Why RNs Should Consider Broadening Their Career Horizons as NPs

RNs having a quick chat at the hospital

As a registered nurse (RN), if you tell others that you are thinking of a career change within your industry, you will get incredulous looks. Do not let that deter you – if you want to advance in your career, you should explore advanced nursing options. 

After all, the nurse practitioner (NP) field is quite competitive, and to be able to stand out, not only do you have to be good at what you do, but you also need to take steps so that you advance in your role and enjoy job satisfaction. 

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the US has around 355,000 licensed nurse practitioners. Out of the total NPs in the US, around 70% provide primary care. This goes to show that the demand for NPs will stay high in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 40% from 2021 to 2031 for NPs along with nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists. 

With more Americans accessing healthcare services under the Affordable Care Act and baby boomers enrolling for Medicare, the demand for healthcare services is certain to increase. As a result, there will be a rising need for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). So, this is a great time for RNs to get higher qualifications to become NPs and take on opportunities and roles that require advanced nursing practice.  

Why should you consider a career change in your industry?

If you are still wondering why you should consider switching your career, especially when you have a stable job, here are some compelling reasons. While all the reasons may not apply to you, it is essential that you consider them. 

Desire to advance in your career and enjoy personal growth

Sometimes, you may feel limited in your current role and want to look for career advancement opportunities. If that is the case, you should explore new areas of nursing that align with your interests and passions. 

You could think about becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) in a standalone clinic, hospital or any other healthcare setting to help the local community enjoy high-quality healthcare services. Or, you could qualify as an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) to care for patients who are critically ill, have chronic ailments, or are vulnerable to complications. 

All 50 states as well as Washington DC ensure prescriptive privileges to NPs. However, it is prudent to remember that an NP’s scope of practice may vary depending on the state in which it works. The bottom line is, as an NP, you can work in a variety of settings and roles. You will find a career path that interests you and allows you to grow

Increased earning potential

While RNs receive competitive salaries, some may want to increase their earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary of RNs is about $89,000. On the other hand, NPs are often paid more than RNs due to their advanced degrees, training, specialized skills, and knowledge. 

The BLS states that the average yearly salary for NPs in the US is about $124,000. So, you will earn more as an NP and this could provide you with financial stability while ensuring that you get greater opportunities for career growth. 

Expansion of nursing skills and knowledge

When you make the leap from an RN to an NP, you will be armed with the right training, knowledge, and skills. Becoming an NP allows you to specialize in a field of your choice. This opens up a whole new world of opportunities. By selecting a role that aligns with your career goals and passion, it allows you to further expand your nursing skills and knowledge. 

For instance, when you become an ACNP, it enables you to specialize in taking care of critically ill patients. This not only helps improve the patient’s quality of life and the kind of care you provide, but it is also rewarding for you as a nurse. 

Provide holistic care to patients

When you train as an NP, you will train in the same conditions in which doctors and physician assistants train. You also receive training in using nursing theories in patient care. As a result, you provide more holistic patient care. Your training as an NP equips you to look at a patient as a whole. 

For instance, if a patient complains about a health condition, your training enables you to treat the patient after assessment, diagnostic tests, and confirmed diagnosis. However, you will also look at other areas of the patient’s life, such as lifestyle habits and overall health. This allows you to get to the root cause of the health problem and take active measures to prevent it from recurring. 

Flexible schooling options

As an RN, you have an advantage. You can opt for a master’s or post-masters program. You do not have to leave your current work. Many universities across the US now offer accredited online degree programs for nurses. 

So, you can create your own schedule and study as and when you feel like it. These virtual master’s programs can be pursued full-time or part-time and let you use asynchronous learning methods. So, you are in control at all times and can pace your study.  


Many NPs usually choose to become an ACNP or an FNP. If you understand the two career paths, you will be better placed to make a decision. 

Roles and responsibilities of ACNPs and FNPs

ACNPs are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in providing care to critically ill patients in settings such as emergency departments, intensive care units, and specialty clinics. 

They have the authority to diagnose, treat and manage complex medical conditions, prescribe medications, and perform medical procedures. ACNPs work together with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians and surgeons, to provide optimal patient care.

FNPs, on the other hand, provide primary care to patients of all ages in a variety of healthcare settings. They can work in private practices, clinics, and hospitals. Invariably, an FNP provides healthcare services to individuals as well as families through all stages of their life. They also deliver babies and provide prenatal and postnatal care to new mothers. 

FNPs usually focus on preventive care, health promotion, and disease management. They diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications. FNPs educate patients about their health and well-being and encourage them to make lifestyle modifications through proper counseling. 

While both ACNPs and FNPs are advanced practice registered nurses, their roles and responsibilities differ significantly. ACNPs specialize in caring for critically ill patients, including the elderly, whereas FNPs focus on providing primary care to patients of all ages.

After comparing acute nurse practitioner vs family nurse practitioner roles, you will have a clearer picture of both. This will allow you to choose the specialization that you are interested in or passionate about. The good news is that whether you want to become an ACNP or FNP, you can rest assured knowing that you can achieve this goal without a problem. 

Rockhurst University offers MSN and post-master degrees that allow you to train and qualify as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) or an FNP. 

The accredited degrees are online, so you do not have to give up your existing job to pursue them. You are taught by experienced faculty who help you understand the nuances of being an advanced nurse practitioner and help you master the skills and knowledge you require to get a better role in your existing place of work or a new one. 

Advantages of Becoming an ACNP

As an RN, if you are considering a career change, you may find the prospect of becoming an ACNP appealing. It is prudent to remember that the baby boomers are aging and hence there is a high demand for ACNPs who have specialized in adult gerontology. So, this is a specialization that you should consider if you want to become an ACNP.

Becoming an ACNP means working long hours and getting exposed to high levels of stress. You should therefore weigh the pros and cons carefully before you choose this career path. Nonetheless, here are some advantages of becoming an ACNP.

Ability to provide advanced care to critically ill patients

ACNPs specialize in caring for critically ill patients who require acute care. As an ACNP, you have the opportunity to provide advanced care to these patients in a range of settings such as emergency departments, intensive care units, and specialty clinics. 

This can be a rewarding and challenging experience if you are passionate about ensuring the best patient care and providing families with the emotional support they require during these trying times. 

Potential for increased salary and job security

As discussed already, NPs tend to get higher salaries compared to RNs. This salary increase is because NPs have advanced education and specialized skills. With a growing demand for NPs, you can rest assured knowing that you will enjoy job security and stability. This, in turn, will give you peace of mind, especially if you have financial obligations that you must meet each month. 

Opportunities for professional development and leadership roles

As NPs gain experience and develop their skills, they may have opportunities for professional development and leadership roles. ACNPs are not restricted to bedside patient care. They can even serve as clinical educators, researchers, or administrators. 

Furthermore, you may also have opportunities to participate in quality improvement initiatives or serve on committees within healthcare organizations. So, if you want to move away from patient care and focus on other areas of nursing, it is possible when you become an NP.

Advantages of Becoming an FNP

After gaining experience as an RN, you can opt for a career change within your industry by becoming an FNP. Here are a few benefits of becoming an FNP.

Ability to provide primary care to patients of all ages

As an FNP, you have the opportunity to provide comprehensive primary care to patients of all ages, including children, adults, and elderly patients. This can be a rewarding experience if you are passionate about developing long-term relationships with patients and their families and you want to adopt a holistic approach to patient care.

Flexibility in work settings

FNPs have the flexibility to work in a variety of healthcare settings. You can work in private practices, clinics, health centers, and hospitals. This provides you with the opportunity to choose a work setting that aligns with your personal and professional goals. 

Depending on which state you are working and residing in, you could even choose to start your own practice. This will give you greater autonomy and control over your work environment. 

Opportunities for patient education and preventive care

As primary care providers, FNPs have the opportunity to educate patients on preventive care and healthy lifestyle choices. This is an important aspect of the role, as it helps patients avoid future health problems and improve their overall quality of life. 

By educating patients and their families about preventive care and leading a healthy lifestyle, you also reduce the burden on the healthcare system and ensure that your patients are healthy. This enables you to focus on other patients who genuinely require your services. 

Training and education requirements for ACNPs and FNPs

To become an ACNP or an FNP, you require additional education and certification. This is beyond the RN license you already have. Here is an overview of the education and certification process for both careers.

To become an ACNP or an FNP, nurses must complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a post-masters in AGACNP or FNP, or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program. You need to invest two to four years to complete your training. The duration is dependent on your prior education, experience, and whether you enroll in a part-time or full-time program.

After completing the degree program, you must also obtain certification from a national certification board. If you become an ACNP, the certification is through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). 

On the other hand, if you train as an FNP, you need to get certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

The required coursework and clinical hours for ACNPs and FNPs differ slightly. ACNP programs typically focus on acute care management, pharmacology, and diagnostic reasoning. FNP programs focus on primary care management, family dynamics, and health promotion. 

Both programs require extensive clinical hours to gain hands-on experience in the areas of practice. 

If you choose an online master’s or post-master program through Rockhurst University, you will have an on-campus clinical immersion session for three days, where you will get clinical instruction in the state-of-the-art simulation lab and be supervised by active and experienced clinicians, who are passionate about making NPs skilled and adept at their work. 

The costs and time commitment to become an ACNP or an FNP can vary depending on your experience and education. MSN or DNP programs can be expensive, and you may need to take out loans or look for scholarships to finance your higher education. 

Furthermore, both programs require a significant time commitment, and you may need to balance your coursework with work and family responsibilities. It is advisable to opt for a university, such as Rockhurst University, that offers full assistance to deserving students and allows you to pace your education. 

The Bottom Line

As an RN, if you want to explore alternative careers, think about becoming an ACNP or an FNP. Both career paths offer unique advantages and you will get numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. However, the decision to make a career change should be based on your personal preferences and career goals.