As the U.S. population ages — creating greater demand for medical services — and many health care providers retire, an increasingly critical shortage of primary care physicians is taking place. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are stepping up to close the gap that this problem is creating for aging and marginalized populations.
A 2021 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortfall of as many as 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034. The shortage could leave older Americans and those who too often lack access to health care with even fewer options for treatment. Among those whose access to care historically has been limited are marginalized minority populations and residents of rural communities.
As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide family-focused care to patients of all ages, family nurse practitioners typically can provide many of the same services as primary care physicians — though generally at a lower cost and with a more holistic approach.
In 2020, about 70% of NPs specialized in family practice, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Primary care was a top area of focus among family nurse practitioners.
Nursing professionals who want to further their careers, while helping to ensure equitable access to health care, should explore the job description of a family nurse practitioner. They should also learn about the advanced education, licensing, and certifications that are required to become a family nurse practitioner.
What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?
NPs provide advanced nursing services to patients and families, drawing on their clinical expertise to address specific health concerns and educate patients about disease prevention. NPs can pursue certification in a specialty area, and family practice is one of those areas of specialization.
Family nurse practitioners are often the first point of contact for patients seeking medical assistance. Family nurse practitioners focus on preventive care as well as treatment of health conditions ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to minor injuries and infections. They see patients of all ages, from infants to older adults.
Family Nurse Practitioner Job Description
The scope of practice for family nurse practitioners varies by state. In many cases, their work can include prescribing medications and ordering diagnostic tests. In 2020, a total of 96% of NPs prescribed medications, according to the AANP.
Additionally, many states allow NPs to work independently, although some states require family nurse practitioners and other NPs to collaborate with physicians.
Family nurse practitioners treat patients at locations such as community health centers, clinics, hospitals, private physician or NP practices, and colleges.
In addition to responsibilities such as writing prescriptions and ordering tests, a family nurse practitioner’s job description typically includes the following:
- Maintaining patient records
- Managing patient care
- Performing physical examinations
- Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions
- Developing treatment plans
- Educating patients about healthy lifestyle choices
Family Nurse Practitioner Salary and Job Outlook
An NP’s median salary and job growth potential are much stronger than those for the labor market as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Demographic changes and shortages of health care professionals are among the reasons that NPs are in high demand.
Family Nurse Practitioner Salary
Salaries can vary according to factors such as location and experience level, but the median annual wage for NPs was $120,680 in May 2021, according to the BLS. By comparison, the median annual wage for all jobs was $45,760.
The salary range for family nurse practitioners was between $81,000 and $121,000 as of May 2022, with a median annual salary of approximately $98,000, according to the compensation data site Payscale.
Skills associated with higher pay for family nurse practitioners, according to Payscale, reflect the wide array of services that these professionals provide. Among these skills are those related to:
- Hospice care
- Occupational health
- Palliative care
- Weight loss and weight management
Payscale compares median annual salaries for family nurse practitioners in select cities with those of family nurse practitioners overall. In May 2022, family nurse practitioners from the following cities reported salaries that were at least 30% greater than the $98,000 median annual salary for family nurse practitioners nationally:
- Long Beach, CA
- Newark, NJ
- Salem, OR
- San Francisco, CA
- Santa Monica, CA
- Santa Rosa, CA
Family Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook
The BLS projects 52% job growth for NPs overall between 2020 and 2030, a much higher rate than the 8% average growth it projects for all jobs during that period. By 2030, the BLS projects that the U.S. will have 335,200 NP jobs, 114,000 more than there were in 2020.
Increasing demand for health care services is driving the projected growth in NP jobs, according to the BLS. Growing emphasis on preventive care as well as the medical needs of an aging population, with individuals who frequently have chronic health conditions requiring medical care, are among the reasons for this projected job growth.
NPs also are becoming a go-to source of primary care — a top focus among family nurse practitioners — for many underserved populations and for those insured by Medicare, according to the AANP. A 2021 report to the U.S. Congress, for example, cites the value of NPs to Medicare beneficiaries in rural communities, where 26% of individuals relied on NPs or physician assistants for primary care in 2020.
The ongoing physician shortage is also fueling the demand for NPs. The AAMC projects that the shortage of primary care physicians could be between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians by 2024. This projection is shining a spotlight on the crucial role that family nurse practitioners and other nurse practitioners who focus on primary care will play in bridging the gap in health care availability.
How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
Considering the broad scope of a family nurse practitioner’s job description, the role has many prerequisites, including certification and licensing. The process for obtaining those credentials requires individuals to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, become a registered nurse (RN), complete a family nurse practitioner-focused graduate program, and pass a national family nurse practitioner certification examination.
These are the steps to becoming an FNP:
1. Earn a BSN
NP programs typically require applicants to hold a BSN degree. Some graduate programs allow students with a bachelor’s degree in another discipline to earn their BSN at an accelerated rate. Additionally, RNs whose highest level of education is an associate degree may complete an RN-to-BSN program.
2. Become an RN
While requirements for state RN licensing vary, a critical first step in most cases is passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). After passing the NCLEX, individuals can apply for an RN license through their state board of nursing.
3. Enroll in a Family Nurse Practitioner Program
Master’s or doctoral nursing degree programs can provide aspiring NPs with advanced nursing knowledge and skills. While either degree currently can qualify individuals for NP careers, AACN has recommended that doctoral degrees be the standard for advanced practice nursing. Doctoral-level degrees may become the requirement for NP preparation in the future.
Master’s and doctoral NP programs generally offer training focused on the area of practice the student selects. Those pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner should select a family nurse practitioner graduate program. Students who already hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree also can enroll in a post-master’s certification program specifically for aspiring family nurse practitioners.
4. Pass a National Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam
After earning a graduate degree, nursing professionals typically must pass a national certification exam to qualify for state NP licensing. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offer national certification for family nurse practitioners.
5. Obtain a State NP License
Licensing requirements for NPs vary by state. Generally, however, they must hold an RN license, a graduate-level degree, and national NP certification. Those seeking state NP licensing should contact their state board of nursing.
Put Your Passion to Work Addressing Health Care Challenges
Family nurse practitioners play a vital role in addressing the challenge of health care access. With their focus on treating patients of all ages as well as training in a wide array of injury, illness, and wellness strategies, family nurse practitioners can help ensure that everyone — including those in traditionally underserved populations — receives adequate care. If you’re looking for an education that can help you bolster your nursing career while meeting a growing need, explore Bradley University’s online nursing programs.
With a master’s family nurse practitioner program, a doctoral family nurse practitioner program, and a post-master’s family nurse practitioner certificate program, you can find the option that best fits your education and career plans. The online programs also provide convenience and flexibility, allowing you to pursue your goals while meeting commitments at work and home. Discover how Bradley University’s online nursing programs can help you reach your advanced nursing goals.