Family Nurse Practitioner Career Guide


    Family nurse practitioner taking notes on computer with mother and daughter in background

    Nurses who are eager to move on to an advanced degree and treat the full range of patient populations, from infants to the elderly, are ideal candidates to become Family Nurse Practitioners. Family Nurse Practitioners, or FNPs, operate with autonomy and independence, earn significantly higher incomes, and enjoy high levels of job satisfaction and respect from other health professionals and the community at large.

    Part One What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

    Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are registered nurses with specialized graduate educations who provide primary health care services to people of all ages. FNPs perform physical exams, order diagnostic tests and procedures, diagnose and treat illness, prescribe needed medications, and teach their patients how to develop healthy lifestyles to promote health and prevent disease.

    Family nurse practitioners fill a crucial role in the health care system and care for people of diverse ages and backgrounds – often the underserved.

    FNPs provide services for individuals and families throughout the lifespan. This can be especially rewarding for those who enjoy developing long-term relationships and getting to know people over time. FNPs can have rewarding careers professionally, personally, and financially. 

    Part Two Family Nurse Practitioner Salary

    Advanced practice nurses command higher salaries than registered nurses, and this holds true for family nurse practitioners. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for Family Nurse Practitioners is $105,898. 

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2019, the median annual income for nurse practitioners was $115,800 per year, with the lower 10% of NPs earning $81,410 or less and the upper 10% of NPs earning $152,160 or more.

    As with any employment situation, FNPs should think about many factors when looking at any job offer, such as local cost of living and total benefits package (health and dental insurance, retirement benefits, educational benefits, and others). Search for positions in the location where you want to work to find out more about the specific FNP salary ranges in your area.

    Nurse practitioners who wish to set up a private practice will need to evaluate the local market, obtain professional advice from their accountant and legal professional, and create a solid business plan. Savvy FNPs with a solid business plan can develop a lucrative private practice.

    The BLS reports that in 2019 the highest paying states for nurse practitioners were:

    • California: $138,660
    • Washington: $126,920
    • Hawaii: $124,000
    • New Jersey: $123,810
    • Minnesota: $122,850

    The BLS also reported that the top five metropolitan areas for nurse practitioner pay were:

    • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $175,060
    • Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA: $160,110
    • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $157,150
    • Longview, WA: $150,520
    • Sumter, SC: $147,210

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    Part Three How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

    Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner requires a commitment of time and resources, taking 8 to 10 years for many nurses, but it is an investment in your future that will reward you in many different ways. Though the path to becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner can vary depending upon whether you choose to pursue your degree full time or part-time, in person or online, for most people the journey will follow these steps:

    1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing or your Master’s Degree – 4-5 years
    2. Get licensed as a Registered Nurse 
    3. Gain invaluable experience working as a Registered Nurse – 2-3 years
    4. Obtain your Master’s Degree in Nursing – 2 years
    5. Take the certification exam to become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)

    STEP ONE: Become an RN

    In order to become a nurse, your first step is to pursue a four-year college or university program accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) or the National League for Nursing (NLN). Though some nurses earn their degrees in other disciplines and some choose to become a nurse by earning a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing, the nursing profession is steadily moving towards a goal of having 80% of Registered Nurses BSN degreed by 2020. For more information on becoming an RN, see our RN Career Guide. And for more information on getting your BSN, check out our BSN degree guide.

    STEP TWO: Get Licensed as a Registered Nurse

    In order to get your license as a Registered Nurse, you need to pass the RN licensing exam known as the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The NCLEX is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States and Canada.

    STEP THREE: Begin Working as a Registered Nurse

    Upon becoming licensed, most nurses work for a few years, gaining valuable experience in providing care for patients. For those interested in becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner, this is the time where you can gain exposure to a diverse range of patients, and can focus on becoming familiar with cradle-to-grave care.

    STEP FOUR: Obtain Your Master’s Degree in Nursing

    Master’s degree programs are available through accredited colleges and universities. Most offer both full-time and part-time programs, and many offer the option of taking classes in traditional campus settings or online. Programs that prepare you for the FNP role will include courses in:

    • Family nursing theory/intervention
    • Managing acute, episodic, and chronic illness
    • Research
    • Primary health care concerns 
    • Leadership

    Programs will include both classroom didactic learning and hands-on patient clinical learning.

    STEP FIVE: Become Certified in Family Practice

    In order to become a certified Family Nurse Practitioner, you need to become certified by earning either your FNP-C or FNP-BC certification. Your state board of nursing may have a preference, so it is a good idea to check with them beforehand.

    FNP certification exams are conducted online. No matter which you take, you must have:

    • A current, active RN license in a state or territory of the U.S. or the equivalent in another country
    • A Master’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree from a family nurse practitioner program accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
    • At least 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours and completion of comprehensive graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/ pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology

    Recertification is required every five years. You are also required to maintain an active registered nurse license with your state board of nursing according to its requirements for practice and continuing education. Our Continuing Education Guide can provide information regarding each state’s requirements for renewing RN licensure. 

    Regarding recertification, your certifying organization has specific requirements for renewal, so be sure you’re on top of those, as well as prepared to pay any fees. Both the AANC and AANP require a certain number of clinical practice hours and CE credits. Become familiar with these requirements well before your recertification is due.

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    Part Four Top Family Nurse Practitioner Programs

    Choosing a master's program is a big decision. Make sure that any school you consider is accredited by the AACN or the NLN. For a listing of programs nationally, check the listing provided on the APNA website, searchable by state.

    If you’re searching for top-ranked nursing master's programs, check out the U.S. News & World Report listings. In 2019, top graduate programs in family practice nursing were:

    1. Duke University (Durham, NC)
    2. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
    3. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
    4. Rush University (Chicago, IL)
    5. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)

    Keep in mind that there are many accredited schools of nursing that can help you meet your career goals to become a family nurse practitioner.

    Part Five FNP Role: What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

    Being a Family Nurse Practitioner is all about delivering family-focused care. That means that their work will include patients from infants to the elderly and every age in between. The healthcare services that an FNP provides are multifaceted and always patient-facing. In addition to treating illness and injuries, it also offers the opportunity to teach people how to live healthy lives and how to prevent disease. FNPs are frequently the primary care provider for families, which means that they will not only diagnose conditions, but also treat them. 

    As an FNP your duties may include: 

    • Assessment and diagnosis of health conditions
    • Conducting routine physicals
    • Developing and carrying out treatment plans for acute and chronic illnesses
    • Providing primary health care with an emphasis on preventative care
    • Prescribing medications and other therapies
    • Ordering and interpreting lab and other diagnostic tests
    • Assisting in minor surgeries
    • Making appropriate referrals when needed

    FNPs must be able to work independently as well as able to collaborate with others on the healthcare team. Having strong communication skills and an empathetic nature are also helpful characteristics.

    >>Related: How To Go From an RN to an NP

    Part Six Day in the Life of a Family Nurse Practitioner

    Because the role of a Family Nurse Practitioner is very similar to that of a primary care physician, their days closely resemble that of a typical family doctor.

    • They will generally begin their day reviewing their patient schedule, making time for emergent situations.
    • They generally see three or more patients an hour, reviewing charts beforehand and, upon meeting with patients, diagnosing conditions, conducting well-patient exams, prescribing medications and making referrals to specialists where appropriate.
    • Most will try to spend a portion of each appointment having a one-on-one conversation with their patients so that they can establish a strong rapport. This is important, as many FNPs provide care to their patients through much of their lives.

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    Part Seven Where Can a Family Nurse Practitioner Work?

    Family nurse practitioners are recognized for their ability to work both collaboratively and independently. As a result, those who have earned this advanced practice nursing degree are able to find career opportunities in a variety of settings, including:

    • Hospitals
    • Clinics
    • Private offices/private practice
    • Hospice centers
    • Nurse-managed health centers
    • School clinics
    • Home health care
    • Community health centers 

    In addition to working directly with patients to provide care, Family Nurse Practitioners are also sought out for positions in administration, in setting policy, and in education. Notably, because nurse practitioners are able to work autonomously in most states throughout the country, they have been able to fill the significant gap in care available to patients in rural areas. These areas have been severely affected by the national shortage of physicians, and Family Nurse Practitioners have stepped in to provide essential preventative care in these communities.

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    Part Eight What Are The Continuing Education Requirements For Family Nurse Practitioners?

    Clinical practice and continuing education requirements for renewing a nursing license, certification, and advanced practice certification vary by state and credentialing body. Check with your state board and credentialing agency for the rules on keeping your RN license and certification(s) up to date. You can also visit our CE Guide for details. 

    Part Nine Where Can I Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners?

    You can learn more about FNP roles by searching the web and talking with nurses currently working in the field. Also read as much as you can about the professional role, including the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (JAANP). A good start is to visit the website for the (American Association of Nurse Practitioners)[https://www.aanp.org. 

    Also, reach out to your local hospital or school of nursing to find out about any upcoming career fairs. Set up an appointment with a student advisor or career counselor at your local college or university to discuss the roles and responsibilities of an FNP. Many school websites also provide information about what it takes to become an FNP. 

    Additionally, Nurse.org is an invaluable resource. The articles listed below will provide you with answers to many of your questions about becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner:

    Part Ten What is the Career Outlook for Family Nurse Practitioners?

    The BLS predicts that nursing employment will increase at a rate of 12 percent through 2028 – much faster than the average for all jobs. With baby-boomer nurses nearing retirement, there will be a demand for new nurses to enter the profession. The growing health needs of our aging population also contribute to the need for more advanced practice nurses. Our healthcare system direly needs to improve efficiency and curb costs. Advanced practice nurses such as FNPs provide a cost-effective avenue for providing high-quality health services to more people, including underserved segments of the population.

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    Part Eleven Family Nurse Practitioner Jobs

    There are many sources to get you started in your search for family nurse practitioner positions. Check the “Careers” pages of websites for hospitals and agencies that interest you. Many online resources are also useful in job searching, including nursing social media sites, career sites, websites of professional organizations, and dedicated nursing career sites. Use your professional network to find out where the good employers are, and to talk to a seasoned entrepreneur about the potential for setting up a private practice.

    Family nurse practitioners play a vital role in improving the health and lives of patients, families, and communities. As an FNP you’ll receive daily personal rewards working in partnership with people from many walks of life as they overcome health challenges and work to stay healthy. The professional rewards will come from lifelong learning required to keep abreast of new technologies and treatments as you strive for the best possible health outcomes for your patients.

    Part Twelve Other Nurse Practitioner Specialties

    1. General Nurse Practitioner
    2. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
    3. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
    4. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    5. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
    6. Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
    7. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
    8. Emergency Nurse Practitioner
    9. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

    Part Thirteen Family Nurse Practitioner FAQs

    • What's the difference between FNP vs NP?

      • The difference between FNPs versus other Nurse Practitioner specialties is that Family Nurse Practitioners have a wider focus, as they treat people of all ages. Other NP specialties like Pediatric NPs or Orthopedic NPs have much narrower scopes.
    • Can a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) work in a hospital?

      • Yes! FNPs can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, due to their ability to work both collaboratively and independently.
    • Can a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) write prescriptions?

      • Yes! FNPS and Nurse Practitioners of all specialties can prescribe medications, though the degree of independence in prescribing medications varies by their level of authority in each state. For example, in 21 states NPs have full-practice authority where they don't need oversight from a physician, whereas in others where they have either reduced-practice or restricted-practice authority, requiring differing levels of supervision.
    • Can FNPs Specialize?

      • Yes! FNPs have the ability to work in a variety of subspecialties. These can include things like cardiology, dermatology, oncology, surgery, etc. They can do this a few different ways:
        • Finding mentors in specialty areas while they are in school
        • Choosing a program that offers subspecialty options
        • Specialty Nurse Practitioner fellowships and residencies
    • What's the difference between FNP-C vs FNP-BC certifications?

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