A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who focuses their specialty training on the care of patients of all ages, from infants to adults to seniors.
The FNP role specialty is highly desirable among nurse practitioners (NPs) as it’s one of the most rewarding careers in healthcare. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that there are more than 355,000 licensed NPs in the United States and more than 70% of them specialize in family healthcare1.
If you have an interest in pursuing a degree to become an FNP, continue reading to discover everything you should know about the FNP role, salary prospects, career outlook and the steps required to become one.
NP vs. FNP: The Difference
While all FNPs are NPs, not all NPs are FNPs. FNPs have specialized training and expertise in family practice, whereas other NPs may specialize in different areas of healthcare.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who have earned at least a master’s degree to advance the scope of their knowledge and practice.
During their master’s-level coursework, all nurses choose a role specialty, such as family nurse practitioner, pediatrics, adult gerontology, women’s health or psychiatric mental health, among others.
What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?
Family nurse practitioners work with patients of all ages in various healthcare settings, such as hospital outpatient clinics, private physician practices and private group practices. They play a crucial role in delivering primary care services to patients, often serving as the primary healthcare provider for many individuals and families.
Though exact tasks vary by state, family nurse practitioners juggle a broad spectrum of job responsibilities, including:
- Conducting physical exams
- Prescribing medications
- Ordering and performing screening and diagnostic medical tests
- Updating patient records
- Developing treatment plans
- Educating patients about healthy living and disease prevention
- Treating any health issues that qualify as primary care
Scope of Practice
Even as a specialized NP, the scope of practice varies depending on the state. According to the AANP, NPs in all 50 states are authorized to diagnose, order tests, prescribe medications and create treatment plans2.
However, only 28 states grant NPs (including FNPs) “full practice authority,” which allows them to practice independently without physician oversight. In the remaining states, NPs are obligated to practice in collaboration with or under the supervision of a physician.
Work With Patients From Infancy Through Adulthood // FNP Role
With a potential patient pool that ranges from babies and children to teens, adults and seniors, the daily workload of an FNP can vary greatly, depending on the needs of each patient.
It’s not uncommon for an FNP to begin seeing a patient during their childhood and continue as their medical provider into their adulthood. This creates an opportunity for the FNP to track the patient’s health and well-being and build a relationship over time—likely more effectively than they could in other nursing scenarios.
Average FNP Salary and Career Outlook
The career outlook for nurse practitioners is promising. In fact, the profession is projected to experience a 46% growth rate between 2021 and 2031, positioning it to be the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. over the next decade4,5.
How To Become an FNP
To pursue a career as an FNP, you must earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam, earn a graduate nursing degree and then pass the national FNP certification exam6. See below for more detail on the steps needed to become a certified family nurse practitioner.
1. Earn a BSN
The first step to becoming an FNP is to earn a BSN at an accredited college or university. This degree provides you with a solid foundation in nursing knowledge and skills.
Some RNs earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), but a BSN is preferable as many graduate nursing programs require it for entry—and to become an FNP, you’ll need to earn a graduate nursing degree.
2. Get your Registered Nurse License
After completing your BSN, you need to pass the NCLEX to become a licensed registered nurse. You should check the requirements of the nursing board in the state where you plan to practice, as licensing requirements can vary.
While working as an RN, you’ll gain valuable experience in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, clinic or other healthcare facility. This experience helps develop your nursing skills and will give you exposure to various patient populations, which will be helpful for when you apply to a graduate program.
3. Earn a Graduate Nursing Degree
To become an FNP, you’ll need to pursue an advanced nursing degree with a specialization in family practice, such as:
- Master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP)
- Doctor of Nursing Practice–Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP-FNP)
The MSN or DNP programs typically take two to four years to complete.
4. Complete the National FNP Certification Process
After completing your graduate program, you must pass the national FNP certification exam, which will test your knowledge of family medicine, including conditions, treatments, medications and more.
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)8
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Certification Program9
Additional optional certifications are available for FNPs who want to further specialize in areas such as diabetes or pain or obesity management.
Ready To Pursue a Career as an FNP?
FNPs play a vital role in delivering comprehensive healthcare to individuals and families. With their broad scope of practice and the increasing demand for nurse practitioners, FNPs have excellent career prospects.
If you’re passionate about making a difference in people’s lives and aspire to become an FNP, consider exploring the various graduate nursing programs offered by USAHS, where you’ll learn from expert clinicians and educators within a supportive community of like-minded nursing students.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers one online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with five popular role specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner–Primary Care (PMHNP-PC), Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), Nurse Educator and Nurse Executive. The nurse practitioner specialties feature a required on-campus clinical intensive, whereas all specialties feature optional on-campus immersions. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Take your nursing degree to the next level of specialty practice.
The RN-MSN (FNP, PMHNP-PC, and AGNP) degree program is designed specifically for registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing and an active unencumbered RN license. The program strengthens the leadership abilities of nurses who have foundational professional experience. Students enrolled in this degree path complete four bridge courses before proceeding to the role specialty courses to achieve a Master of Science in Nursing with a chosen nursing role specialty. The initial four bridge courses within the RN-MSN program focus on concepts applicable to the acute and primary care settings, such as team-based care delivery, quality and safety, leadership, and ethics, which provide the foundation for the advanced practice role specialty tracks.
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- AANP “NP Fact Sheet,” AANP, last modified November 2022, https://www.aanp.org/about/all-about-nps/np-fact-sheet
- AANP, “State Practice Environment,” AANP, last modified October 2022, https://www.aanp.org/advocacy/state/state-practice-environment
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022, Nurse Practitioners,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified April 2023, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm#nat
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Projections, Nurse Practitioners,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://data.bls.gov/projections/nationalMatrix?queryParams=29-1171&ioType=o
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Fastest Growing Occupations” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified September 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm
- AANP, “The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP),” AANP, last modified November 2020, https://www.aanp.org/news-feed/explore-the-variety-of-career-paths-for-nurse-practitioners
- AANP “Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certification,” AANP, https://www.aanp.org/student-resources-old/np-certification
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, AANPCERT, last modified 2023, https://www.aanpcert.org/
- American Nurses Credentialing Center, “Our Certifications,” NursingWorld, https://www.nursingworld.org/our-certifications/
- AANP, “Practice Information by State,” AANP, https://www.aanp.org/practice/practice-information-by-state