What is the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner and a Nurse Administrator?

The Basics

Becoming a nurse practitioner versus a nurse administrator requires different educational requirements, job duties, and will earn individuals different salaries.

Nurse practitioners are more focused on holistic patient care, and deal with patients directly. Nurse administrators (also known as nurse executives or nurse managers) combine business and management skills with their knowledge of medicine and healthcare, and do not often deal directly with patients.

Both practice in similar locations as well as require a similar time commitment to finishing their education and training. Becoming either a nurse practitioner or nurse administrator requires many years of hard work and determination to progress to the professional level.

Education Requirements

Nurse Practitioner

The first requirement to becoming a nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse (RN). This requires receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from an accredited university. Technically an Associate’s or other diploma can be received to become an RN, however the Bachelor’s is needed to become a nurse practitioner. After graduating, students will need to pass the NCLEX exam, and become licensed in their state.

At this point, the prospective nurse practitioner can choose to enter the field and gain work experience, or go directly into a graduate program, however many programs require experience to be gained beforehand. Either a Masters of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree can be obtained, with the later taking longer but providing higher pay. Nurse practitioners will then need to become certified before entering the field. The certification process is highly state dependent, with most states giving power to certain boards and agencies to handle the certification process. While nurse practitioners can start practicing, many go on to receive even further training in a specialized field such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

Nurse Administrator

A nurse administrator can initially follow the same path as a nurse practitioner. Becoming an RN can help them later in their career and is necessary to become certified, however the initial degree sought should be a Bachelor’s degree in nurse administration. This degree focuses on leadership and management in addition to healthcare and medicine. While some nurse administrators enter the field after receiving a Bachelor’s, a Master’s degree is highly recommended to enter the competitive field. Graduate programs can be taken in a number of fields including health care administration and nursing leadership, and are sometimes offered online.

Nurse administrators will need to enter the field for at least two years before they can become certified through a licensing board. Hands on experience may boost the administrator’s resume and help them prepare for the credentialing exam. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is one board that can certify nurse administrators (as well as nurse practitioners). After passing an exam, the certification is awarded and lasts five years.

Job Duties

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is mainly concerned with helping an individual as a whole, rather than treating one injury or dealing with one health issue in a vacuum. They often work with patients to educate them on healthcare, create heath plans, and refer them to doctors when necessary.

Job duties greatly depend on the field and sub-field the practitioner chooses to practice in. For instance, in a pediatrics department, they may create a specialized health plan for an obese child while also educating the parents/caregivers on proper nutrition. Throughout the process, they will likely order and interpret certain lab results and track progress over time.

Certain job duties extend across fields. These may include taking vitals, writing and explaining prescriptions, assessing the physical and mental wellness of an individual, and coordinating with physicians or doctors to create healthcare plans. In general, job duties often look very similar to those carried out by a doctor. Nurse practitioners often work with one specific subset of individuals such as the elderly, children, adults, or those with mental illnesses.

Nurse Administrator

The job duties of a nurse administrator rarely require them to interact directly with patients. Instead, they may be responsible for managing a team of nurses, creating and approving budgets, discussing spending and management decisions with higher ups, or supervising daily work activities of various hospital staff.

Nurse administrators ensure that nurses are performing their jobs correctly while acting as a liaison between them and the managers of the health facility, as well as ensure operations are running smoothly. They often work with other administrators within an entire medical center or practice, rather than just one department. For example, their day could be spent ensuring work schedules are coordinated among nursing staff, then meeting with hospital managers to suggest new policies and discuss areas where cutbacks could be made, and finishing with training new nurses and administrators.

Work Environment

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are most commonly found in physician offices (46%) and hospitals (28%). They are less commonly found in outpatient centers and medically based universities.

While registered nurses may work in a variety of departments depending on where they are needed, nurse practitioners will focus exclusively in the area where they received training. They may be found working in various departments including pediatric, psychiatry, women’s health, or emergency. Depending on the structure of the facility, they may work during the day throughout the week, or work in shifts that cover nights and weekends. Those working in emergency facilities may need to be on call.

Nurse practitioners spend much of their time interacting face-to-face with patients as well as other medical professionals. Some of their time may be spent updating patient files on a computer, but these tasks are often delegated to other medical staff. The work environment may be stressful and tiring, as they will likely need to be on their feet most of the day and may be dealing with patients facing emergency health needs.

Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators also work in a variety of areas. Most commonly they work in hospitals (about 36%) or physician offices (11%). They may also be found in outpatient care centers, government facilities, or nursing facilities. However, within these facilities, they may be found within particular departments or moving around to speak with physicians, nurses, and managers. Some nurse administrators work more than 40 hours per week, as some facilities require them to be on call in case of emergencies.

A nurse administrator often spends much of their time at a computer and meeting with hospital staff and managers. Their job requires them to stay close to nurses to ensure they are trained properly and are performing their job according to protocol. However, they may need to travel away from the care facility in order to meet with managers, particularly those who work for PPOs or HMOs. From day to day, the exact work environment may differ substantially, depending on what needs to be done.


Nurse Practitioner

As of May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean salary earned by nurse practitioners is about $108,000. Overall, those in general and surgical hospitals, as well as those serving in outpatient health centers earn the most at about $112,000, while those working at universities earn about $100,000. Nurse practitioners working in Alaska and California earn about $126,000, while those in West Virginia and Tennessee earn about $94,500.

Nurse Administrator

The BLS states that the mean salary for Medical and Health Services Managers is about $112,000. The lowest 10% earns $58,350 while the highest 10% earns $176,130. Nurse administrators employed at hospitals earn more than those working at other locations ($120,540). Those employed in Washington D.C, New York, and Connecticut had the highest annual salaries (between $133,000 and $144,000). The lowest salaries are found in Oklahoma, Iowa, and Arkansas (between $83,000 and $89,000).

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