Nurse Types / Family Nurse Practitioner
Registered nurses looking for added responsibilities and a variety of nursing career prospects may find becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) meets the criteria. These advanced practice registered nurses focus on preventative care and helping their patients maintain their health and well-being.
FNPs enjoy greater autonomy and can choose a nursing specialty that aligns with their interests in this nursing role.
In this article we explore:
- What is a family nurse practitioner?
- What do family nurse practitioners do?
- Where do family nurse practitioners work?
- What are specific types of family nurse practitioners?
- How do you become a family nurse practitioner in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of family nurse practitioners?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for family nurse practitioners?
What is a family nurse practitioner?
Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are registered nurses who have specialized educational and clinical training in family practice. Their training allows them to work with adults and children.
Many FNPs choose to work in a clinical or family medical practice setting. Others choose to work in underserved communities. FNPs focus on preventative care and helping their patients maintain their health and well-being.
Qualities of a successful family nurse practitioner
If you want to be successful as a family nurse practitioner, you must possess four elements of caring:
- Attentiveness. FNPs should be attentive to their patients’ needs, especially when assessing their conditions.
- Competence. Professional growth is important to FNPs who want to improve patient outcomes and nursing knowledge.
- Responsibility. It’s your job as an FNP to make sure your patients understand their conditions and any treatments prescribed for them.
- Responsiveness. FNPs must evaluate and re-evaluate their patients to ensure treatment plans are making them healthier.
What do family nurse practitioners do?
Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner is a good career move for nurses who wish to work with patients of all ages.
FNPs emphasize wellness programs designed to preserve and protect their patients’ health. They can act much like a doctor, assessing patients’ health, making diagnoses, and prescribing medication. Some of the diagnoses family nurse practitioners are qualified to make include:
- Allergies and asthma
- Broken bones
- Colds and flu
- Heart attack
- Respiratory infections
FNPs can prescribe medication in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. There are three types of practice environments for FNPs:
- Full practice is the model recommended by the National Academy of Medicine and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. States which give family nurse practitioners full practice rights allow FNPs to evaluate patients; diagnose, order, and interpret diagnostic testing; create and manage treatment plans; and prescribe medications (including controlled substances).
- Reduced practice limits the setting of one or more elements of an FNP’s scope of practice and requires a career-long regulated collaborative agreement with a healthcare provider.
- Restricted practice is the least desirable situation for an FNP. It restricts the scope of practice and mandates career-long supervision, delegation, or team management by another healthcare provider.
A day in the life of a family nurse practitioner
Because FNPs work with patients of all ages, every day brings new challenges and experiences. You can see a few patients a day or up to 25 a day depending on where you work.
Daily tasks can include:
- Administrative duties (paperwork)
- Assessing and diagnosing health conditions
- Making referrals to specialists
- Ordering diagnostic testing and evaluating the results
- Performing routine physical exams
- Prescribing medications and other treatments
Common conditions treated by a family nurse practitioner
Family nurse practitioners can specialize like other nurses, or they can choose to serve patients with a variety of health conditions.
FNPs that generalize can treat all the same conditions as physicians, including acute, chronic, and complex health problems.
Some of those conditions include:
- Broken bones
- Colds and the flu
- Urinary tract infections
Where do family nurse practitioners work?
Family nurse practitioners can work in a variety of healthcare settings. In this role, you can work for:
- Community clinics
- Private practice
- Urgent care centers
If you choose a nursing specialty, like gerontology, you can work with patients in skilled nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Because they enjoy autonomy, some FNPs go into private practice. Not all states permit FNPs to have their own practices, so you must check with your state licensing board to make sure yours is one of them before going this route.
What are specific types of family nurse practitioners?
Becoming a family nurse practitioner is a versatile nursing career choice. In this role, you can specialize in a specific medical condition that aligns with your interests and skills. Some of the options include:
- Neonatal nurse practitioner. If you want to work with newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you can take the National Certification Corporation’s NNP certification exam.
- Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. If mental health is your passion, then becoming certified as a PMHNP is a solid career move.
- Women’s health nurse practitioner. This is one of the most popular areas for FNPs to specialize in. It focuses on women’s wellness across the age spectrum.
Closely related fields
Some alternative careers that are like family nurse practitioners include:
How do you become a family nurse practitioner in 3 steps?
Family nurse practitioner candidates undergo rigorous educational training. They must complete an advanced nursing degree and become a registered nurse (RN) as part of the process.
Follow these three steps to get started in your career as an FNP.
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
All nurse practitioners are licensed registered nurses. Completing a nursing degree is the first step to becoming licensed.
Earn a degree
While you can become a registered nurse with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you eventually must earn an advanced nursing degree to become a licensed FNP. It’s best to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
If you’re already an RN with an ADN, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program to fast-track your degree.
Pass the NCLEX
After you complete your BSN degree, the next step is to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX uses a method called Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) to assess your nursing competency. With every question you answer correctly, subsequent questions become more difficult.
If you fail the NCLEX on your first attempt, you can try again after a 45-day waiting period.
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Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Once you have your RN license, you should aim for at least one year of clinical RN experience in an appropriate healthcare setting. If you want to pursue a specialty as an FNP, then try to work in a healthcare environment where those skills can be practiced.
Community clinics and urgent care facilities provide well-rounded exposure to the kinds of conditions you’ll be treating as an FNP.
Helpful skills and experience
RNs who want to generalize as a family nurse practitioner should consider working in a community clinic or hospital setting where they can treat patients of all ages for a variety of health conditions.
If you decide, for instance, that you want to work in women’s healthcare as an FNP, then consider RN positions in obstetrician’ or gynecologists’ offices or other well-woman clinics.
Changing specialty to family nurse practitioner
If you currently work as an RN in an emergency room and want to transition to a Family Nurse Practitioner in private practice, you must first make sure you have an advanced nursing degree. You also may need to take some continuing education courses to get you up to speed in your new specialty.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
Certification is a required step in becoming an FNP.
There are two Family Nurse Practitioner exams:
FNP-C: For nurse practitioners who are interested in primarily clinical practice and offering direct care to patients. The AANP exam includes 150 questions designed to assess knowledge in subjects like clinical decision-making, evidence-informed practice, health history, and patient education.
FNP-BC: For those who would prefer a role in an academic or research setting. The ANCC exam includes 175 to 200 questions focused on age-appropriate interventions, assessments, pharmacotherapeutics, and regulatory guidelines.
FNPs must renew their certification every five years. This is in addition to maintaining a nursing license through the state licensing board. To maintain a state license to practice, continuing education courses (relevant to field of study) are often required.
What are additional requirements of family nurse practitioners?
As previously mentioned, family nurse practitioners require an advanced nursing degree to practice. That means you can’t stop at a bachelor’s degree.
You must pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited nursing program at the minimum. Some nursing professionals go even further by pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
There are several ways to get an advanced degree if you’re already working as an RN with a BSN. Here are some of your options:
What are the salary and career outlooks for family nurse practitioners?
The future looks bright for family nurse practitioners and other NP specialties. The U.S. has battled a nursing shortage since 1998. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for Nurse Practitioners of all specialties is expected to grow by 40% from 2021 to 2031.
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U.S. News & World Report lists nurse practitioner as the best healthcare job in the nation. Their rating is based on several factors, including job autonomy, salary, and opportunity for advancement.
Family nurse practitioners who want to advance their careers have plenty of opportunities. Acquiring a terminal degree in nursing – a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy – opens the door to research nursing positions and clinical educator positions.
If you’re not already doing so, choosing a specialty can further expand your horizons as an FNP.
Questions about the best path to achieving your nursing career goals can be directed to other nursing professionals eager to help.
A family nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with an advanced nursing degree who can generalize or designate a nursing specialty. They can diagnose acute health conditions and in some states, have medication prescribing authority.
Family nurse practitioners make an average annual salary of $118,040.
Family nurse practitioners must have an advanced nursing degree. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum you need for this nursing role.
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