Comparing APRN vs. NP Careers

Nurse explaining test results to mother with toddler

When students first begin exploring the specialization options within the nursing field, all the acronyms and the different areas of professional responsibility can seem overwhelming.

In this detailed career guide, you’ll learn about the differences and similarities between an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and a nurse practitioner (NP). Both are challenging yet rewarding career pathways that will bring you a sense of satisfaction and professional fulfillment.

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The first thing you should understand about the roles of the APRN vs. NP is that both types of nurses are highly credentialed, with advanced training and education. Even if you are already a registered nurse (RN) who possesses a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to return to school to bolster your academic credentials as well as earn advanced certifications.

An APRN is a professional who is on the forefront of primary and acute care in the U.S. They are authorized to assess and diagnose patients, order tests, prescribe medications and manage medical conditions in primary and acute care settings. In short, APRNs can perform many of the same duties as a physician.

So, what’s the difference between an APRN vs. NP? An APRN can choose from four main areas of specialization. One of these is the nurse practitioner (NP) specialization.

All nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses. However, there are many APRNs who opt to specialize in a particular area. Regardless of whether you choose to become an NP or a different type of APRN, you’ll benefit from greater autonomy in your nursing responsibilities, as well as from advanced knowledge and clinical skills.

Taking a Closer Look at the Nurse Practitioner Career

Nurse practitioners are highly educated professionals who possess advanced knowledge in areas to promote patient safety, nursing principles and regulatory compliance. Thanks to their advanced knowledge and clinical experience, NPs can perform many duties that RNs cannot. Here are some common tasks of a nurse practitioner:

  • Interpret blood tests, X-rays and other diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose and manage chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Diagnose and treat acute medical conditions such as injuries and infections

In addition to being an APRN, a nurse practitioner will choose a specialty. The areas of specialization are based largely on the patient population, such as pediatric patients or cancer patients. Here’s a look at some of the most common NP specialties:

  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Adult–gerontology nurse practitioner
  • Emergency nurse practitioner
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner
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What Other Specialties Are Available?

There are many choices available to professionals who decide to become certified NPs. However, these options may not be quite right for you. If the path of an NP isn’t in your future, consider becoming a different type of advanced practice registered nurse.

Like NPs, other types of APRNs are authorized to tackle more responsibilities in healthcare settings than registered nurses. The other types of advanced practice registered nurses are as follows:

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)

Here’s a closer look at what to expect from each of these career paths.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists have a rather unique role. Not only do they provide quality, patient-focused care, but they also act as consultants to effect positive change within the healthcare organization. In essence, a CNS is a consultant, expert clinician, medical researcher and patient educator whose primary goal is to improve patient outcomes.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

The job of a certified registered nurse anesthetist is to work with patients who are undergoing emergency or planned surgeries. CRNAs must consider the likelihood of an adverse reaction to medications, administer the precise dose of anesthetic needed and monitor the patient both during and after the surgery to ensure the patient’s safety. They also often counsel patients after surgeries, administer other medications for pain management and provide a limited range of emergency services, such as airway management.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

A certified nurse midwife typically works in a hospital’s birthing department, at a standalone birthing center or for a public health agency. They may provide care within healthcare settings as well as in patients’ homes. It’s often thought that CNMs only help women deliver babies, but in fact they have quite a broad scope of care that includes family planning, obstetric and postpartum care and care of newborns.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing

After deciding whether the path of an APRN vs. NP is right for you and choosing a subspecialty, your next step is to become eligible to pursue advanced certification. If you’re an RN who holds an associate’s degree, you’ll first need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree. An RN to BSN is an accelerated BS degree program that builds on your existing knowledge and clinical skills.

Then, the next step is to earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. When you enroll in an MSN program, you may have the opportunity to choose a specialization that speaks to your desired APRN specialty, such as a degree with a concentration for future family nurse practitioners (FNPs). Another option is to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice instead; however, it will take longer to complete a doctorate compared to a master’s degree.

Grand Canyon University's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions offers an array of accredited graduate degrees, including the Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner degree program. Click the Request Info button at the top of your page to begin your journey to becoming a leader in the field of healthcare.

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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.