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When determining which type of advanced nursing degree to obtain, the acronyms alone can be overwhelming. If you know that you want to advance your nursing education to further your career, it is important that you choose a track that will help you to achieve your professional goals. Depending on what those goals are, you may want to study to be a Nurse Practitioner (NP), or to generally pursue a degree as an Advance Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

To explain simply, an NP is a type of APRN. An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse is a nurse who has obtained at least a Master’s Degree in Nursing. Further specialization within in the APRN category includes Nurse Practitioners, as well as Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, and Clinical Nurse Specialists.

Because an APRN may work in any of these specialties, it is impossible to say what type of work environment or special skills cover the entire profession. APRNs may work in virtually any healthcare setting including hospital, ambulatory clinics, or long-term care facilities.

However, we can say that many Nurse Practitioners work in private practice, often with their own office or under the supervision of a family physician. NPs also commonly work in community clinics serving diverse and underserved populations. Nurse Practitioners are APRNs who are independent, organized, and want to work closely with patients, often seeing the same families over the span of many years. Nurse Practitioners may also choose to specialize further to work with a specific population such as women’s health, pediatrics, adult-gerontology, neonatal care, or psychiatric-mental health.

Advanced Practice Nurse vs Nurse Practitioner

The following table includes some of the most important differences between these two classifications.

Nurse PractitionerAdvanced Practice Nurse
EducationCurrently a Master’s of Science in Nursing is required at minimum. Doctor of Nursing Practice may be required in the future.APRNs must have at least a Master’s Degree in nursing in order to sit for one of the APRN specialization exams.
Typical Duties
  • Take health histories
  • Assess, diagnose, and treat acute and chronic illnesses, often acting as primary care medical provider
  • Offer referrals for specialized care
Typical APRN duties vary widely depending on the nurse’s specialization. Nurse Midwives focus on women’s healthcare while Nurse Anesthetists work primarily in surgical settings.
Can Prescribe Medications?YesSome, but not all, APRNs have prescriptive authority depending on their specialization and the state where they work.
Common Practice Settings
  • Private practice
  • Ambulatory clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Community clinics
Virtually any healthcare setting including hospitals, private practice clinics, and long-term care facilities. APRNs may also work in educational or healthcare policy settings.
Licensing & CertificationCertification for Nurse Practitioners in various specialties is available through both the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Nurses must also register with the Board of Nursing in the state where they choose to work.Certification for Nurse Practitioners and Clinical Nurse Specialists is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certification for Nurse Anesthetists is available from the National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Certification for Nurse Midwives is available through the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB).
Continuing Education RequirementsNPs must recertify with AANP every 5 years. Recertification requires at least 1000 hours of clinical practice over the past 5 years and 75 contact hours of continuing education, relevant to the NPs role and focus. This means an NP who works in Pediatrics must focus his or her Continuing Education on that population. ANCC recertification is also required every 5 years. As of January 1, 2014, ANCC requires 150 continuing education hours, including at least 51% directly related to the NPs focus and at least 25 hours in pharmacotherapeutics.The continuing education requirements for APRNs depends on the specialization of the individual nurse. Generally speaking, in order to recertify in any specialty there will be some degree of clinical work as well as classroom work in that nurse’s specialty.
  • Acute Care
  • Adult
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Adult Gerontology Primary Care
  • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health
  • Family
  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • School
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists or CRNAs
  • Certified Nurse Midwives or CNMs
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists or CNSs
  • Nurse Practitioners or NPs
Note that within the categories of CNSs and NPs, there are many further subspecialties.
Successful PersonalitiesLike all nurses, NPs are dedicated to patient care. In many states NPs are free to work without the direct supervision of a physician, meaning the most successful NPs are independent and organized. Patient communication is also an integral part of an NPs job, so these skills, along with empathy and the ability to interact with a very diverse population are also important to have.An APRN must certainly be committed to providing excellent patient care. Because APRNs work largely patient facing positions, rather than policy or educational settings, patient communication skills are essential. This means the ability to consult with a patient as well as families on a variety of sensitive and emotional subjects. APRNs are also most successful when the are organized and able to handle stress and pressures without becoming overwhelmed.
Common Clinical CollaboratorsSome NPs must have collaboration agreements with physicians in order to practice, meaning ultimately an MD supervises their work. Whether this is required for NPs depends on the state in which they practice.In the hospital setting, APRNs will frequently collaborate with other nurses and physicians as well as hospital administrators. In private practice or community clinics, APRNs may have more independence and fewer collaborative requirements.

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Barry Franklin

Barry Franklin


Barry is the Editor in Chief of NPS, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures, which he co-owns. When not managing content, Barry sits on the board of a K-8 school, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, children, and dogs.