Do you want to take the next step in your nursing career? If you want to expand the scope of your practice and provide care for children and adults, think about becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). The FNP fills the need for more accessible health care for families, especially in underserved communities that lack family physicians and practices. In fact, a growing number of states allow FNPs to work independently.
Family Nurse Practitioners, also referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), coordinate care for patients throughout the lifespan. Compared with other APRN specialties that focus on specific populations (e.g., adults) or care models (e.g., nurse-midwifery), the FNP delivers a wide range of family-focused health care services for men, women and children. FNPs emphasize wellness and prevention, but are also able to provide treatment for everything from mild ailments to acute conditions affecting any member of the family.
As far as the general, day-to-day duties go, the FNP role looks similar to other APRNs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), APRNs typically perform the following tasks:
- Perform physical exams and observe patients
- Create patient care plans or contribute to existing plans
- Perform and order diagnostic tests
- Diagnose health problems
- Evaluate a patient’s response to medicines and treatments
- Educate patients on how to stay healthy or manage their illnesses/injuries
Family Nurse Practitioners are also allowed to prescribe medication in every state and in the District of Columbia, further blurring the lines between FNPs and family doctors. In fact, the Veterans Affairs’ Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) found evidence to justify the position that independent APRNS provide the same quality of care as medical doctors.
What sets FNPs apart from other health care providers? According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), it’s their unique emphasis on the health and well-being of the person: “With a focus on health promotion, disease prevention and health education and counseling, NPs guide patients in making smarter health and lifestyle choices, which in turn can lower patients’ out-of-pocket costs.”
Pursue a graduate nursing degree
The first thing you’ll need to do—assuming you’re already working as a Registered Nurse—is to get your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). You can earn a general MSN or a specialized MSN with an emphasis on family nursing practice. Online FNP programs usually take between 18 months and two years to complete. If you don’t yet have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, look for an online RN to MSN bridge program that allows RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to earn their master’s.
Earn Family Nurse Practitioner certification and/or license
After completing all requisite coursework and being awarded the Master of Science in Nursing, the next step is to get your board certification in family practice. There are two common national Family Nurse Practitioner certifications offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
What’s the difference between AANP and ANCC FNP certification? Compared to the AANP exam, the ANCC is more focused on professional issues like health care policy and ethics. Other than that, both certifications will allow you to practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
You may also need to apply for an Advanced Practice License through your state’s board of nursing. Nurse practice laws, regulations and licensure requirement are specific to each state. Refer to the AANP’s interactive state practice map to see license requirements where you live or work.
Maintain FNP certification and/or license
You will be required to maintain certification and/or state licensure as long as you wish to practice. The ANCC and AANP FNP certifications are valid for five years. State licenses have varying durations, so be sure to check with your state’s nursing board to plan for recertification in the future.
The FNP is the most popular advanced nursing practice specialization. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), 62 percent of NPs are Family Nurse Practitioners. However, depending on your practice interests, you may consider other APRN specializations, such as:
Online FNP Degree Programs
Learn more about online FNP programs, including curriculum and admission requirements.