Family Nurse Practitioner Role
Because of their high level of education, expertise and skill, family nurse practitioners (FNP) will often take on some of the roles of a physician. However, they will still generally work under the supervision of, or in close conjunction with, a physician. Family nurse practitioners must be able to offer the care and support consistent with high-quality nursing to patients and families, diagnosing and treating patients across a wide variety of conditions. Here are some of the core duties of family nurse practitioners:
Family nurse practitioners are expected to educate their patients and the families of their patients. This can cover a wide variety of subjects, including childbirth and care for newborns with expectant mothers, methods for managing cholesterol or stress in aging patients, and geriatric issues with the elderly, among many other topics. Education is the front line in the battle against preventable diseases and is a very important part of any family nurse practitioner’s job.
A family nurse practitioner must be able to effectively diagnose patients across a wide variety of age ranges, which places them in the role of the diagnostician. A family nurse practitioner has access to the patient’s medical history as well as the ability to order tests, and will combine all of this information with physical symptoms to formulate an informed diagnosis.
After diagnosing a patient, a family nurse practitioner will then transition into the role of a provider of treatment. This may involve exercising prescriptive authority (which is given to family nurse practitioners on a state-by-state basis), referring the patient to a specialist or performing minor procedures, such as placing stitches or administering injections.
Finally, a family nurse practitioner, while having a wide range of skills and training, does not work completely alone. It is paramount to the successful career of a family nurse practitioner to collaborate with fellow healthcare professionals to discuss best practices, tough decisions and the results of treatments.
With so many distinct and equally important roles to fill, the responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner are many. Highly educated and highly experienced family nurse practitioners are incredibly valuable healthcare professionals, especially now that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving to serve a higher number of people in need at the same, or even lower, cost.
Family Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice
As the name indicates, family nurse practitioners work with individuals and families to test, diagnose and treat patients across all age ranges. The family nurse practitioner scope of practice includes promoting general health care, preventing disease and facilitating the management of common, acute and chronic illnesses. Family nurse practitioners document and review patient and family health histories; perform physical examinations; diagnose and treat health issues; order and interpret labs, tests and x-ray results; have prescription knowledge and, in some states, prescription authority; encourage preventive health care measures; and refer patients to various specialists. Family nurse practitioners can work in many different settings, from hospitals and clinics to nursing homes and hospice care.
Each state has its own set of specific rules as to how a family nurse practitioner can practice. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners offers a great resource that outlines the state-by-state rules regarding a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice.
Learn more about nurse practitioner prescriptive authority.
Family Nurse Practitioner Salary
On average, family nurse practitioners are well compensated, even in entry-level positions. The average salary for a nurse practitioner is $104,610, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to a salary, many FNPs also receive annual bonuses. They may also receive additional compensation through initiatives such as profit-sharing incentives. A wide variety of factors influence the salaries of family nurse practitioners, including education and training, areas of specialization, geographic location and type of employer.
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How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
Family Nurse Practitioner Eligibility Requirements
There are several steps to becoming an FNP. Prior education, certification and clinical practice are among the many requirements for acceptance to a nurse practitioner program. Here is a step-by-step path you can take to become a family nurse practitioner:
- Become a registered nurse. In order to apply to a family nurse practitioner program, you must have completed a degree in registered nursing and be certified as a registered nurse in a U.S. state or territory. Passing the NCLEX-RN examination is required for certification as a registered nurse. Working one to two years before applying for a nurse practitioner program is highly recommended.
- Apply to FNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). These programs must be master’s, postgraduate or doctoral programs. More information on family nurse practitioner programs and coursework requirements can be found below.
- Complete 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours related to the family nurse practitioner role and population.
- Apply to take the family nurse practitioner exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to earn your family nurse practitioner certification. The exam tests comprehension of assessment and diagnostic techniques, pharmacology, theory and more. Final transcripts and proof of education are required for testing authorization. More information about certification can be found at the bottom of this page.
- Apply for state certification as a family nurse practitioner in the state where you wish to practice. Go to our state certification pages to find out what the requirements are and how to apply in your area. Many applications can be submitted online.
- Once you have earned your family nurse practitioner certification, it must be renewed every five years. In addition to renewing certification through the board, renewal through the state is also required and may require additional fulfillment of continuing education contact hours.
Family Nurse Practitioner Programs
Family nurse practitioner education programs are designed for RNs who are looking to advance their nursing careers in a family-oriented, primary care setting. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) administers the certification exam to graduates of an accredited family nurse practitioner education program who have completed at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical work experience as a family nurse practitioner. In addition, graduate-level courses in physiology, health assessment and pharmacology must be completed to sit for the ANCC certification exam and, ultimately, become a family nurse practitioner.
Most nurse practitioner education programs have similar admissions requirements, and a family nurse practitioner education program is no exception. The basic criteria for admission are a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), a valid RN license and two years of work experience. University requirements for grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores will vary by institution, but generally a 3.0 GPA is desired in order to be a competitive applicant. Graduates of an accredited family nurse practitioner education program will earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and be eligible to sit for the national certification exam.
RNs interested in becoming a family nurse practitioner should plan on committing two years of full-time study, which will include up to 60 credit hours of classes and 600 hours of clinical practicum, depending on the program of choice. Part-time study options are generally available, but not all universities will offer the same type of flexibility. Students who plan to work while completing a family nurse practitioner education program should research all options available, as some universities offer online classes and others may offer only on-campus classes with a full-time schedule. As for the clinical requirement, some universities may arrange the clinicals for students, while other universities will not.
The curriculum for a family nurse practitioner education program should include family nursing theory and intervention, primary care concepts, primary health care practice, management of illness (acute and chronic), fundamentals of research, socio-cultural issues and leadership skills. The ANCC requires that students satisfy three specific core course requirements:
- Advanced pharmacology,
- Advanced health assessment
- Advanced physiology/pathophysiology
These three courses are generally standard in any nurse practitioner education program. Content in health promotion and differential diagnosis and disease management is also required.
The family nurse practitioner education program can be completed in two years. For those who hold a master’s degree, the degree may be completed with fewer classroom hours plus the required practicum. Applicants should check with the individual institution(s) about their requirements.
Online Family Nurse Practitioner Programs
For working registered nurses who do not want to put their career on pause or uproot their lives to attend a far away on-campus program, online family nurse practitioner programs can be both a flexible and high-quality option. When looking for an online FNP program, make sure that it has interactive features, such as live classes, and excellent placement services that will help you get the most out of your education. Some universities offer online programs that are identical to their on-campus programs, allowing students to earn a degree from a university they know and whose reputation they trust without having to move. FNP online programs are growing in popularity and are a great way to become a family nurse practitioner.
Family Nurse Practitioner Certification
There are two accredited certifying agencies where you can get an FNP certification: