APRN vs. RN: Comparing Responsibilities and Skills

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Smiling nurses sitting and working together at a nursing station.

 

More than 80 million people in the United States live in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA), where there are at least 3,500 patients for every primary health care provider, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing nursing shortage — high patient-to-provider ratios, burnout, lack of support, and increased risk of infection have all negatively affected nurses’ mental health and job performance. This is especially true in rural areas, where care is unevenly distributed or has no presence at all due to a lack of primary care services.

Despite this, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that approximately 30,000 new nurse practitioners enter the workforce each year, which could mean a future of greater support in clinical nursing.

As more nurses follow their ambitions to make a difference, they will find two potential career paths: advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and registered nurse (RN). For this reason, aspiring professionals must understand the differences between them, including the responsibilities, skills, and duties expected of an APRN vs. RN.

RN Duties and Skills

Registered nurses are the front line of patient care. They work not only in hospital settings but also in schools, clinics, assisted living facilities, private practices, and more. RNs’ main responsibilities include coordinating patient care, making patient assessments, and executing any diagnostic tests for performance (such as checking blood levels, heart rates, nerve sensitivity, etc.). They often work alongside physicians and other health care professionals to create and implement strategies for patient care based on individual needs.

RNs should educate patients and their families on the cause of a condition, how it will affect their lives, what they can expect going forward, and how they can treat it, if possible. They must also track any reactions to medications or treatments and consult with other health care professionals on needed changes or alterations. Treatment changes could mean more physical therapy, a different dosage, or recommended dietary changes, for example.

Skills

  • Communication. Registered nurses must be able to articulate information clearly in both written and oral communication.
  • Organization. They should be able to organize information logically for themselves and others, often according to a predetermined strategy.
  • Critical Thinking. RNs should assess treatment options and their possible results quickly, especially in emergency situations.
  • Attention to Detail. They should be detail-oriented and track everything pertaining to patient health.
  • Physical Stamina. RNs might spend hours on their feet at a time, so they should possess the physical stamina to keep working when needed.
  • Emotional Stability. RNs should be able to cope with the stress and uncertainty of working in a predictable and often volatile field.
  • Compassion. RNs need to be able to empathize and connect with their patients so they can build a rapport with them.

APRN Duties and Skills

Advanced practice registered nurses, who are required to earn a postgraduate degree, differ from registered nurses in their clinical responsibilities. They generally operate at a higher level, overseeing patient care less directly than RNs. APRNs are usually responsible for ordering and evaluating patient tests, developing treatment plans conducted by RNs, and authorizing specialized referrals when a problem is outside their professional knowledge. For example, an APRN may authorize a referral for a patient with a respiratory problem complicated enough that a pulmonologist should examine it. APRNs can also offer their care to specialized groups of patients, such as women and children.

In some states, APRNs can prescribe medications independently, without the need to consult a physician or other health care professional.

Skills

While looking at the duties of APRNs vs. RNs highlights key differences between the roles, these professionals should possess some of the same competencies, including critical thinking, physical stamina, emotional stability, and compassion. However, APRNs do deviate from RNs in a few key skills.

  • Leadership. APRNs should be effective leaders who can delegate and advise nurses in conducting patient care.
  • Interpersonal Communication. They should be able to clearly explain complicated information to both their work colleagues and to patients of any age.
  • Resourcefulness. APRNs should draw on any available knowledge or connections to build effective treatment plans for each patient.

How RNs and APRNs Work in the Same Environment

RNs and APRNs usually work in the same clinical environments. The differences in their duties allow them to work collaboratively, communicating patient needs to other nursing professionals and bringing more cohesive care to a health care facility. For example, as an RN learns of new diagnostic information, they share it with the APRN so they can adjust the patient’s treatment plan, which is then sent back to the RN.

Through this combined effort, RNs and APRNs can create a positive impact and potentially improve patient outcomes.

Two Roles, One Goal

Despite the differences in APRNs vs. RNs, these nurses share the same desire to provide better care for their patients — whether through treating infections, prescribing medications, or some other practice. Their organization, knowledge, and skill all hinge on clinical experience and advanced education, such as Hawaii Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

With three concentrations available — Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner — this program can effectively guide nurses to the next stage of their professional goals.

Discover more about how Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online MSN can help you further your career in nursing today.

Recommended Readings

How to Get Your Hawai‘i Nurse License

Nursing Advocacy: The Role of Nurses Advocating for Patients

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Sources:

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “National Nurse Practitioner Week: NPs Are Key to Providing Better Rural Care”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Scope of Practice for Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

The Balance Careers, “What Does a Registered Nurse (RN) Do?”

Becker’s Hospital Review, “State of the Nursing Shortage: 7 Notes”

HRSA, Health Workforce Shortage Areas

Mental Health America, The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, APRNS in the U.S.

SAGE Journals, “Nurses’ Challenges, concerns and Unfair Requirements During the COVID-19 Outbreak”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses