A career in nursing is a calling rather than a job and comes with responsibility for your patients, your colleagues and your organization. There are several different types of nurses such as registered nurses, family nurse practitioners and nurse administrators. Each position comes with its own requirements for education and training, and each comes with different pay and levels of autonomy. If you are interested in nursing or if you are already a nurse and want to look at your options, then it’s important to first understand the different career options out there.
Two paths of nursing that are often looked at together are registered nurses (RN) and family nurse practitioners (FNP). These two branches of the same profession consist of different responsibilities, autonomy and education.
Registered nurses primarily assess patients and their needs. They then create a medical plan for the patient to follow while helping to implement it.
An RN spends their time doing tasks such as:
- Creating a patient care plan and implementing and evaluating that plan with the medical team
- Recording patient data in the form of medical history and symptoms
- Assessing patients and observing symptoms
- Taking tests for labs like urine samples, blood withdrawal and other fluids
- Giving patients prescription medications, IVs and other treatments and monitoring side effects and any adverse reactions
- Cleaning and bandaging wounds
- Educating patients and family members on treatment and care plans for a patient’s conditions and illnesses
- Supervising nursing assistants, nursing students and licensed practical and vocational nurses
Registered nurses work in hospitals and clinics, as well as schools, in the homes of patients, assisted living centers, corporations and in the military. Some choose to specialize in areas such as pediatrics, family medicine, oncology, ambulatory care, rehabilitation services and geriatric services. RNs play many vital roles in their organizations such as using new technology, evaluating and educating patients, and administering medications.
Nurse practitioners work closely with patients to monitor their health like registered nurses, but they have more responsibility and autonomy because of their additional certifications and education. Their roles are varied depending on where they work as well.
Nurse practitioners perform duties including:
- Ordering and implementing diagnostic tests and performing assessments on medical equipment
- Gathering information from patients and collecting fluid samples such as blood and urine
- Performing routine examinations with as much detail as possible
- Examining test results and observing patients
- Prescribing medications and monitoring their effects
- Recording medical histories and symptoms, and keeping accurate records for diagnoses
- Designing treatment plans for individual patients and offering referrals for different members of the medical team
- Supervising junior nurses, nursing assistants, students and other staff members
- Collaborating with members of the healthcare team to create treatment plans and diagnose patients
The differences between RNs and NPs consist of the level of training and education one has over the other. Often, when a nurse looks at furthering their career and becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP), they wonder is becoming an FNP worth it? The answer is a definitive yes. Accredited online schools such as Marymount University offer the opportunity to get a doctoral or master’s degree while still being able to work. Becoming a nurse practitioner also comes with more opportunities for professional growth and salary increases.
Differences between registered nurses and nurse practitioners
Roles and responsibilities
Registered nurses and nurse practitioners focus on patient health and treatment. The big difference between the two roles is that practitioners are allowed to prescribe medications, order tests, give treatments and provide diagnoses. NPs can treat patients autonomously without physician supervision and often work as primary care providers in place of physicians. RNs care and treat patients under physician supervision and follow the physician’s recommended treatment plans and diagnoses.
In short, the main difference between registered nurses and nurse practitioners is that practitioners can treat patients without physician supervision because of their advanced training, experience and education. The level of autonomy and span of medications and treatments an NP can provide depends on the state’s laws and licensing. Nurse practitioners fill an important need for primary care providers in areas where there is a critical shortage of physicians. With their unique perspective on patient care, NPs can provide care to generations of families and in some cases treat younger members with preventative care if there is a history of disease.
Training and education
RNs and NPs require a different amount of education and training. Registered nurses need a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited school and must pass the licensing exam. RNs must also apply for state licensing according to their area. For some states, all that is required is an associate degree.
Nurse practitioners require a master’s degree or higher accompanied by a clinical placement. If a practitioner wants to focus on certain areas of medicine, then extra certification and training is also recommended. Often, a nurse practitioner will start off as a registered nurse to get some experience in the field before taking additional courses to move up in their career, increase their professional and personal satisfaction, and increase their salary. Nursing is a vocation that requires a lifetime commitment to education and patient care. It is also a rewarding career, so whichever path you choose, you will be a valued, integral member of the medical community.
Different career paths for nurse practitioners
Cardiac nurse practitioner
A cardiac nurse practitioner treats patients with chronic heart disease or acute diseases related to the heart. NPs can assess these patients, prescribe medication, collaborate with other members of the cardiac health team and educate patients on treatments without drugs. These practitioners generally work with teams in private practices, hospitals and specialized clinics.
- Developing treatment plans for patients
- Performing therapeutic procedures
- Conducting stress tests and interpreting the data
- Monitoring cardiac patients after surgery
- Assessing patient risk of cardiovascular disease
Emergency nurse practitioner
Emergency NPs care for injured and acutely ill patients. They are adaptable to fast-paced environments where patients need immediate care. ENPs are employed in trauma centers, hospitals, ambulatory care and urgent care facilities.
- Diagnosing patients with acute illnesses
- Treating critical patients
- Assessing physical symptoms of patients
- Collecting data on patients, including psychosocial and environmental information
- Educating patients and their family members on caregiving needs
Orthopedic nurse practitioner
Orthopedic nurse practitioners treat patients with musculoskeletal problems such as muscle injury and injury to bones, joints and connective tissue. The NP can specialize in areas like sports medicine and oncology, or they can provide general medical help.
- Conducting physical examinations
- Prescribing medications and ordering lab tests
- Analyzing results and providing a diagnosis
- Providing rehabilitation services
Primary care nurse practitioner
Primary care nurse practitioners (PCNPs) provide medical care to patients of all ages, including families and groups. NPs help their patients with health concerns as well as educate them on preventative medicine and proper habits for health and wellness. These individuals can replace the need for a primary care physician as they are able to treat patients autonomously.
- Assessing the health of patients and developing a treatment plan if needed
- Administering immunizations and vaccines as well as other types of preventative care
- Assessing, diagnosing and treating health issues
Palliative care nurse practitioner
Palliative care nurse practitioners treat patients who are terminally ill. They are usually employed in hospitals, hospice facilities, medical offices and in patients’ homes. These practitioners work with older patients who have advanced diseases such as heart disease, neurological disorders, dementia, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The care starts with a diagnosis and continues through treatment.
- Developing and implementing treatment plans
- Arranging measures for pain reduction
- Executing treatment plans that have multiple facets
- Treating symptoms to promote wellness
Oncology nurse practitioner
Nurse practitioners involved in oncology treat patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. They are there with patients on a regular basis and develop a compassionate relationship with patients while they undergo treatment. These professionals coordinate the care of the patient throughout the process of treatment. They are most often found in oncology departments of hospitals or private clinics.
- Conducting physical examinations
- Developing and implementing treatment plans
- Administering therapies for cancer
- Prescribing medications
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner
This type of nurse practitioner treats individuals who are suffering from psychiatric conditions, mood disorders, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. These professionals often work with specialty providers and primary care providers.
- Assessing, diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders
- Providing physical assessments
- Providing psychosocial assessments
- Providing emergency psychiatric treatment
- Evaluating the effectiveness of treatments
Surgical nurse practitioner
Surgical NPs work with surgical teams by supporting the medical staff and performing duties throughout the length of the surgery prep. These professionals have special training in operating room procedure and are considered one of the most important members of the assisting surgical team.
- Assessing new patients
- Discussing surgical options with patients
- Administering medications
- Monitoring vital signs
- Assisting in surgical procedures
Neonatal nurse practitioner
Neonatal nurse practitioners work in neonatal intensive care units and treat newborns who are in critical condition. These individuals work in nonacute settings where they supervise other members of the staff and assist with delivering babies. These practitioners can help address conditions that may come up because of drug addiction, premature births, HIV infections, genetic disorders and other issues.
- Starting IV lines and maintaining them
- Monitoring medical equipment
- Ordering and performing tests
- Designing and implementing treatment plans
- Educating and providing guidance to new parents
Acute care nurse practitioner
Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) treat patients who are experiencing sudden critical illnesses or injuries. These professionals often work in fast-paced environments like emergency rooms, operating rooms and urgent-care departments. They also focus on the care of adults and children in the short term.
- Administering physical exams
- Recording patient histories
- Diagnosing and treating patients
- Prescribing medications and administering therapy treatments
- Stabilizing critical patients
- Collaborating with members of the healthcare teams
Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner
These professionals treat children and adolescents who experience acute, chronic and critical conditions. They work in hospitals, emergency departments and in patients’ homes.
- Providing care that is family-centric
- Administering advanced examinations
- Ordering and interpreting lab tests
- Overseeing patients from admission to when they leave the facility
- Educating families and patients about post-care
Adult nurse practitioner
These professionals diagnose health issues among young adults, adults and the elderly. Adult nurse practitioners often specialize in areas of medicine such as women’s health, psychiatry and cardiovascular health. They often work with primary care providers with a broad population.
- Diagnosing and evaluating health issues from common to chronic
- Providing patients with education on wellness practices
- Offering counseling to patients on preventative measures such as exercise, physical therapy and diet
- Assessing test results and monitoring the treatment’s impact
Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AG-ACNPs) provide care to adults and elderly patients with acute, chronic or critical conditions. AG-ACNPs typically work in clinics, physician offices, hospitals, retirement homes and private practices. They can write prescriptions (depending on practice authority), interpret ECG monitoring and assess patient responses to medications and treatment.
- Collecting information regarding patient history
- Evaluating patient symptoms
- Assessing diagnostic information
- Determining treatment methods
- Tracking the condition of the patient
Family nurse practitioner
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide family-based health services that focus on a range of patients. FNPs work with infants, adolescents, adults and the elderly in a variety of settings, including community health centers, private practices, healthcare systems and universities.
- Maintaining patient records
- Prescribing medications (depending on practice authority)
- Developing treatment plans
- Treating acute and chronic illnesses and injuries
Women’s health nurse practitioner
These practitioners specialize in comprehensive healthcare for women. They treat gynecological, prenatal and reproductive issues as well as offer postpartum services. These nurse practitioners focus on educating women on specific areas including disease prevention, family planning and reproductive services.
- Assessing preventative health needs
- Diagnosing diseases related to the reproductive system
- Prescribing medications and contraception
- Treating fertility issues
- Screening patients for substance abuse and domestic violence
Hospice nurse practitioner
These practitioners help families and patients prepare for the final moments of life. The hospice practitioner is responsible for pain management and managing the last hours of life in the most pleasant way possible. Compassion is a big part of this job. Hospice nurses deal with patients who are close to death and help their families say goodbye.
- Advocating for critical patients and their families
- Educating on diagnostic screenings
- Creating treatment plans and helping to administer them
- Performing physical examinations
- Monitoring symptoms and recording data
Dermatology nurse practitioner
Dermatology NPs work with patients who have skin diseases and other medical conditions related to the epidermis. They can work with patients of all ages in general practice or specialize in one type of skin condition like cancer or an auto-immune skin disease.
- Assessing and identifying dermatological care
- Conducting health histories
- Prescribing medication
- Examining and assessing pathology reports
- Diagnosing conditions
Nephrology nurse practitioner
These practitioners treat patients with kidney disease and injuries. They focus on treatment with dialysis as well as some focus on care at the patient’s home.
- Giving complete health assessments
- Ordering tests
- Administering treatments
- Educating on preventative measures such as diet
- Examining and assessing the effectiveness of treatment
Pediatric nurse practitioner
Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) treat young people from newborns to young adults. PNPs focus on the management of common pediatric conditions. They generally work in hospitals, clinics, private practice, schools and urgent care clinics.
- Examining growth patterns
- Tracking milestones in development
- Educating parents and children about normal development
- Diagnosing illnesses
- Prescribing medications
- Keeping track of and administering vaccines and immunizations
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AG-PCNPs) help patients starting at the age of 13 into adulthood. When these patients have chronic illnesses, the practitioners provide specialized care. These professionals work in private practice, universities, pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals.
- Performing yearly examinations
- Administering immunizations and vaccines
- Providing guidance and counseling one on one
- Creating and implementing prevention plans for diseases
There are many differences between the responsibilities and abilities of registered nurses and nurse practitioners. The biggest difference is in the level of responsibility and autonomy one has over the other. Most of the time, registered nurses move on to a career as a nurse practitioner after they have gained experience and further education. This change in career is a step up in pay, personal and professional satisfaction, and the ability to provide the best care for their patients. Practitioners can provide primary care in place of physicians and often follow the life of their patients and their families.