What is an APRN? The Complete Guide to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

6 Min Read Published October 4, 2023
What is an APRN? The Complete Guide to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

What is an APRN?

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a registered nurse who has gone through advanced specialty training to gain skills, knowledge, and experience in a specific patient population or skill set. APRNs hold, at minimum, an MSN, but many continue their education and earn a doctorate in nursing practice. 

APRN is an umbrella term for four types of nurses. We'll get more into each of these later in the article:

  1. Nurse Practitioner
  2. Certified Nurse Midwife
  3. Clinical Nurse Specialist
  4. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

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While APRNs do perform some of the same duties as RNs, there are a few key differences. APRNs can prescribe medications, perform procedures, and diagnose and treat patients.

Can RNs Become APRNs?

Registered nurses (RNs) who have completed advanced clinical and educational requirements can become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). According to the BLS, there are approximately 323,900 APRNs in the US.

Types of APRNs

As we mentioned earlier, there are 4 types of APRNs. Let's dig into each of them a little more. 

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are one of the most popular and highly desired APRN degrees. Nurse practitioner duties include prescribing medications, examining patients, ordering diagnostic tests, diagnosing illnesses, and providing treatment. 

Salary: Nurse practitioners earn a median average annual salary of $121,610 in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2022, which places their income at more than double the average annual salary for all other occupations.

Certified Nurse Midwife

A CNM provides healthcare to women throughout the entire course of their lives. They assist in delivering babies, manage emergency situations during labor, repair lacerations, and may provide surgical assistance to physicians during cesarean births. Also includes family planning, gynecological checkups, basic nutrition counseling, patient education, and basic prenatal care.

Salary: The mean average certified nurse-midwife salary is $120,880, according to the BLS.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Nurse Specialists are slightly different than other APRNs. The degree focuses on research, teaching, and advancing the nursing practice. A CNS will assist with evidence-based practice projects, teach patients and their families, conduct research as a primary investigator, teach in the community, and help provide transitional care. 

Salary: The median salary for Clinical Nurse Specialists is $87,359, as of September 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. Clinical Nurse Specialist salaries currently range between $62,500 to $101,500, with some making upwards of $126,000 annually across the United States. 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who administer anesthesia and other medications. They also monitor patients who are receiving and later recovering from anesthesia. CRNAs are also responsible for ensuring the patient is pain-free after a procedure, so a significant part of their job is following up with patients after surgery and prescribing pain medication.

Salary: The median average nurse anesthetist salary in is $203,090, according to the most recent BLS report. 

How to Become an APRN

Becoming an APRN takes many years of hard work and advanced training. The path to becoming one will look different depending on whether you become an NP, CNM, CRNA, or CNS. But here are the basic steps you'll need to take:

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

The first step to becoming an APRN is becoming a registered nurse. You'll do this by enrolling in either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN) program. After earning your degree, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX. This will allow you to work as an RN. 

2. Get Your Bachelor's Degree

If you don’t already hold a BSN, you may want to enroll in and earn your Bachelor’s in Nursing Science degree. Nurses who have their ADN can enroll in RN-BSN programs, many of which can be completed online. It is possible to go straight from your ADN to an MSN program if you want to skip the step of earning your Bachelor's degree, however. (More on that in step four.)

3. Gain Nursing Experience

Some nurses may choose to skip this step and go right into enrolling in a graduate program, while others choose to get a few years of experience under their belt before continuing their education. However, some APRNs will be required to have bedside experience.

For example, in order to become a CRNA - you must have a minimum of two years of ICU experience. This is a requirement before even applying to a program. Without this experience, schools will not consider your application. 

4. Enroll in a Graduate Program (MSN or DNP)

The simplest route to becoming an APRN for RNs who already have their bachelor's degree is by earning a master’s degree in nursing.

For RNs without bachelor's degrees, there are RN-to-MSN programs. You may also see such programs called ADN-to-MSN (which means Associate Degree in Nursing to Master’s).

Some institutions offer doctoral degrees like Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs or Doctorate of Nursing Anesthesia Practice (DNAP), which is the highest level of nursing education available. 

APRN Scope of Practice

The scope of practice depends on the type of APRN. For example, a CRNA has very different job responsibilities and duties than a CNS. Furthermore, NPs have varying scopes of practice depending on the state of practice. 

Nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 32 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that they do not have to work under the supervision of a doctor. In the remaining states, NPs still have more authority than RNs, but they need a medical doctor to sign off on certain patient care decisions.

What Are the CEU Requirements for APRNs?

APRNs must complete specified continuing education requirements to renew their specialty certifications. Each state also has continuing education requirements listed in our nurse continuing education guide.

The current trend is for employers to provide on-site or online training for nurses. Professional organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners typically offer continuing education courses to their members.

Where Can APRNs Work?

The most common places where APRNs work include:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Operating rooms
  • Birthing centers
  • Veterans’ hospitals
  • Hospices
  • Academia
  • Urgent Care
  • Emergency Rooms
  • Private practice
  • Home health care
  • Public health department

Where are the Best APRN Jobs?

High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As an in-demand nurse, you are in control of your career. Explore the opportunities available to nurses of every specialty and education level. Get the pay and career path you deserve. Click here to see today's best nursing job opportunities.

Find Nursing Programs


  • What is considered an advanced practice registered nurse?

    • An APRN is either a Nurse Practitioner, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist, or Certified Nurse Midwife. 
  • Is a registered nurse an advanced practice nurse?

    • APRNs hold an RN degree but have advanced educational degrees and training specific to a patient population and skill set.  
  • Is an advanced practice registered nurse the same as a nurse practitioner?

    • A nurse practitioner is a type of APRN.
  • What is the difference between registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses?

    • Registered nurses generally work at the bedside and perform duties that are prescribed by a medical provider. For example, an RN will administer medication while an APRN will prescribe the medication. APRNs oversee the care of patients, diagnose and treat, perform tests or procedures, and collaborate closely with other healthcare providers. 
  • What can an advanced practice nurse do?

    • APRNs can perform a wide variety of duties. This will depend on the type of advanced practice degree. For example, a CRNA will administer and monitor general anesthesia for a patient, while a CNS will educate staff and patients. A CNM will help deliver babies and provide care for childbearing-age women, while an NP will treat, diagnose, and prescribe medications for patients. 
  • How do you become an APRN?

    • To become an APRN, you first must attend an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX. If you did not attend a BSN program, you will need to earn a BSN degree as this is required before earning an advanced degree. Next, gain relevant bedside experience. Then, apply to the appropriate program. This will vary depending on the type of advanced degree. Finally, pass the necessary state certifications. 
Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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