APRN vs. NP: Understanding Your Nursing Career Options

APRN talking with a patient in office

One of the reasons so many students choose to pursue a career in nursing is the wide range of specializations available. Two popular job titles are nurse practitioner (NP) and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Since nurse practitioner is one of the specializations open to APRNs, the two titles entail some common responsibilities. However, there are also differences worth noting. Regardless of which path you choose, you can look forward to working in a rewarding industry after pursuing your nursing education.

Overview of the Role of APRN

To understand the APRN’s role clearly, you should know a bit about the pathways to nursing practice. The foundational step is becoming a registered nurse (RN), which requires either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree followed by licensure. Many associate degree holders later go back to school to earn their bachelor’s degree through an RN to BSN program. At this point, nurses may decide to advance their education still further and become APRNs.

APRNs are registered nurses who have completed a graduate-level nursing degree program, earning a master’s degree, a doctoral degree or both. They have chosen an area of specialization, in which they must pass a certification exam once their program is completed. There are four areas of specialization for APRNs:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Understanding the Nurse Practitioner Role

Nurse practitioner is one of several titles open to APRNs. Although all nurse practitioners are APRNs, not all APRNs are nurse practitioners. If you choose to specialize as an NP, you will further specialize in a specific patient population. For example, you might choose to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Other subspecialties include:

  • Dermatology
  • Neonatal care
  • Adult-gerontology acute care
  • Emergency care
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics

In short, nurse practitioners specialize in working with a specific patient population such as children or seniors. Regardless of specialty, all nurse practitioners are licensed to provide care that goes beyond the level of care an RN can provide. Many NPs practice independently at hospitals, clinics and other care facilities. NPs may do any of the following, depending on their qualifications and employers:

  • Perform physical exams and patient history assessments
  • Diagnose illnesses and injuries
  • Request and interpret diagnostic tests and medical images
  • Manage treatment for acute and chronic conditions
  • Prescribe medications

The regulations that dictate what NPs can do vary from one jurisdiction to the next. In some states, NPs are required to work under the supervision of a physician. In other states, however, NPs can work independently and fulfill many of the same responsibilities as doctors.

A Closer Look at Other APRN Specializations

Although a career as a nurse practitioner is a popular choice for individuals with a graduate-level nursing degree, it is not the only option. The other options include becoming a certified nurse midwife (CNM), a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Here is a closer look at these career options.

  • Certified Nurse Midwife: As the title indicates, CNMs help women deliver babies. However, this is only one part of their role. CNMs also provide a broad range of gynecological, obstetric and well-woman care, much like OB-GYNs. In addition, CNMs deliver prenatal and postnatal care, conduct physical exams, educate new parents, provide breastfeeding counseling and offer other reproductive healthcare services.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: As the job title suggests, CRNAs administer anesthesia along with other medications to patients undergoing surgery. CRNAs are also responsible for closely monitoring patient responses to anesthetics/anesthesia and administering correct dosages as well as educating patients before and after surgery. CRNAs thoroughly review patient histories to identify allergies and other risks factors for adverse reactions.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: CNSs are health care leaders who diagnose and treat patients and manage their health concerns. They work to improve patient outcomes both by providing direct patient care and by driving positive change in their organizations. Clinical nurse specialists typically earn certifications oriented to specific patient populations, specializing in areas like pediatrics, neonatal and adult/gerontology practice.

Grand Canyon University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Considering enrolling in our Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner program or the Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Leadership in Health Care Systems program. To learn more about the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, click on the Request Info button at the top of this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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