Nurse Vs. Nurse Practitioner: What's the Difference

Nurse practitioners and nurses are both healthcare workers specializing in patient care, rehabilitation and the education of patients and their families. Aside from educational requirements, one of the biggest differences is that nurse practitioners can prescribe medications.

Differences Between a Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner

The main differences between nurses, known as registered nurses (RNs), and nurse practitioners (NPs) are the level of education required and the level of care they are authorized to provide. For instance, an undergraduate education is sufficient to work as an RN; however, NPs must complete a graduate degree in nursing to practice. RNs typically work in a team environment alongside physicians and specialists, while NPs can work independently of a physician as primary or specialty care providers.

Nurse Job Duties

RNs focus on treating and educating patients while assisting medical doctors. They often help patients establish a plan of care, and their responsibilities may include rehabilitative activities, such as administering medication, maintaining fluid IV lines, administering therapy and recording patient observations for doctors' assessments. RNs may also be involved in coordinating community health initiatives like blood drives, screenings and immunizations.

Nurse Education Requirements

Aspiring nurses have three educational pathways from which to choose. They can pursue an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), complete an approved nursing school diploma program or earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The ADN and diploma program typically takes 2 to 3 years to complete, while the BSN takes 4 years. All three options qualify graduates to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Students must pass this test to become registered and obtain their mandatory license.

Nurse Practitioner Job Duties

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are able to prescribe medications, unlike registered nurses. Similar to registered nurses, nurse practitioners can practice primary care or specialize in such areas as women's health, neonatology or pediatrics. They often perform duties outside the realms of a registered nurse, including ordering and performing diagnostic tests and x-rays, diagnosing medical problems, managing patients' overall care and counseling patients.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires earning a master's degree in nursing or higher, typically a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Students need to have an RN license prior to applying to these programs. Although individuals with a diploma or ADN can apply to a graduate nursing program, a BSN is the recommended background. In addition to already having an RN license, most states that recognize the APRN title also require that these professionals obtain certification.

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