Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse: Important Distinctions

Updated June 24, 2023

Nurse practitioners and registered nurses are both healthcare careers that allow you to provide compassionate care to many patients. Although they have many similarities, nurse practitioners require more education and can perform more procedures than registered nurses. If you are interested in a nursing career, you may want to learn more about how the two distinctions differ. In this article, we review the differences between a nurse practitioner vs registered nurse and provide useful information about the two careers.

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What is a nurse practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who can operate more independently. Nurse practitioners have more education than registered nurses and perform more complex procedures, sometimes without direct supervision. Nurse practitioners often collaborate with other medical professionals like physicians, social and child protection professionals, and registered nurses.

Related: 8 Essential Skills to Include in Nursing Resumes

What is a registered nurse?

Registered nurses are one of the largest groups of medical healthcare providers in Canada. To become a registered nurse, you are required to have a bachelor's degree. Registered nurses can work alongside and under the supervision of nurse practitioners.

Related: What Does a Registered Nurse Do? (How To Become One)

Nurse practitioner vs registered nurse

These are some differences between a nurse practitioner vs registered nurse:

Job duties

The job duties of registered nurses and nurse practitioners are similar, but a nurse practitioner usually performs more advanced duties than a registered nurse.

Here are some common duties for a registered nurse:

  • Providing basic care and support to patients

  • Monitoring and taking patients' vital signs

  • Documenting detailed patient information

  • Assisting physicians during patient treatments

  • Communicating with patients and families

While a nurse practitioner can perform the above duties, their advanced training prepares them to fulfil these advanced duties as well:

  • Writing and educating patients about prescriptions

  • Ordering lab tests and other diagnostic tests

  • Communicating with patients to provide a diagnosis

  • Diagnosing and treating acute illnesses

  • Monitoring and managing chronic illnesses

  • Working with patients to live healthy lifestyles

  • Performing minor procedures, such as sutures

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Every province in Canada, except Quebec, requires you to earn at least a bachelor's degree before you can become a registered nurse. In nursing school, you may study health conditions, comprehensive patient care, medication identification, and healthcare privacy laws. When entering the field of nursing, you begin as a generalist. A generalist registered nurse can practice as a nurse in all areas of medicine. As you progress in your career, you may choose a specialty and pursue further education in one area.

To become a nurse practitioner, you must first be a registered nurse. Gaining a few years of experience as a registered nurse before becoming a nurse practitioner can help you ensure you will enjoy the role. Once you are a registered nurse, you must complete a nurse practitioner program and, in most provinces and territories, receive your master's degree. In a nurse practitioner program, you usually learn about professional accountability, performing assessments, health management, diagnosis processes and prescription procedures. You may need to provide proof of citizenship and fluency, then pass the required nurse practitioner exams.

Related: How to Write an Outstanding New Grad Nursing Resume

Related: How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in Alberta (With Steps)


Nurse practitioners may practice independently in some provinces and territories, and in others, they may work collaboratively with a physician or under their direct supervision. Some organizations and practice settings require the nurse practitioner's patient notes to be reviewed by a physician. In other settings, the physician must make themselves available for clinical consultation. Many nurse practitioners work closely with physicians, regardless of supervisory requirements and local regulations. Some provinces and territories are eliminating the requirement of supervision or collaboration and allowing independent operation. In some areas, nurse practitioners can open their own practices.

Registered nurses have their own supervisory structure that depends on the work setting. In most healthcare settings, registered nurses are responsible for assigning, delegating, and supervising licensed practical nurses and nurse assistants. Registered nurses with extensive experience may also supervise other nurses in a specific unit. They may create schedules, oversee, take part in the hiring process, and act as managers of entire units and departments. These registered nurses usually report to a director or other senior management body, and they always work with and receive direction from physicians.


While both roles are health-industry related, registered nurses typically have a wider range of work environments available to them than nurse practitioners. Registered nurses work in surgical suites, doctor's offices, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, home health care, hospice facilities, and even on cruise ships. Fewer physicians are entering the primary care field and many medical facilities are using nurse practitioners to fill these roles. Urgent care clinics, private practices, hospitals, managed care facilities and college campuses are some places that employ nurse practitioners.

More employers are hiring nurse practitioners because they can perform many of the duties traditionally performed by physicians. As a result, a nurse practitioner is most likely to find employment in a clinical setting. Since many nurse practitioners also complete doctoral degrees, they may also work in managerial and executive-level roles. Nurse practitioners may work in research settings, as entrepreneurs, and in non-traditional healthcare settings, such as concierge medicine, telemedicine, and aesthetics. Both nurse practitioners and registered nurses can work in a higher education setting, teaching nursing students in a school or clinical setting.


Another aspect in which the two nursing titles differ is their average salaries. The difference in salary is because registered nurses and nurse practitioners complete different educational and training programs, and they manage different responsibilities in healthcare settings. For a nurse practitioner, the national average salary is $72,582, with the highest-paying city being Toronto. The national average salary for a registered nurse is $81,562, with the highest-paying city being Edmonton.

As a nurse, the salary you earn can depend on many factors such as the territory or province you live in, your level of experience, how much education you have, your certifications, and the area of medicine in which you practice. For example, a highly experienced registered nurse may earn more than an entry-level nurse practitioner.

Related: How to List Your Certifications on a Resume

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Tips for deciding between Nurse Practitioner vs Registered Nurse

The following tips can help you decide if becoming a nurse practitioner or a registered nurse is the right path for you:

Assess your personality

The characteristics you have may help you understand whether you are better suited to being a nurse practitioner or a registered nurse. For example, if you are a natural leader and thrive when facing challenges, consider being a nurse practitioner, as they typically hold leadership roles. If you prefer working with a team over the independence offered by being a practitioner, being a registered nurse may be better.

Related: What Is the Assess Personality Test? (With Tips and FAQs)

Consider the responsibilities

Imagine your ideal day as a nurse by picturing the duties you would handle on a typical day. Using this ideal day, assess the responsibilities of both a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner to see which best aligns with yours. For example, if a part of your ideal day is prescribing medicine to a patient, being a nurse practitioner may be best for you.

Related: What Does a Telemetry Nurse Do? (And How to Become One)

Determine your ideal setting

Understanding your ideal workplace can help you determine which nursing discipline is best for you. For example, nursing practitioners can work in most places that registered nurses can, but in some areas, they can also open their own private practices. If you are interested in owning and operating your own practice, you may be happiest as a nurse practitioner.

Related: Is an LPN a Nurse? (With Definition and FAQs)

Evaluate your job market

Depending on the territory or province in which you work, different professionals can be in demand. You can research online which types of nurses are most needed in your area by looking at job listings or finding statistics. Consider the demand for each type of nurse in your area, as it may affect your ability to find a position after graduating.

Related: What are the Most In-Demand Careers?

Review average salaries

Average salaries also vary depending on the region in which you are working. By researching average salaries for nurse practitioners and registered nurses in your area, you can determine which salaries meet your needs. If the province or territory you live in offers a salary lower than our ideal amount, you might consider relocating to an area with more competitive pay.


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Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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