FNP vs. PMHNP: Which Nursing Career Is Right for You?

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: A nurse practitioner with a parent and child in an examination room.

Individuals interested in becoming advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have a variety of specializations to choose from when pursuing a degree. Not only does specialized education in fields such as psychiatric-mental health or family health allow individuals to develop advanced knowledge and skills in a specific area, APRNs who’ve completed specialization coursework often find they can make a greater impact in the lives of their patients.

Aspiring nursing professionals researching family nurse practitioner (FNP) and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) programs should know that while the core coursework for both programs overlaps, their specialization coursework sets them apart. For example, whereas aspiring FNPs train to provide primary care for acute and chronic conditions across a patient’s life span, the PMHNP curriculum is designed to provide advanced knowledge in pharmacology, neuropsychology, and advanced psychiatric interviewing techniques.

Nurses comparing the career paths of FNPs vs. PMHNPs should understand the similarities and differences between these roles, so they can determine which track best aligns with their career goals. For aspiring FNPs, an advanced degree program, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a family nurse practitioner focus, can provide them with the advanced knowledge and skills needed to enter this rewarding field.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations at a Glance

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses (RNs) who’ve earned an advanced degree, such as an MSN, and have received additional training in primary, acute, and specialty care. Upon completing their education, they must also pass the National Nurse Practitioner Certification Board Exam in order to obtain licensure.

Nurse practitioner certification exams are available for a wide variety of specializations, including the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC) and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) exams. These exams are administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and are offered several times per year at testing centers throughout the country.

ANCC certification must be renewed every five years. Eligibility requirements for renewal include holding a current, active RN license, being board certified through the ANCC, and completing 75 hours of ANCC-approved continuing education coursework.

The Family Nurse Practitioner Specialization at a Glance

Family nurse practitioners provide family-focused care to patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly, in a variety of settings such as hospitals, community care clinics, educational institutions, and private practices. Although the specific duties of FNPs can vary based on the institution they work for, their responsibilities typically include the following:

  • Performing physical exams
  • Maintaining medical records
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Prescribing medication
  • Ordering diagnostic tests, such as blood work and urinalysis
  • Evaluating test results
  • Treating acute illnesses, such as bronchitis, strep throat, and the common cold
  • Treating chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease

The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Specialization at a Glance

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners provide psychiatric care for patients in settings such as private practices, hospitals, public health clinics, and veteran care facilities. Similar to FNPs, the day-to-day duties of a PMHNP can vary greatly depending on the patients they’re serving and the institution they work for. However, common daily duties include the following:

  • Providing psychiatric services to clients
  • Assessing and diagnosing children, adults, and seniors experiencing symptoms of behavioral or psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Collaborating with a patient’s other health care providers, such as FNPs, psychologists, and psychiatrists
  • Maintaining medical records
  • Prescribing medication
  • Recommending treatment protocols
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of treatment plans
  • Ordering and evaluating diagnostic and laboratory tests

FNP vs. PMHNP Salary

The important role FNPs and PMHNPs play in health care delivery is reflected in their respective salaries. The median annual salary for FNPs was approximately $98,000 as of May 2022, with a salary range between $81,000 and $121,000, Payscale reports. Within the same period, the median salary for PMHNPs was around $113,100, ranging between $91,000 and $144,000, according to Payscale.

Actual salaries for FNPs and PMHNPs vary based on several factors, such as whether an individual has earned an MSN or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, their experience level, their place of employment, and the region where their position is based.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that as of May 2021, the median annual wage for nurse practitioners working in state, local, and private hospitals was $128,190, whereas the median annual wage for NPs working at state, local, and private educational institutions was $102,680. In that same period, the BLS reported that the annual mean wage for NPs in Tennessee was $95,120, while for NPs in California it was $151,830.

A Path Toward an Important Career

Regardless of which specialization they choose, nurse practitioners play a vital role in care delivery. Following an FNP or PMHNP career path allows nurses to advance their knowledge and skills and provide superior patient care, as well as boost their potential earnings.

Nursing professionals interested in taking on more responsibility, gaining greater autonomy, and providing advanced primary care to patients of all ages should consider pursuing an advanced degree such as Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner specialization. This 100% online program allows working students to complete their coursework on their own schedule, and enables aspiring FNPs to complete their clinical hours in their communities.

Discover how an online MSN-FNP from Bradley University can provide you with the high-level clinical expertise and leadership skills to thrive.


Recommended Readings

Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Types of Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities

What Makes a Good Mental Health Nurse? 5 Key Skills

How to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Certification Renewal Requirements

News Medical Life Sciences, Nursing Specializations

Payscale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Nurse Practitioners