Family nurse practitioners are among the most in-demand medical professionals within the modern health care industry, per researchers for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates the total population of FNPs will expand 31% between 2016 and 2026.
Why? A nationwide doctor shortage — there could be as many as 120,000 physician openings by 2030, per data from the Association of American Medical Colleges published in 2018. That fact, combined with general population growth, has forced health care providers to find skilled clinicians capable of serving modern patients across all demographics. FNPs are the ideal choice, as they have the advanced knowledge required to perform duties most associated with physicians.
They are also legally empowered to practice independently. This point is key. Even the most skilled medical professionals cannot see patients without approval from licensing boards. This power separates FNPs from registered nurses, lending them the license they need to make an impact. The expanded practice capabilities that come with it are an immense draw. However, these permissions vary from state to state. At the moment, 23 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories — American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — permit full independent practice, according to research from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners posted in 2019. Here, FNPs can work with full clinical authority, without doctor supervision or health care provider collaboration agreements. In other U.S. states and territories, FNPs have smaller scopes. Some are subject to “reduced practice” laws, meaning they either cannot perform one of the clinical duties central to the position or must engage in career-long pacts with providers. Others are subject to “restricted practice” laws, which prevent FNPs from performing one or more clinical tasks and require them to work in agreement providers or in team settings.
Health care professionals intent on pursuing the FNP career with the aim of serving patients independently would be wise to assess the practice environment.
A look at independent practice in the U.S.
Almost half of all U.S. states allow FNPs to operate with autonomy. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington State. What does this mean from a clinical perspective?
FNPs who work in states that allow full practice can take advantage of their complete skill sets. They can assess patients, order diagnostic tests, identify diagnoses, develop treatment plans and prescribe medication. Basically, they have the ability to provide all the basic medical services any patient might need, without the supervision of a physician. Of course, this means they are subject to high regulatory standards.
In the short time that FNP independent practice laws have been in place, these professionals have shown themselves to be effective clinicians who more than meet patient care standards. In fact, research from multiple organizations have revealed that FNPs provide medical services that are on par with what doctors have to offer, according to the AANP. Additionally, people who see FNPs gain tangible benefits from the experience, including lower costs and better access to care, particularly in rural areas.
The FNP education
Proponents of independent practice for FNPs support this functionality because they have confidence in these versatile and skilled medical professionals — and for good reason. An estimated 99% of FNPs hold graduate degrees and have six years of education and clinical training, according to survey data from the AANP released in 2015. In all, these health care professionals are more than equipped to serve patients independently, which is what the 23 states and three U.S. territories that facilitate this kind of clinical autonomy understand.
This state of affairs makes the pathway to FNP success clear for health care professionals who want to move forward in the space via an advanced practice nursing role. Of course, the first step on the journey to the profession is graduate school. Numerous master’s degree programs offer FNP instruction, but many require students to interrupt their lives to get the education they need. The online Master of Science in Nursing — Family Nurse Practitioner program at Bradley University does not.
This program is a great option for health care professionals who want to develop the skills and insight they need to carve out successful careers in the FNP field, without stepping foot on campus.
The program features a variety of classes covering topics that are essential to success in the FNP profession, including Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Pharmacology, Health Informatics and Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Care.
In addition to these core courses, the online MSN-FNP degree track at Bradley University includes five preceptor-supervised, locally administered practicums. Here, aspiring FNPs apply their new skills in a functioning clinical environment and work with patients across various demographics, including individuals with acute and chronic conditions, women, children and the elderly.
With accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and Higher Learning Commission, this online MSN-FNP track stands out. RNs looking to advance into FNP roles can learn more about the online MSN-FNP program by visiting the Bradley University website.