Family Nurse Practitioner Career and Degree Programs

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

A Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) provides comprehensive health care to adults and children of all ages throughout their lives. An FNP has a graduate level of education and clinical training in family medicine. FNPs work in a variety of settings such as clinics, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. They offer support and care consistent with advanced quality nursing to patients and families. They are able to diagnose and treat patients with a wide range of conditions.

An FNP may work to deliver family-focused care in collaboration with other healthcare professionals or work independently. The main focus is to concentrate on education, wellness, and prevention rather than just diagnosis and treatment.

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

A Family Nurse Practitioner can perform many of the tasks of a primary care physician. In the course of a single day, an FNP may see multiple patients of all ages with varying problems – a child with a fever, an elderly man with a chronic illness, a young woman who wants a routine physical and a young boy with a broken arm.

They are able to help all these patients by conducting examinations, ordering tests where necessary, prescribing medications, treating minor injuries, doing simple procedures and providing health education and counseling. However, the degree of independence with which a FNP can prescribe drugs varies by state.

The scope of responsibilities does depend on the state in which they practice and their specialization. With the shortage of physicians, FNPs are becoming a more important part of the healthcare delivery model.

A child with a fever, rash on the abdomen and a sore throat will be treated by taking a history, making an examination and taking the temperature.  A strep test will usually need to be performed, and if this comes back positive, the FNP will prescribe an antibiotic for the patient.

At the other range of the spectrum, an FNP may see an elderly male patient for management of diabetes and high blood pressure. His blood sugar will be tested, and blood pressure will be taken to ensure they are under control. His medication may be adjusted if necessary.

A routine physical checkup of a young woman in her thirties may include a GYN and breast examination. Her cholesterol and blood sugar levels will be checked and blood pressure taken. She will be weighed and given advice on some dietary and lifestyle changes, if necessary. Other blood tests may be taken if necessary and more birth control tablets may be prescribed.

An important part of the role of FNPs is that they are able to provide preventative health services including regular check-ups, counseling on important health topics such as smoking and obesity, cancer screenings such as mammograms and routine screenings for blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.   Education is very important in the battle against preventable disease and is an important part of the role of an FNP.

Why Do We Need Family Nurse Practitioners?

Family Nurse Practitioners are able to provide comprehensive, high-quality health care for patients, families, and communities. Patients have been found to need fewer hospitalizations, visits to the ER and re-admissions to the hospital when under the care of an FNP.  FNPs work with patients throughout their lives and come to know them really well. They earn their trust and able to work with them to promote better health.  Patients experience a higher level of satisfaction because of this.

FNPs can help provide preventative care to those who need it most – communities where health education and advocacy is needed and can make a difference. The supply of physicians is not meeting the demand for services as people are growing older and living longer. FNPs can provide a cost-effective alternative to physicians as it costs less to educate them. They are likely to play an invaluable role in the future of healthcare as their role continues to evolve.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Bachelor’s Degree

The first step towards becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner is to graduate from high school with good marks in classes such as chemistry, biology, anatomy, and psychology. It is also advisable to volunteer at health clinics or local hospitals to gain experience and references for application to nursing school.

The next step is to do a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a related degree which takes four years. There are a number of paths to becoming an FNP, but one of the most common is to do a BSN as this fulfills many of the prerequisites for graduate FNP degrees.

A BSN program gives hands-on clinical instruction and classes in subjects such as physiology, anatomy, pharmacology and patient health assessment. An undergraduate program should be accredited by a recognized body such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

To become a registered nurse (RN) candidates have to pass an examination (NCLEX-RN) and there may be additional state nursing board requirements to earn and keep state licensure. Once you become a registered nurse (RN) it is crucial to gain some experience prior to enrolling in a graduate program.

Graduate Degree

RNs who want to become FNPs should count on about two years of further full-time study. This may include up to 60 credit hours of classes and 600 clinical hours, depending on the program chosen. There are various options for a graduate program such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The basic criteria for admission to such a program are a valid RN license, a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and two years of work experience.  The programs generally take one to three years to complete, depending on previous education and the school attended.

Once enrolled in such a program, students take classes and do clinical hours in a supervised setting such as a clinic, hospital and another healthcare environment. The coursework usually emphasizes learning advanced clinical skills such as conducting physical examinations, assessments, making diagnoses and determining treatment.

The emphasis is to foster the ability to think critically and use evidence-based findings to improve healthcare and be accountable for the provision of healthcare to diverse individuals and families in primary care, disease prevention, health promotion and management of acute and chronic health conditions. They are able to utilize current technologies to deliver, enhance and document care across multiple settings to achieve the best results.

The clinical component usually involves about 600 clinical hours related to the family nurse practitioner role and population. More than 500 clinical hours are required for certification. The programs are designed to prepare students to become providers of family-oriented primary care. They are also prepared to sit for the national certification exam.

Licensure and Certification

In nearly all states, national certification is the first of several requirements to obtain a license as an FNP. One important thing to note here is that not all states recognize the same national certifying bodies. To find out which national certifying bodies are recognized, candidates should confirm with their state’s Nursing Board beforehand. State licenses last for varying periods and need to be renewed.

Graduates of accredited graduate programs are eligible to take family nurse practitioner board certification exams. As mentioned above, earning one of these professional credentials is often a requirement for state licensing. Candidates must have a RN license that’s valid and at least 500 hours of clinical practice if they want to qualify for certification.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC), and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners offers the FNP certification. The certification lasts for five years and to maintain these applicants have to complete approved continuing educational training or fulfill certain clinical practice hours. They also have to maintain their RN license.

What Do You Learn in a Family Nurse Practitioner Degree Program?

In a typical family nursing practitioner degree program student learning will likely include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Anatomy and Physiology: Family Nurse Practitioners often work without doctor supervision, so need a much more in-depth understanding of the body and how it works.
  • Pharmacology: Family Nurse Practitioners prescribe medications and other treatments, so they need a deep, theoretical and practical understanding of pharmacology.
  • Health Promotion and Disease Prevention: Unlike doctors, who usually see their patients only when they’re sick, FNPs need a deeper understanding of health promotion because they work with patients throughout their lives to help them maintain their health and prevent disease.
  • Research Application: Family nursing professionals have more freedom in how they operate and what they recommend for patients than nurses who work in hospitals. Which is why they need to stay up to date on the latest health research and what it could mean for their patients.
  • Nursing Ethics: This can be a controversial field sometimes, and Family Nurse Practitioners must be aware at all times of the ethics of their position and their actions.
  • Primary Care for Children and Adolescents: FNSs specialize in whole family care, which means they need to understand the theoretical frameworks and practical nursing principles that are applicable to the whole family.
  • Pediatrics: Family Nurse Practitioners usually work with very young children and need an understanding of this field.
  • Healthcare Statistics: Family nursing professionals often perform or participate in medical studies and also use medical studies in their practice to prescribe and treat their patients.
  • Advanced Assessment and Diagnosis: Unlike most nurses, Family Nurse Practitioners assume many doctor duties including diagnosing and prescribing patient treatments. This means they need a good understanding of the processes and problems inherent in diagnosing disease and illness.

What are the Advantages of an Online Family Nurse Practitioner Program?

If you want to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you need to complete an advanced degree program. These programs can now be completed online, which offers a number of benefits. These benefits include:

  • Study from anywhere: Choosing the right degree program often means having to commute or move. But when you study online, you have access to schools all across the country.
  • Study at your pace: When you study online, you can choose how many subjects you do and complete the degree at your own pace.
  • Flexible class times: Usually degree programs are held during working hours, which is difficult if you need to work. But when you study online, you can watch recorded lectures at a time that suits you.
  • Lower costs: Online programs usually have cheaper tuition fees, which means they won’t be as much of a strain on your budget.
  • High quality courses: Online schools are becoming normal these days, which means that you can expect top quality education, equivalent to what you would get in a traditional degree program.
  • You can still work: Because online degree programs are more flexible, you can keep working and actually keep paying for the education.
  • Teaches discipline: When you’re doing an online degree program, you don’t have other people around you with the same goal. This means you have to learn to motivate and discipline yourself to succeed.
  • Autonomous learning: You have complete control over your learning. This teaches you how to self-teach and work autonomously, which can be a great benefit in your career as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

What are the Advantages of Being a Family Nurse Practitioner?

The advantages of being a Family Nurse Practitioner are:

  • High demand: Family Nurse Practitioners are in high demand and will probably remain that way. No matter what the economy does, people still need health professionals and there aren’t enough doctors.
  • Good pay rate: Family Nurse Practitioners are highly skilled people who are well compensated for their work.
  • Flexible environments: FNPs work in a wide variety of environments. They can find positions in a range of industries, in large cities or rural areas, and they can work during the day or at night. This makes this career path far more flexible than traditional 9-5 jobs.
  • Wide range of specialties: No matter what part of medicine you’re interested in, when you’re in family nursing, you’ll find a specialty that will allow you to indulge that interest.
  • High levels of professional respect: Nursing is a hard job and everyone knows that. Which is why nurses are one of the most respected professions.
  • The push to grow: As a Family Nurse Practitioner, you can’t afford to let your skills stagnate. You need to be dedicated to professional growth to be good at this job, which means dedicating yourself to lifelong learning.
  • Constant change: Many jobs can get boring or monotonous, but as a Family Nurse Practitioner you’ll be constantly surprised by the situations in which you find yourself, and the endless variety of life that you see.
  • It’s rewarding: No matter how hard your job is, you know that you’re helping people and making their lives better. And that’s incredibly rewarding.

What Skills are Needed to Be a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Family Nurse Practitioners need a variety of hard and soft skills to be successful in their career and to help them connect with their patients so they can do their job properly. Some of the skills need are as follows:

Communication Skills

Family Nurse Practitioners need to be able to communicate with patients with a variety of physical, mental and emotional limitations and issues, as well as other health staff. So they need the ability to speak and write clearly, accurately and well.

Clinical Skills

Family Nurse Practitioners need a range of clinical skills as well as the ability to learn more when necessary.

Listening Skills

This is connected to their ability to communicate. FNPs need to be able to listen to their patients so they can connect with them and get the information they need to make accurate diagnoses and prescribe the right treatments.

Time Management

Family Nurse Practitioners work on their own, without set schedules or guidelines, so they must be able to govern their own time so everything gets done.

Attention to Detail

Family Nurse Practitioners quite literally hold people’s lives in their hands, and a mistake can cost a life, so they need to be naturally focused on the details.

Manual Dexterity

FNPs need to perform a range of medical procedures and tests on their patients which require a high degree of manual dexterity.

Critical Thinking

Family Nurse Practitioners need to make life changing decisions and choices every day, and their critical thinking skills must be excellent to ensure they can do this well.

Good Decision Making Skills

The decisions of a family nursing professionals affect lives. They need to be able to make good decisions quickly and under pressure, and to deal with the consequences of those decisions even when they’re bad.

Where Can a Family Nurse Practitioner Work?

Family Nurse Practitioners work with patients throughout their lives, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing treatment either on conjunction with a physician or on their own. They have a strong focus on disease prevention, so they tend to be more health focused than doctors, who usually focus on disease and treatment.

Family Nurse Practitioners are usually found in physician’s offices, where they have their own patients and also assist the doctor or act as a go-between when required. They can also be found in private practice, where they work on their own to assist individuals and families with their health and medical needs. And finally, they can be found in hospices, helping patients to manage their condition and achieve the best outcome possible. They may also work with terminally ill patients, helping them to maximize their quality of life.

How Much Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Earn?

Family nursing is one of the most common nursing specialties and the demand for this job means that the wages are quite good. Their average salary, as of May 2017, is around $107,480 per year, with an hourly mean of $51.68, but there is a wide variation on these figures between states and between industries. FNPs who fall in top 10% earn over $145,000.

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