Skip navigation
What is an APRN? A female nurse smiles as she looks through papers in a lab.

What is an APRN?

Nursing is a noble and viable medical profession. Nurses are the foundation of the healthcare system. You may have heard the acronym APRN, but what is an APRN? Learn more about Advanced Practice Registered Nursing.

What is an APRN?

An APRN is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. APRNs are already registered nurses who achieve certification or specialized education for the care of a particular population.


A nurse practitioner (NP) is one type of APRN. NPs specifically assess, diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients. NPs are educated and trained in a similar fashion to doctors to prepare for patient treatment. Becoming an NP requires the completion of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).


An APRN and RN, or registered nurse, have different skills and experience levels. APRNs have already completed advanced education and certified knowledge of their chosen specialization. This means they have already achieved at least an MSN, passed the necessary certification exams, gained clinical experience and earned licensure in their state of practice.

An RN or registered nurse must complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

While the only requirement for RNs to begin practicing is passage of the NCLEX exam, many healthcare providers are looking to hire nurses with a BSN degree.

An RN to B.S. in Nursing program allows these nurses to obtain their nursing degree online more flexibly to fit their working schedule.

Learn more about why you should get a BSN or MSN.

Things You’ll Learn as an Advanced Practice Nurse

Future advanced practice registered nurses can expect to learn nursing informatics, advanced physiology and pathophysiology, organization management and more. An APRN degree will prepare you to care for patients or instruct and manage nursing staff.

Curriculum can also vary depending on your chosen specialty. There are four types of APRNs in the U.S.— Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists.

Types of APRNs

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a clinician that blends “clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management.”[1] Depending on the NP’s training, they can diagnose, create treatment plans and help rehabilitate patients.

Nurse practitioners can provide urgent and primary care to patients. In states where they are allowed to practice independently, NPs can open their own practices and receive clients.

Nurse Practitioners also have their own focuses. An NP can specialize in a field of medical interest, including dermatology, gerontology, women’s health and more.

Nurse practitioners can even focus on a non-physical field like the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Choosing a specialty is a personal preference and requires a special exam.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners train to provide mental health services to patients. These services can include therapy and diagnosis of mental illnesses.

PMHNPs provide strategies to assess, manage, and treat psychological conditions, like licensed professional counselors. However, nurse practitioners with advanced degrees can also prescribe and manage medication dosages.

Explore a degree in psychiatric mental health nursing.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) provide family-focused healthcare services. FNPs work with many demographics, including gender, age, and economic classes.

Discover a degree in family nursing.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) provides “diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management of patients.”[2] While a CNS can work directly with patients, they often participate in a more supervisory role.

Clinical nurse specialists “help drive practice changes throughout the organization and ensure the use of best practices and evidence-based care to achieve the best possible patient outcomes.”[3] They also support nurses who provide bedside care by offering their advice and expertise.

Because CNSs work with the overall health organization and with individual nurses, they must possess advanced organizational, interpersonal, and practice skills. Many states also require that clinical nurse specialists obtain certification based on a population area.

CNS vs. NP

CNSs and NPs are trained and prepared to care for patients in need. However, a clinical nurse specialist works more in a supervisory capacity than a nurse practitioner.

An NP is primarily responsible for the treatment and care of patients. A clinical nurse specialist plays a larger role in managing nurses and organizations than a nurse practitioner.

Certified Nurse-Midwife

Despite the name, certified nurse-midwives provide healthcare to women throughout their years of fertility. Nurse-midwives work with OB/GYN doctors, meaning that daily duties could include female health assessments and delivering children.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists        

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists CRNA) administer anesthesia for surgeries and medical procedures. CRNAs have a niche but necessary skillset, allowing them to have the flexibility to work in almost any healthcare practice. 

Which APRN Specialization Is the Best?

While there are many paths that an APRN can take, your values, passions, and career desires will help you determine which specialization is the best for you. If you desire more career flexibility, perhaps a career in psychiatric nursing would be a better fit. If your heart is with the elderly, you could pursue a career in adult gerontology.

Deciding which specialty is best for you should be done with consideration of who you are and your needs.

Why Become an APRN

Nurses are often the first contact for patients and help assess their needs. Sometimes registered nurses step into leadership roles or desire to take on more responsibility for patient care. These nurses might seek to specialize or become an APRN.

Achieving an APRN could result in a boost in salary or more career opportunities.

How to Become an APRN

There are several paths taken to becoming an APRN. Still, there are similar milestones across all routes.

To become an APRN, you will need to:

  • Achieve at least a post-bachelor’s nursing degree from an accredited institution
  • Pass the NCLEX exam
  • Complete clinical hours
  • Pass the certification exam for your specialty (if you decide to pursue one)
  • Be licensed in your state of practice

Getting a Nursing Degree

Getting a nursing degree is a straightforward process of assessing various institutions and deciding which one is the best fit for you. To become an APRN, you must have a master’s in nursing degree from an accredited university.

Before applying, ensure that the program you are interested in is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Other criteria to remember when choosing your institution include financial costs, length of the program and whether the program can be completed online.

If you already know your preferred specialization, finding an institution that offers education in that area would be beneficial.

Passing the NCLEX

To take the NCLEX, you will first need to apply to the nursing regulatory body for the jurisdiction in which you want to be licensed. The details of application and registration for the NCLEX are available online from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

While studying for an exam for the NCLEX might differ from other classes you’ve taken, the same general good practices apply. There are also NCLEX exam practice tests and questions are available for free or to purchase online.

The more you review the questions and become familiar with the content, the more likely you will succeed!                     

Completing Clinical Hours

No matter which APRN path you choose, you will need to complete the necessary clinical hours to become certified in your specialization. You can seek nursing employment immediately after becoming a registered nurse.

The clinical hours completed need to be related to your specialization, faculty-supervised and faculty-verified. The workplace staff will assess and ensure that you have completed the requirements.

The number of hours to be completed depends on your specialization and area of licensure. Once completed, they can be submitted to the organization you are certifying with and continue obtaining your licensure.

Passing Examination for Your Chosen Specialization

Specialized advanced nurse practitioners require additional assessment of knowledge. Some of these niche specialties have their own examinations. Research what exam will be needed based on your career path.

Obtaining Licensure

Licensure requirements differ based on your specialization and state of practice. Be sure to thoroughly research licensure requirements for your state so that you can fulfill the criteria as efficiently as possible.

Why Regent’s School of Nursing?

Fully accredited

The CCNE accredits Regent University’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in nursing.* The nursing degrees you earn here can be a firm foundation and help take you to new heights in your nursing career.

Christian Influence

As America’s premier Christian university, you can trust that Regent has been founded on principles of goodness and truth. Regent’s faculty is devoted to your success! Here, you can gain an education steeped in the knowledge of a higher purpose—to serve God and others.

of Regent students received aid in 2022-2023
In Institutional Scholarships & Aid for 2022-23


The School of Nursing classes are online, with a brief on-campus residency required. This means that classes will allow you to continue your education without sacrificing your work schedule or home life.

8-week courses— Only 47 credit hours!

Time management is critical in nursing. Complete your degree quickly! 8-week courses permit a quick but thorough advanced nursing education.

A full-time student taking 9 credit hours a semester can complete their program in just six semesters. A part-time student taking 6 credit hours a semester can complete their program in eight semesters.

Kickstart a new stage of your career. Apply for the MSN – APRN program today.

*The baccalaureate and master’s degree programs in nursing at Regent University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (   

  1. American Association of Nurse Practitioners. (n.d.). What’s a nurse practitioner (NP)?
  2. National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists. (2021, June 14). What is a CNS? NACNS.
  3. Ibid.