while other APRNs need an MSN or DNP.

NP vs. APRN Comparison
Comparison PointNPAPRN
Degree RequiredMaster of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) MSN or DNP
Specializations Family practice ; Adult-gerontology primary care ; Adult-gerontology acute care; Psychiatric mental health; Women’s health Nurse practitioners; Certified registered nurse anesthetists; Certified nurse midwives; Clinical nurse specialists
Certification OptionsAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center; American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification BoardAmerican Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board; National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists; American Midwifery Certification Board; American Nurses Credentialing Center
Duties and ResponsibilitiesNPs assess patients, order medical tests, and diagnose conditions. NPs act as primary care providers or work within medical teams to provide care.Nurse practitioners assess patients, order medical tests, and diagnose conditions. Certified nurse midwives provide primary, prenatal, and postnatal care and supervise births. Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and pain medications. Clinical nurse specialists focus on leadership, research, and training.
Median Annual Salary$121,610 (BLS, May 2022)$125,900* (BLS, May 2022)
*BLS does not collect data on how much clinical nurse specialists earn, so this salary only includes the median earnings of NPs, CNMs, and CRNAs.

Duties and Responsibilities

The primary difference for NPs vs. APRNs lie in their specialty focus. APRNs deliver a particular type of care in a role such as CNA, CNM, CNS, or NP. Nurse practitioners focus on particular patient types, such as family practice and neonatal populations.

What Does an NP Do?

NPs work in outpatient care centers, independent practices, hospitals, and health systems. They can also provide onsite healthcare at corporations, universities, correctional systems, or military bases.

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

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

What Does an APRN Do?

APRN roles include a range of responsibilities and clinical settings.

NPs work in hospitals, clinics, schools, prisons, or corporate settings and can be trained for acute care or primary care.

CRNAs work in hospitals, surgical centers, or other practices where patients require pain control or anesthesia. A CNS generally works in hospitals, while CNMs may find themselves in hospitals, independent birthing centers, or even attending home births. APRNs are trained to do the following:

  • Assess patients
  • Diagnose conditions and illnesses
  • Prescribe medications
  • Order tests
  • Educate and counsel patients

Some of the main differences among APRNs include, but are not limited to:

  • Only CRNAs can administer anesthesia and certain pain medications.
  • A CNS can provide expert consultation, mentorship, and education to nurses and other multidisciplinary colleagues in specific units or entire facilities. They facilitate interprofessional collaboration, serve as expert consultants, champion evidence-based practice, and lead practice changes.
  • Only CNMs are trained to perform deliveries.
  • Specialized NP training and education (e.g., psychiatric/mental health, gerontology, pediatrics, etc.) sets certain types of NPs apart from their peers.

The CNS specialty often focuses more on nursing education, training, leadership, consultation, or research than direct patient care. However, they still have the practice authority to diagnose and treat patients in their specialty. Most states do not allow clinical nurse specialists to prescribe medication without physician supervision, but Hawaii, Delaware, Oregon, North Dakota, Alaska, and Rhode Island allow a CNS to prescribe medication independently.

Education and Certification

All NPs and APRNs must achieve specific educational and certification requirements to practice in their specialty. Requirements common among all APRNs and NPs include an RN license, specialty certification, and an advanced nursing degree. As of 2025, CRNAs and NPs will need to hold DNPs to qualify.

How to Become a NP

To become an NP, an individual can start by earning an associate degree in nursing or a BSN, passing the NCLEX, and becoming licensed as an RN. Gaining some clinical experience as a nurse is generally recommended before applying to NP school.

After completing an MSN or DNP program, candidates can take the certification exam in the NP discipline that aligns with their education. Several accredited organizations offer these exams. After passing the appropriate certification exam, the candidate can receive their license as a nurse practitioner in the state where they plan to practice.

How to Become an APRN

Like individuals who want to become NPs, those who want to pursue careers as APRNs must first earn nursing degrees and RN licensure. There are some differences in the schooling requirements for the role of CNS, NP, CRNA, and CNM, including education requirements.

Certification requirements for NPs are noted in the previous section. CRNAs must pass the National Certification Exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. The American Midwifery Certification Board administers the certifying exam for CNMs. Several certifying boards issue certification exams for these professionals based on the type of CNS education the applicant has completed.

Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 38% employment growth rate for APRNs from 2022-2032, which is significantly faster than the average employment growth for RNs (6%), physicians (3%), and all other occupations (3%). Coupled with the median annual salaries noted below, the outlook for APRNs and NPs appears to be bright.

NP Salary and Career Outlook

The projected addition of over 118,000 nurse practitioner jobs between 2022 and 2032 makes NPs the fastest-growing profession for two years in a row.

A projected job growth of 45% for NPs is significant, along with the fact that NPs are among the highest earners of the fastest-growing occupations.

A growing physician shortage, NPs’ ability to provide equally high-quality care as MDs, and increasing NP salaries nationwide are all contributing factors drawing many to this well-respected career path.

Average Annual Salaries for Nurse Practitioners by Specialty
NP Specialty Median Annual Salary
Family Nurse Practitioner $103,700
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner$107,530
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner $119,800
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner$101,180
Source: Payscale, March 2024

APRN Salary and Career Outlook

For APRNs, the BLS projects a faster-than-average employment growth rate of 38% from 2022-2032.

With a median annual salary of $203,090, CRNAs earn the highest APRN salaries, with nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners also earning competitive pay.

Considering the previously mentioned average projected job growth for physicians and the respect, salaries, and career potential offered by the APRN career path, it’s no wonder these occupations are increasingly in demand.

Median Annual Salaries for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses by Specialty
APRN Specialty Median Annual Salary
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist$203,090
Nurse Practitioner$121,610
Clinical Nurse Specialist$100,390
Certified Nurse Midwife$120,880
Source: BLS (May 2022) and Payscale (March 2024)

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

If you’re examining the NP and APRN career paths, remember that nurse practitioners are a type of APRN, along with clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. There are multiple NP specializations — some train to work in hospitals, and others focus on primary care and clinics.

A CNS can work in three main levels: direct care, organization, and nursing practice. They consult with nurses and nursing students in the direct care space. These healthcare professionals facilitate innovation and collaboration with other healthcare teams at the organizational level. They conduct research and implement change around improved evidence-based nursing practice.

CRNAs are the top earners of all nursing professionals, safely and cost-effectively providing over 50 million anesthetics annually in the U.S.

NPs and APRNs are in demand, well paid, and provide high-quality care to millions every day. Each career path promises job growth, earning power, and great respect for their hard work of keeping Americans healthy. The right position for you depends on what kind of care you want to provide and your preferred patient population.

Page last reviewed on March 21, 2024

Explore Advanced Practice Registered Nursing Programs

Are You Ready to Earn Your Online Nursing Degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.