Your guide to becoming a family nurse practitioner

With spring in the air, now is the perfect time to begin thinking about all of those self-development projects that you’ve been meaning to put into action this year.

Perhaps they’re new year’s resolutions that fell by the wayside, or maybe they’re brand new goals. Whether you want to learn a new language, take up an artistic new hobby, or improve your technical skills, it’s never too late to get started. 

For many people, the part of their lives that they want to focus on developing is their careers, and if you’re currently employed as a nurse then training to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) could be the perfect option for you. Working as an FNP enables you to enjoy higher levels of job security and financial stability, as well as having more independence and responsibility in your career. On top of that, it also allows you to use the enhanced skills and knowledge you gain from studying for the role to provide more comprehensive care for your patients and have even more of a positive impact on your local community.

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of what the position of an FNP involves, as well as going into more detail about the benefits of working as one. We’ll also outline the steps you need to take in order to become a family nurse practitioner, what studying for the relevant qualification is like, and what it takes to truly excel in the role.

What is an family nurse practitioner?

An FNP is a highly trained, specialist nurse who has completed an advanced level of study in the field. They work with patients of all ages and in numerous different health settings, including hospitals, schools, physicians’ offices, clinics, care facilities, and even a patient’s own home. An FNP provides a wide range of primary healthcare services, and also focuses strongly on educating people about health and promoting good health habits in their patients.

As you can imagine, the role of an FNP is very varied, and goes far beyond the duties that you’ll undertake as a Registered Nurse (RN). While they do work in conjunction with other healthcare professionals such as physicians, an FNP has a much higher level of autonomy than an RN and also greater responsibilities. 

The exact tasks that you will perform as an family nurse practitioner will depend on the healthcare setting in which you work and the type of patients that you see, as well as the state in which you are licensed. However, the following list gives you a good idea of the sort of duties you will be expected to fulfill:

  • Ordering or conducting diagnostic screenings and tests
  • Conducting routine physical examinations of patients
  • Taking patients’ medical histories
  • Diagnosing health conditions and illnesses
  • Developing treatment plans for both acute and chronic diseases and health conditions
  • Administering medication to patients
  • Prescribing medication to patients
  • Updating and maintaining patient records
  • Monitoring chronic health conditions, for example diabetes
  • Educating patients on disease prevention and how to live a healthy lifestyle, for instance through diet and exercise
  • Assisting other healthcare professionals with minor medical procedures
  • Referring patients to specialists where necessary
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals and perhaps even supervising a healthcare team yourself

As an FNP, you may also have the opportunity to specialize in an area of healthcare that you are most interested in, for example women’s health, oncology, emergency care, pediatrics, or mental health. This enables you to tailor your job role to suit you. Many also choose to work specifically with underserved communities, which makes this a perfect career track for those who want to make a meaningful difference in the world.

What are the benefits of working as a family nurse practitioner?

You can expect to enjoy a whole wealth of benefits if you make the choice to train as a family nurse practitioner. Firstly, there’s the additional job satisfaction and career fulfillment to be gained as a result of having greater independence and responsibility.

Studies have shown that autonomy at work has a positive impact on our wellbeing, and becoming an FNP is an effective way to boost yours. At the same time, you’ll still get to work directly with your patients and maintain close connections with those in your care. As an FNP, you’ll often find yourself building meaningful relationships with your patients, treating the same people across their lifespan and working with entire families.

On a more practical level, becoming an FNP gives you the chance to benefit from higher levels of employability, an increased salary, and better job security. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $117,670 in 2020. On top of this, job prospects are projected to grow by a huge 45% between 2019 and 2029. All of which means that the outlook for those who get qualified as an FNP qualification is very positive.

Thinking even further ahead, becoming a family nurse practitioner is also a fantastic foundation for moving into even higher job roles in the future. This is because you’ll be eligible for further courses and qualifications, as well as being better positioned to apply for leadership and management positions in the nursing sphere. There are also options to move into academia or health policy if that interests you.

Finally, by studying for the relevant qualification and then working as an FNP you’ll significantly improve your nursing knowledge and clinical skills. This in turn will make you much better at your job. In addition to that, you will also develop a wide range of transferable skills – including communication, decision making, problem-solving, organization and time management – which will all prove useful no matter what career you progress to.

How do I become a family nurse practitioner

In order to become an FNP there are certain steps you must take, which will vary depending on exactly where you are in your career and what qualifications and experience you currently have. That means that some of the stages below might not apply to you, because you’ve already achieved them. However, starting right at the beginning, this is a common pathway:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN)
  • Become licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Gain some clinical experience 
  • Complete either a master of science in nursing degree (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP)
  • Become certified and licensed as an FNP
  • Apply for FNP job roles

Family nurse practitioners are required to have graduate-level training, which means you must do either an MSN or a DNP degree. The DNP is a doctoral-level qualification, meaning that it is more advanced than the MSN. As such, taking the DNP will give you a greater competitive edge if you are interested in progressing to executive roles later in your career.

Having said that, it is a longer and more academically demanding program and, therefore, you should think carefully about whether you want to make this large of a commitment before enrolling. Of course, you always have the option to take a DNP at a later date after completing an MSN, so don’t stress too much about the choice!

What is studying for a family nurse practitioner course like?

Regardless of whether you opt for a master’s degree in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice, your studies will involve a mixture of academic coursework and clinical placement hours. You’ll complete a selection of modules on relevant topics, which means attending lectures and seminars, doing reading, undertaking written assignments, and so on. 

The exact courses that you take will vary depending on which college you attend and the specialism you choose, however, you can expect something like the following list to be available:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Practice Care of Adults Across the Lifespan
  • Care of Women
  • Care of Family
  • Care of Children
  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Policy and Advocacy for Improving Population Health
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Essentials of Evidence Based Practice
  • Advanced Nurse Practice in Reproductive Healthcare
  • Ethical Decision Making in Healthcare
  • Research Methods and Biostatistics
  • Quality and Safety in Healthcare

Some modules will be compulsory, whereas others will be choices available to you from a longer list of electives. This gives you some room to pick a curriculum that is closely aligned with your personal interests.

When it comes to clinical hours, your college will assist you with finding suitable facilities in which to undertake your placements. Typically, you will complete 700 clinical hours for an MSN course and over 1,000 for a DNP course. Again you have an element of choice over where you complete these hours, meaning you can match your placement to your future career goals and gain plenty of relevant experience.

Finally, you will most likely also have to complete an independent project towards the end of your course. This will be a chance to conduct some in-depth research on an issue that you are particularly interested in, bringing together everything that you’ve learned so far and demonstrating your mastery of the subject.

These days both MSN and DNP programs are available as part-time and distance learning courses, meaning that there’s no need for you to quit your job in order to return to study. If you choose an online program, then the modules you take will all be administered virtually, but the clinical hours will still be completed in-person at a location near to where you live.

This can be a great option for those looking for flexibility in their studies, as it enables you to fit college around your existing life commitments. Not only that but it can also be a cheaper option while still being just as highly regarded by employers, so is definitely worth considering.

What skills and characteristics do I need to be a good FNP? 

As you almost certainly already know, being a good nurse at any level is about more than just clinical skills and medical knowledge. In order to be an excellent FNP, there are also certain soft skills and personality traits that you’ll need to develop. If you’re already working as a nurse, then you probably already have most of these, but here’s an overview to give you a clearer idea of what’s required.

Family nurse practitioners work with a very wide range of people, helping patients of all ages, backgrounds and states of health. That means that having strong communication skills is critical.

You’ll need to be able to explain potentially complicated ideas and medical concepts to people who might have no background knowledge of the subject. This is because a large part of the job is educating your patients on the best way to manage their existing health conditions, prevent disease, and generally live a healthy lifestyle. 

The role of FNP is an advanced one, which means you’ll have a greater level of autonomy and responsibility. To cope with this, having excellent organizational skills is important, as well as the ability to solve problems and make decisions quickly and effectively. Attention to detail is also critical, as you’ll be dealing with complex patient notes, precise dosages of medication, and other tricky tasks.

Likewise, a good FNP should always be looking to improve and develop their skills. Whether it’s through completing professional development courses or learning how to use new tools and technologies, it’s important to keep on top of the advancements that are made in your field.

FNPs often work alongside other healthcare providers, so being a good team player will help in that respect. It’s also important to be flexible and adaptable, because you may well have to respond to emergency situations or other unexpected problems that arise. In line with this, you will additionally need the emotional resilience not to let difficult or upsettingcases impact your own mental health and wellbeing.

Finally, just like with all nursing jobs, as an family nurse practitioner you must be compassionate and empathetic. This is what allows you to build meaningful connections with your patients and help them to the very best of your ability. By always exhibiting kindness, integrity, respect and a positive attitude, those in your care will feel confident that they can trust you.