What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

7 Min Read Published July 21, 2023
what does a family nurse practitioner do?

If you're wondering what exactly a family nurse practitioner (FNP) is and what they do, you’re not alone! In a nutshell, FNPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide primary care services to people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. But what does a family nurse practitioner do?

FNPs use their advanced nursing education and training to assess, diagnose, prescribe, and treat various medical conditions. They focus not only on treating illnesses and diseases but also on promoting wellness and preventive care. 

In this post, we’ll describe FNP roles and responsibilities, their scope of practice, and where they work. You’ll also get a sneak peek at what a typical day looks like for an FNP, including some pros and cons of this type of nursing work.

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

Family nurse practitioners have a wide variety of skills and work with patients of all ages, performing many different healthcare functions. So we’ve grouped family nurse practitioner duties and responsibilities into six categories to help you understand what they do.

1. Manage Care of Patients Across their Lifespans

One of the primary FNP duties is managing care for patients of all ages, including infants, teens, and older adults. They provide comprehensive and holistic healthcare services, serving as primary care providers for individuals and families.

FNPs also coordinate patient care with other healthcare professionals, specialists, and community resources to ensure a holistic and coordinated approach to treatment and ongoing support.

2. Perform Health Assessments

Another critical responsibility of FNPs is to conduct health assessments. They use their advanced knowledge and clinical expertise to gather health information, evaluate patients' physical conditions, and assess their well-being.

FNPs collect patient information through medical history reviews, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests during health assessments. Then, they analyze this information to identify potential health issues and detect abnormalities. They may also establish baseline measurements of vital signs, height, weight, and lab values.

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3. Order Diagnostic Tests and Analyze Results

Another FNP duty is ordering and interpreting various diagnostic tests that help them diagnose and manage acute and chronic conditions. This includes diagnostic tests such as blood and tissue sample tests, electrocardiograms (EKGs/ECGs), and radiological tests like X-rays. 

FNPs work with patients and consider their medical history, symptoms, and physical exam results to determine which tests to order.

4. Prescribe Medication

As part of their role in treating patients, FNPs can also prescribe medication. During their FNP programs and training, FNPs gain a comprehensive education in pharmacology, including drug actions, interactions, and potential side effects. 

Before prescribing any medications, FNPs must consider individual patient factors such as age, health status, allergies, and possible drug interactions.

FNPs also educate patients about their medication's purpose, dosage, administration, and potential side effects. This education empowers patients to make informed decisions about their treatment. 

Finally, they monitor the patient's response to medication, make adjustments as needed, and collaborate with other healthcare providers to ensure safe and effective medication management.

5. Develop Patient Treatment Plans 

FNPs create treatment plans for patients with acute and chronic conditions after completing assessments and identifying one or more diagnoses. They also tailor treatment plans to the unique needs of each patient. 

How FNPs Approach Treating Acute Illness

Family nurse practitioners approach treating acute illnesses using evidence-based guidelines and specialized knowledge. They will prescribe appropriate medications, recommend necessary interventions, and provide patient education for self-care management.

How FNPs Approach Treating Chronic Illness

For chronic illnesses, FNPs focus on developing long-term treatment plans. These plans include medication management, lifestyle modifications, preventive measures, and regular monitoring to optimize patients' health and quality of life. 

They also educate patients about their chronic conditions and encourage them to participate in their own care, make informed decisions, and engage in self-management strategies.

6. Educate Patients About Disease Prevention and Healthy Living

FNPs also educate patients about how to stay healthy. This includes teaching about disease prevention strategies, including vaccinations, regular screenings, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. FNPs also provide guidance on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and other healthy habits to promote well-being. 

FNPs counsel and support patients to help them understand the risks associated with certain behaviors, like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. They also assist patients in developing strategies for changing their behaviors.

By emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention, FNPs proactively work to improve the health of their patients and communities. Thus, FNPs help reduce the incidence and impact of preventable illnesses and diseases.

FNP Scope of Practice

Family nurse practitioner scope of practice varies by state. Each state has its own laws and regulations that govern nurse practitioners' practices. These laws cover which activities NPs may perform independently or with physician collaboration or supervision.

For example, some states limit the prescribing authority or settings where FNPs can practice. However, other states require FNPs to practice under physician oversight. Others still allow autonomy and independent practice, also known as full practice authority.

Some states have more restrictive practice guidelines, while others grant FNPs greater autonomy. As a result, the specific responsibilities and independence of FNPs differ depending on the state in which they practice.

Where Do FNPs Work?

You can find family nurse practitioners working in a variety of healthcare settings, including: 

  • Outpatient clinics
  • Community health centers
  • Private practices 
  • Hospitals
  • Urgent care centers
  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Academia
  • Government facilities

FNPs also play a role in occupational health settings, providing healthcare services to employees. They may collaborate with physicians, other healthcare professionals, and interdisciplinary teams to deliver comprehensive and coordinated healthcare. 

The versatility of FNPs allows them to practice in both urban and rural areas, addressing the diverse healthcare needs of different populations. FNPs also play a crucial role in improving access to primary care services due to the current physician shortage.

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A Day in the Life of a Family Nurse Practitioner

Now you know about primary FNP roles and responsibilities, but what does a family nurse practitioner do daily? A typical day for an FNP can vary greatly, depending on where they work.

Most FNPs’ days begin with reviewing patient charts, assessing medical histories, and prioritizing appointments. Throughout the day, FNPs conduct their primary duties, including:

  • Patient consultations
  • Comprehensive physical assessments
  • Acute and chronic illness diagnosements
  • Ongoing care management
  • Prescribing medications
  • Ordering/interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Patient education on disease management/prevention

In addition, FNPs collaborate with other healthcare professionals for referrals or consultations. 

They also engage in health promotion activities, conduct wellness visits, perform screenings, and advocate for healthy lifestyle choices with their patients. 

Documentation, charting, and follow-up tasks are essential to an FNP’s daily routine. Their day may also involve collaborating with interdisciplinary teams, attending meetings, and staying updated on medical research and advancements.

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Pros and Cons of Being a Family Nurse Practitioner 

Wondering what the pros and cons are of being an FNP? Glad you asked! We’ve summarized the most common benefits and drawbacks of FNP work in a table below for you.

Pros of Being an FNP

  • Broad scope of practice
  • Autonomy
  • Career growth & demand
  • Flexibility & versatility
  • Positive impact on patients
  • High salary

Cons of Being an FNP

  • High level of responsibility
  • Increased liability
  • Significant educational requirements (master’s or doctorate required)
  • Heavy workload & higher stress
  • Changing healthcare landscape
  • On-call requirements

Key Takeaways

FNPs are some of the most unrecognized superheroes in the healthcare system. They juggle multiple roles, from diagnosing and treating common ailments to providing preventive care and empowering patients to take charge of their well-being.

 By combining their nursing expertise with advanced medical knowledge, FNPs offer compassionate and competent primary care services to families and individuals in need.

Want to learn about what other types of nurse practitioners do? Check out this guide to the different nurse practitioner specialties.

Leona Werezak
Leona Werezak
Nurse.org Contributor

Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN is the Director of Business Development at NCLEX Education. She began her nursing career in a small rural hospital in northern Canada where she worked as a new staff nurse doing everything from helping deliver babies to medevacing critically ill patients. Learning much from her patients and colleagues at the bedside for 15 years, she also taught in baccalaureate nursing programs for almost 20 years as a nursing adjunct faculty member (yes! Some of those years she did both!). As a freelance writer online, she writes content for nursing schools and colleges, healthcare and medical businesses, as well as various nursing sites.

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