Nurse Practitioner vs Nurse Administrator

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 PractitionerNurse Administrator
DefinitionNurse 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.
ResponsibilitiesTypical 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
EducationNurse practitioners typically hold either an MSN or DNP degree.Nurse administrators typically hold either an MSN or DNP degree.
Featured ProgramsUniversity of Minnesota (family nurse practitioner DNP, 80 credits)
University of Utah (DNP, 82 credits)
University of Washington (family nurse practitioner DNP, 90 credits)
Duke University (family nurse practitioner MSN, 49 credits)
University of Pittsburgh (health systems executive leadership DNP, 43 credits)
New Mexico State University (nursing administration MSN, 36 credits)
Benedictine University (nurse executive leader MSN, 36 credits)
University of Texas at Tyler (nursing administration MSN, 36 credits)
Typical CoursesTypical 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 AccreditationNurse 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 HoursA 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 & CertificationPrimary 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 SalaryWhile 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 & ResourcesAmerican Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
The Journal for Nurse Practitioners (JNP)
Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners
American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE)
Nurse Leader
Journal of Nursing Administration (JONA)
The Bottom LineNurse 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.

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