Nurse Practitioner vs Nurse Administrator

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Nurse practitioners and nurse administrators have a lot in common. They are both registered nurses; they may hold similar degrees, and, ultimately, they each want better health outcomes. The critical difference, however, is in specialization. Nurse practitioners focus on the health of their patients, and nurse administrators focus on the health of their medical facilities.

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide primary, acute, and specialty care to a diverse population of patients. They can specialize in adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatal, family health, psychiatric-mental health, or women’s health. Their primary goal is to assess, diagnose, and treat diseases in patients. Nurse practitioners need a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, in addition to a plethora of clinical hours and both state and national credentialing.

Nurse administrators are registered nurses (RNs) who act as healthcare executives, managing the nursing team at a medical facility. This is a behind-the-scenes role with considerable implications. Their work includes hiring staff, implementing policy, designing schedules, and collaborating with various departments to ensure that a facility runs smoothly, effectively, and safely. Most nurse administrators hold either an MSN or DNP with a specialization in nurse administration, as well as a core background in nursing practice as that is critical to making informed leadership decisions regarding the staff at their facility.

Nurse practitioners and nurse administrators are in a symbiotic relationship—one cannot function without the other. While they share common overall goals and mindsets, there are critical differences in educational programs, job responsibilities, and professional certifications.

Read on to learn more about the nuances between the two career paths.

Nurse Practitioner Nurse Administrator
Definition Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who provide primary, acute, and specialty care to a population of patients. Nurse administrators are registered nurses who lead the nursing team at a medical facility.
Responsibilities

Typical responsibilities of nurse practitioners include:

  • Performing wellness checks
  • Evaluating health histories
  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illness
  • Prescribing medication
  • Offering specialized referrals
  • Counseling patients on disease prevention

Typical responsibilities of nurse administrators include:

  • Building a nursing team
  • Creating employee schedules
  • Giving performance reviews
  • Handling disciplinary issues
  • Managing unit budgets
  • Implementing unit policy
  • Liaising between facility administration and employees
Education Nurse practitioners typically hold either an MSN or DNP degree. Nurse administrators typically hold either an MSN or DNP degree.
Featured Programs
Typical Courses

Typical courses in nurse practitioner programs include:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical assessment
  • Social determinants of health
  • Health promotion and disease prevention

Typical courses in nurse administration programs include:

  • Health policy
  • Health informatics
  • HR management
  • Nursing leadership and systems thinking
  • Theories of healthcare administration
Program Accreditation Nurse practitioner programs are certified through either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Nurse administrator programs are certified through either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Clinical Hours A nurse practitioner MSN program will typically require at least 500 clinical hours, while a DNP will require at least 1,000. A nurse administrator does not necessarily need clinical hours, though some licensing and educational programs may require a certain level of experience.
Licensing & Certification

Primary care nurse practitioners can obtain certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), while acute care nurse practitioners can look to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). Other national certification entities include the National Certification Corporation (NCC).

Following national credentialing, NPs of all specializations must generally seek state licensure.

Nurse administrators can obtain certification through either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE).

Nurse administrators working in specific facilities may also be required to seek state licensure. For example, nursing home administrators can check their state’s requirements through the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards.

Typical Salary While the precise figure will vary based on facility, geography, experience, and specialty, the average annual salary of nurse practitioners in 2017 was $107,480, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the precise figure will vary based on facility, geography, and experience, the average annual salary for medical and health services managers—a position closely related to nurse administrators—was $98,350 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017).
Professional Associations & Resources
The Bottom Line Nurse practitioners are the star quarterbacks of the nursing world. Working either in primary or acute care contexts, they take charge of a patient’s health by assessing, diagnosing, and treating a wide variety of conditions. Nurse practitioners typically specialize in a specific population (e.g., adults, women, children). While their scope of practice varies by state, nurse practitioners are almost always in the spotlight, face-to-face with the people they serve, calling the plays from the huddle. Nurse administrators are the head coaches of a medical facility’s nursing staff. They make hires, design schedules, implement policies, assess performance, and streamline processes. Nurse administrators generally have a background in nursing practice, but a significant portion of their education is spent learning how to run a medical facility and nursing staff effectively. While they do not spend much time at a patient’s bedside, their work behind the scenes in designing overall strategy is essential in improving health outcomes across a medical facility.