Nurse Practitioner vs. Nurse Administrator: What’s the Difference?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated March 22, 2023
    Do you want to advance your nursing career and earn more? This guide explains nurse practitioner vs. nurse administrator roles and helps you choose.
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    Nurse practitioners and nurse administrators have a lot in common. They are both registered nurses who may hold similar degrees. The critical difference between the two lies in specialization. Nurse practitioners focus on their patients’ health. Nurse administrators focus on the health of their medical facilities and communities.

    These professionals share a symbiotic relationship. Nurse administrators and nurse practitioners have common overall goals and mindsets, but they face key differences in educational programs, scope of practice, and professional certifications.

    Read on to learn more about these career paths.

    Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Administrator Key Similarities and Differences

    The primary nurse practitioner vs. nurse administrator difference: NPs provide direct care for patients, and nurse administrators oversee entire nursing teams, departments, hospitals, or healthcare facilities. Both professionals have nursing degrees and nursing experience, and both are responsible for patient outcomes.

    What is a Nurse Practitioner?

    Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide primary, acute, and specialty care to a diverse population of patients. They can specialize in adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatal, family health, psychiatric-mental health, or women’s health. Their primary goal is to assess, diagnose, and treat diseases in patients.

    What is a Nurse Administrator?

    Nurse administrators are master’s-prepared registered nurses (RNs) or APRNs who act as healthcare executives. They manage nursing teams, departments, or entire healthcare facilities. This leadership role involves hiring staff, implementing policy, designing schedules, and collaborating with various departments to ensure that a facility runs smoothly, effectively, and safely.

    Nurse practitioners are responsible for diagnosing patients and prescribing treatments. They may also manage people and work toward quality improvement, but these are not primary responsibilities.

    Nurse administrators, on the other hand, are always responsible for management and quality improvement. Their responsibilities may include patient care, but many do not provide direct care. Those who do provide care often do so as a way to keep current with their skills and experience.

    Nurse Practitioner and Administrator Overview
    Points to ConsiderNurse Practitioner (NP)Nurse Administrator
    Degree RequiredMSN or DNPBSN (many have a master’s in nursing or administration)
    Years to BecomeAt least 6At least 6
    Certification Options

    American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), plus many more.

    Board certification is required for licensure.

    American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Organization for Nurse Leadership (AONL)

    Certification is not required for nurse administrators.

    Average Annual Salary$118,040$119,840
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    Duties and Responsibilities

    Both nurse practitioners and nurse administrators have a high level of responsibility for nursing outcomes. Nurse practitioners act as clinicians and are responsible for individual patient health outcomes. Nurse administrators act as leaders and managers and are responsible for nursing performance at the macro level.

    What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

    Nurse practitioners work in hospitals and health systems, independent practices, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Because these professionals are licensed to prescribe treatments, their work resembles physicians’ work as well. Key responsibilities include:

    • Assessing patients
    • Ordering medical tests
    • Diagnosing conditions
    • Prescribing treatments, including medications and controlled substances

    What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?

    Nurse administrators primarily work in healthcare settings but may also work in public health, insurance providers, medical research, or other settings in the health industry. Their key responsibilities include:

    • Managing and leading nursing staff
    • Managing budgets and fiscal performance
    • Analyzing nursing performance
    • Identifying opportunities for innovation and improvement
    • Representing the nursing function in organization-wide decision-making

    Education and Certification

    Both NPs and nurse administrators have undergraduate nursing degrees and RN licenses. Nurse practitioners must hold either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice to be licensed. Nurse administrators typically have an MSN or another master’s degree, such as an MBA, but this is not a requirement.

    Another significant nurse practitioner vs. nurse administrator difference is certification. Nurse practitioners must earn certification to practice. Certification is optional for nurse administrators.

    How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

    To become a nurse practitioner, students must earn a nursing degree, obtain either a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN), and pass the NCLEX-RN examination to earn an RN license.

    After 1-2 years of RN experience, prospective NPs must earn an MSN from an accredited program. Those with BSNs can enter MSN programs directly, while those with associates must attend RN-to-MSN bridge programs.

    NPs must select a specialty, such as family practice, adult-geriatrics, pediatrics, or mental health nursing. Upon graduating, they need to earn the applicable board certification for their specialty.

    How to Become a Nurse Administrator

    The route to becoming a nurse administrator is more fluid than the path to becoming an NP. Nurse administrators start by earning an ADN or a BSN and passing the NCLEX-RN examination. They typically work as RNs for at least 1-2 years.

    Some may become nurse administrators without earning another degree, though this usually requires extensive professional development. Many earn at least a master’s degree, such as an MSN, MBA, master of public administration, or a related degree. This is not required.

    Similarly, while many employers require or strongly prefer certification, it is not a legal requirement to become a nurse administrator.

    If you can’t make up your mind when deciding on a nurse practitioner vs. nurse administrator career, it is much easier to transition from being a nurse practitioner to a nurse administrator than vice versa.

    To become an NP, a nurse administrator must attend an accredited program and pass the certification examinations. A nurse practitioner does not have to pass additional legally mandated requirements to become a nurse administrator.

    [stat-box title=”Salary and Career Outlook” theme=”primary”]

    Nurse practitioners and nurse practitioners earn similar salaries:

    Average Annual Nurse Practitioner Salary

    Source: BLS, 2022

    Average Annual Nurse Administrator Salary

    Source: BLS, 2022


    Nurse Practitioner Salary and Career Outlook

    Nurse practitioners make up one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 45% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for nurse practitioners.

    Salaries reflect this high demand. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $120,680 as of 2021. Nurse practitioners help alleviate the ongoing demand for both primary care and specialty nursing care, so they will likely remain in demand.

    Nurse Administrator Salary and Career Outlook

    The BLS lumps in nurse administrators with other healthcare managerial jobs. All medical and health service manager jobs are projected to grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030. As of 2021, the median salary for medical and health service managers was $101,340, according to the BLS.

    As the American health system recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for increasing medical needs due to the aging population, nurse administrators who can improve outcomes and reduce or maintain costs will remain in high demand.

    Nurse Practitioner vs. Nurse Administrator: Which Career Is Right for Me?

    If you enjoy working directly with patients but want more autonomy, a higher salary, or the opportunity to diagnose and treat conditions, consider becoming a nurse practitioner.

    On the other hand, if you want to make a difference in patient outcomes at the macro level, enjoy analysis and using data to make decisions, and want to take on a leadership role, then a nurse administrator job will be a good match. Nurse administration is also an excellent choice if you want to transition to an office job.

    Both careers offer rewarding salaries, excellent job growth prospects, the satisfaction of helping others, and a high level of professional autonomy. The nurse practitioner vs. nurse administrator career decision depends on your personal goals and preferences.

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    Page Last Reviewed April 24, 2022

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