What Is an FNP and How Do You Become One?

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An FNP speaks with a senior patient.

Have you been considering a career in nursing? If so, you might be wondering, what is “FNP” in nursing? And what is an FNP’s role compared to that of other nursing professionals?

If you’re just starting out on a nursing career path, now is the perfect time to find out what the family nurse practitioner (FNP) job is all about — and what it takes to enter this profession. The earlier you start asking these questions, the sooner you can start building the education and skills you’ll need to earn an FNP certification.

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

The basic answer to “What is an FNP?” is this: FNPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide health care services to patients of all ages, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). FNPs offer a variety of family-focused, patient-centered care services, meaning they take a holistic view of the patient’s health and lifestyle into account prior to making recommendations.

An FNP discusses prescription medication with an adult patient.What Does an FNP Do?

The broad scope of FNP practice typically includes the following responsibilities:

  • Issuing diagnoses for a variety of health concerns
  • Providing treatment for chronic conditions, acute illnesses and injuries
  • Developing and carrying out treatment plans for patients
  • Ordering or performing diagnostic tests and using results to determine treatment plans
  • Conducting physical examinations
  • Being able to prescribe medication and monitor patients’ responses to treatments
  • Recording symptoms and managing patient records and medical histories
  • Educating patients and families on wellness and disease prevention
  • Consulting with physicians and other health care professionals
  • Conducting research

Family nurse practitioners work with medically stable patients who can directly participate in the care they’re receiving, from making preventive care decisions to discussing treatment plans and taking ownership of certain aspects of their health and well-being. Some full-time FNPs hold hospital privileges and can provide long-term care as well.

A family nurse practitioner’s typical workday can be a busy one. On average, an FNP saw about 18 patients per day in 2019 — and over half of NPs saw three or more patients each hour, according to AANP data in 2018. Family nurse practitioners can work out of health care settings such as private practice (in many states), community health centers, urgent care clinics, schools and other health care organizations.

What Is the Difference Between an FNP and an NP?

All nurse practitioners (NPs) are either master’s-prepared or doctorate-prepared nursing professionals who have more extensive experience and qualifications than registered nurses (RNs) — hence their designation as advanced practice registered nurses. While some NPs will offer specialized care for a specific age group, FNPs can serve infants, children, teens, adults and senior citizens.

So, what is an FNP in comparison to an NP? Essentially, an FNP is an NP who is certified to treat patients across the age spectrum. This can be particularly rewarding for nursing professionals who enjoy building lifelong relationships with patients and prefer taking a generalist approach to primary care.

Due to job versatility, the majority of NPs are in fact certified family nurse practitioners. In July 2019, the AANP reported that 67% of NPs were certified FNPs. As of February 2020, 89% of NPs prepared in primary care programs — and of those, 65.4% chose family care as their area of preparation. Other preparation areas included adult and geriatric care (25.5%), pediatrics (4.5%) and women’s health (2.8%).

Can an FNP Specialize?

Although FNPs provide health care services to patients of all ages, they can still specialize. Common specialty areas can include:

  • Psychiatry and mental health care
  • Dermatology
  • Oncology
  • Cardiology
  • Emergency nursing
  • And more

Some of these specialization areas will require FNPs to earn additional certification. With both the FNP credential and the specialist certification, they will be able to work with patients of all age groups in addressing specific health care concerns.

How Do You Become an FNP?

According to the AANP, it takes a minimum of six years to become a licensed FNP. This accounts for about four years of academic study at the undergraduate level and another two years at the graduate level, along with a certain number of hours of clinical experience during that time.

There are five required steps to becoming a family nurse practitioner:

  1. Earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a comparable undergraduate degree in nursing
  2. Securing an RN license
  3. Completing a graduate degree program in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program
  4. Passing the national certification exam and earning board approval
  5. Gaining state NP licensure and registration

As APRNs, the level of education required for FNPs — and NPs in general — is more rigorous than it is for RNs who may only need a bachelor’s degree or another post-secondary credential. Master’s degree programs for prospective family nurse practitioners offer a unique combination of knowledge, skills and clinical practice to best prepare graduates for careers in nursing. Through FNP programs, like Bradley University’s online MSN-FNP, students earn a master’s in nursing while also preparing for their FNP certification. Similarly, through Bradley’s online DNP-FNP program, students graduate with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and are on track to become family nurse practitioners.

Although requirements may vary at the state level, national certifying agencies for NPs include the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).

What Is the Career Outlook for FNPs?

For prospective family nurse practitioners, the future looks bright. Indeed, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) considers the NP role a “Bright Outlook” career as of August 2020, meaning that emerging professionals can expect to see rapid expansion of the field and many new opportunities in the coming years.

According to May 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field for NPs in general is growing rapidly at a rate of 28% between 2018 and 2028. This is much faster than the 5% national average growth rate across all occupations. In addition, the BLS predicts that this will result in 53,300 new jobs for nurse practitioners during this time span.

The AANP reported in August 2020 that the number of NPs has increased by more than 250% since 2001. Although there were only 82,000 NPs practicing in 2001, there are now an estimated 290,000 employed in 2020. Since more than half of NPs are licensed FNPs, this rapid growth is promising for students eager to become family nurse practitioners.

Earn Your Online MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP through Bradley University

Now that you’re familiar with what is an FNP and how you can start on the right track to becoming one, consider earning your online MSN-FNP or online DNP-FNP through Bradley University.

Our program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE*) and offers students the flexibility they need while pursuing an advanced nursing degree. Visit our program page and connect with an enrollment advisor to learn more.

*The master’s degree program in Nursing, Post-Graduate APRN Certificate program, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Bradley University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org).

Recommended Readings:
Online MSN-FNP

Family Nurse Practitioner Careers

What’s The Average Family Nurse Practitioner Salary?
AANP — Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?

AANP — NP Fact Sheet

AANP — Nurse Practitioners Infographic

AANP — What’s a Nurse Practitioner?

BLS — Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners

O*NET — Summary Report for Nurse Practitioners