Nurse or Nurse Practitioner: Which is Right for Me?

NursingFebruary 01, 2022

If you’ve ever thought of becoming a nurse practitioner, you can find a local role model and hero in Sharon Higuchi, MSN, NP-C, who was named top “Patient Preferred Nurse Practitioner” in Colorado in 2020 by the exclusive medical society of Patient Preferred Physicians & Practitioners.

With a decade of achievements in nursing, Higuchi provides treatments for patients seeking to enhance their appearance at her private practice, Glo Medical, an Integrative Aesthetic medical practice located in Highland Ranch, CO. Higuchi completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2006 at Denver College of Nursing, followed by her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of Colorado in 2012.

As a nursing student, you may have wondered, “What is the difference between a nurse and a nurse practitioner? And how do I become a nurse practitioner?” The roles have some similarities and several differences. 

Patient Care

Nurses work closely with patients, assessing their condition, recording their medical history, and administering treatments prescribed by doctors. Nurses also educate patients and family members on the course of medical plans of care and follow up with patients after treatment. 

Nurse practitioners also work closely with patients and perform several of the same tasks that nurses do, such as assessing condition and administering treatment. However, many of their duties are more like those of physicians. For example, nurse practitioners perform more thorough examinations and diagnose patients. Depending on the state regulations, they may be able to prescribe medications and order diagnostic tests, and they can create treatment plans. 


Nurses and nurse practitioners may both specialize in specific areas of interest. For example, nurses can become certified in a variety of areas, such as oncology, critical care, and pediatrics. Nurse practitioners can also choose an area of focus. And while the majority go into family or adult practice, some choose geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics, women’s health, or acute care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners


The education requirements for these roles are quite different. To become a nurse, you need to earn a degree from an accredited program and pass the appropriate National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). You must also apply for a license from your state. Program options vary in length and include practical nursing, often referred to as PN or LPN (licensed practical nursing), an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both ADN and BSN programs may qualify the graduate to sit for the NCLEX exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN). Regardless of your path, passing the appropriate NCLEX exam for PN or RN is required for licensure. 

Once you have obtained licensure as a registered nurse, you can begin your education toward becoming a nurse practitioner. To become a NP, you need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and complete a specific number of clinical hours. If you choose to focus in a specialty area, such as pediatrics or emergency care, you may need to obtain additional certifications and/or training. While it’s possible to become a nurse practitioner right away immediately after becoming an RN, many NPs start their careers off as an RN first, then return to school later to earn their advanced degree.

If you are feeling called to nursing, there are several paths to get you started and the Denver College of Nursing is here to help. However you decide to get started on your path to becoming a nurse, nursing is a rewarding career where you can make a difference in the lives of people in your community. 

If you’re thinking of becoming a nurse, Denver College of Nursing can help you get started in the field. Click here for more information or call us today at (800) 600-6604 and speak to one of our career counselors.