What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Kristen McCay

Are you a registered nurse and love your job, but also feel ready to expand as a medical professional? There are numerous reasons to consider becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP). The family nurse practitioner’s scope of practice is quite diverse, allowing for career mobility, specialization in a specific patient demographic, and practice in a variety of clinical settings.

While the family nurse practitioner role requires advanced education and special training, many nurses say that this period of time was a high point in their education and they enjoyed meeting like-minded peers. They enjoyed their time in graduate school because they began to discover, at this stage in their education, the ability to work more autonomously than before.

There are many reasons to become a licensed family nurse practitioner. Here’s what you can expect from the role.

What Is an FNP?

An FNP is a registered nurse who is trained and nationally certified according to very strict standards. While registered nurses assess patients and carry out treatments according to an MD’s plan, FNPs have the ability to diagnose and come up with their own treatment plans. In addition to prescribing medications and acting as a patient’s ongoing direct point of contact for medical care, FNPs can make referrals to specialists.

As an advanced practice nurse, you will get to assess, diagnose and provide treatment in your FNP role. This is an attractive thing for many nurses because it allows them to develop long-term relationships with patients. The opportunity to watch a patient’s health improve over time can be a very rewarding experience, both professionally and personally.

In addition to working more independently than registered nurses, family nurse practitioners have the opportunity to see patients over time and act as their primary care provider. As a primary care medical provider, FNPs can do in-office procedures on a one-time basis or see patients over time for acute or chronic issues.
We can look at an example to distinguish between a registered nurse and a family nurse practitioner. We might imagine a diabetic patient who is being seen because she has concerns about managing her condition. Once at the clinic, a registered nurse would take the patient’s vitals, do an initial assessment about the patient’s overall health and then inform the doctor about updates since the patient’s last visit. The doctor would then assess the diabetic patient, prescribe a new treatment plan and, if necessary, make adjustments to medication dosages.

If a patient sees a family nurse practitioner who specializes in treating diabetes, however, the FNP could perform the entire role that the medical doctor did in the first instance. Her training as a FNP—the graduate courses she took, clinical hours and licensing—qualify her to act in that capacity.

Family Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice

The scope of practice for family nurse practitioners makes it an attractive career choice. You can feel confident that your graduate school training and clinical hours will provide you with a strong foundation as a primary care provider, as a clinician for specific populations and medical conditions. FNPs tend to treat specific types of patients and can provide primary care in settings ranging from urgent care centers to outpatient clinics, looking after patients with needs in women’s health, diabetes management or pediatric acute care.

FNPs are trained to perform procedures ranging from sutures, staples and nerve blocks to incision and drainage for wound care. Many family nurse practitioners receive training in other advanced procedures. For example, an FNP specializing in women’s health will learn how to perform pap smears and implement family planning methods, such as placing intrauterine devices.  
In addition to disease prevention, screening and treatment in an outpatient setting, the family nurse practitioner role includes patient education and guidance. This teaching component is often a very rewarding part of the FNP role: It gives nurses a chance to really connect with their patients and, if they can help the patient implement lifestyle or behavioral changes, to make a crucial difference in the long run.

FNPs often co-manage a panel of patients alongside a physician. However, the scope of the FNP’s role means that they collaborate with physicians in a way that is quite different from registered nurses. You will get to take the lead in most of the assessment and treatment processes, asking for input as needed.  

How Do I Prepare for the FNP Role?

If you are a registered nurse and have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, you can pursue Chamberlain’s Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner specialty track.
Nursing graduate students now have the opportunity to enroll in online programs when working toward becoming an FNP. Now that many nursing schools across the country offer online classes, registered nurses who work full-time or balance family responsibilities can pursue graduate studies with more flexibility.

An MSN-FNP program is typically three years long and requires at least 500 hours of clinical practice. Clinical hours are important for gaining competency in new skills and responsibilities. It’s the time when you get to begin trying out your new role under the guidance of a supportive clinical preceptor, a person committed to your success and well-being.
Finally, after completing coursework and clinical hours, you will sign up for board exams through the American Association of Nursing Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). You will also want to check your state’s licensing requirements for family nurse practitioners in your state, along with how often your license will need to be renewed. Upon passing this exam, you will be a licensed family nurse practitioner.

Start the Journey to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for advanced practice nurses - specifically nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists - is expected to see a growth of 45% over the next 10 years through 2029. A stronger emphasis on preventative care and healthcare needs for an aging population means that job opportunities will grow tremendously for advanced practice nurses over the next decade, compared to the average growth for all other occupations in the country.  

If you are considering becoming a family nurse practitioner, request more information from a Chamberlain University admission representative today!





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