How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook
Even with all the advances in medical knowledge over the last few centuries, many people are still most comfortable seeking treatment and advice from their primary care provider. After all, while healthcare professionals do their best for every patient, there’s no substitute for building a patient-provider relationship with somebody who really understands your lifestyle and medical history.
If you’re craving a career that offers something new every day, and love the idea of serving as the lead healthcare provider for your patients, becoming a family nurse practitioner could be the best nursing specialty for you! Not only do FNPs work with lots of autonomy, they also earn some of the top salaries among all nursing careers. In fact, we recently featured family nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.
This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a family nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.
Not sure if becoming a family nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.
Family Nurse Practitioner Definition
What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?
Family nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who usually serve as primary care providers for individuals or families. Like other APRNs, family nurse practitioners have an extremely well-rounded knowledge of medicine. They are authorized to perform certain tasks traditionally reserved for physicians, like ordering diagnostic tests or writing prescriptions.
Family Nurse Practitioner: Job Description
What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?
Family nurse practitioners are adequately trained to handle emergencies and diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions. However, their main specialty is providing primary care, which is usually more focused on maintaining all-around wellness and healthy living. FNPs conduct regular exams, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide referrals to physicians or other specialists as necessary. Family nurse practitioners also spend plenty of time educating their patients on nutrition and other lifestyle factors that can make an enormous difference in people’s health.
Family Nurse Practitioner Duties
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of family nurse practitioners include:
- Conducting exams for patients of all ages
- Diagnosing a wide range of injuries and illnesses
- Prescribing medication and performing minor procedures
- Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
- Educating patients on how to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices
- Providing referrals to physicians or other healthcare professionals, as necessary
Family Nurse Practitioner Skills
Family nurse practitioners must have excellent interpersonal skills, as forming relationships with your patients is an essential part of being a primary care provider. Just like all other APRN careers, you’ll need to have solid attention to detail and full confidence in your knowledge of medicine, as you’ll often be the first line of defense against both common and rare health conditions. Organization skills are also important, as most family nurse practitioners see many different patients, each of whom will have their own individual needs, concerns, and health histories.
Where Do Family Nurse Practitioners Work?
Becoming an FNP means you’ll have a lot of flexibility when it comes to carving out a niche in your nursing career. Many family nurse practitioners work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, or within private physician’s offices, though you’ll also find FNPs working for telehealth providers or health insurance companies. However, becoming a licensed family nurse practitioner also gives you the option to specialize in different areas like oncology, cardiology, or even surgery, thanks to the advanced training all APRNs receive. Primary-care FNPs tend to work more standard business hours, though nurse practitioner jobs in hospitals or urgent-care clinics may require working (or being on-call) during nights, weekends, or holidays.
Family Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification
How Long Does it Take to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?
What Degree Do You Need to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?
Before they can practice independently, family nurse practitioners must complete extensive medical training and build significant nursing experience.
Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Family nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re eligible to become a licensed APRN.
Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a family nurse practitioner is no different.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a family nurse practitioner:
1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
The first step in your family nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. Nursing school requires focus, dedication, and hard work, but almost anyone can start a new career in nursing if you’re willing to put in the requisite effort. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.
2. Earn Your BSN Degree
Like all the highest-paid nursing jobs, your career as a family nurse practitioner starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not have a direct connection to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better critical-thinker and problem-solver, which is especially important for FNPs serving as the primary care provider for their patients.
Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Many of your classes will cover how to assess and care for all types of patients, which will serve as an excellent primer for the varied patient population you can expect as a family nurse practitioner. Others will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes that focus on improving your evidence-based decision-making. These classes will build the knowledge and instincts you’ll need to make accurate diagnoses, and teach you how to handle certain situations that may have moral or legal implications.
Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. Since family nurse practitioners work with patients from pediatric to geriatric, an in-depth knowledge of how the human body works is critical to understanding your patients’ needs and helping them live at their healthiest.
The final step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in a real hospital environment. While your nursing program will involve plenty of hands-on training and even simulated emergency situations, there’s no substitute for real-world experience where your actions make a direct impact on patient outcomes.
To succeed as a family nurse practitioner, you’ll need to have the utmost confidence in your clinical decision-making, as it’s common for FNPs to work with a high degree of independence.
Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one that’s committed to supporting their students from their first day on campus through graduation and beyond. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even received your diploma!
3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
Before you can become a family nurse practitioner, you’ll need to get licensed as a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the right answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. Practice exams are readily available online, and many people find them to be quite helpful–-you’ll get an accurate preview of the test format, plus reveal any subjects you need to review before test day.
4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse
Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which gives you the flexibility to take your nursing skills anywhere you want to work. Since licensed FNPs have so many different nursing specialties available to them, you’re free to seek out any area of nursing that interests you most. Suppose you’re planning to start your own family nursing practice in the future. In that case, you may want to seek RN experience working with primary-care physicians or any other providers focused on all-around wellness for a diverse patient group.
Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (like an MSN degree program, for example), you should be able to keep your nursing license current without any trouble.
5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree
Like all APRNs, family nurse practitioners must complete a postgraduate nursing degree—almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many educational institutions offer MSN programs aimed specifically at future FNPs, which will continue to build upon the extensive medical knowledge you’ll need to treat a highly diverse patient population.
You’ll find advanced-practice MSN programs at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.
6. Become a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Upon completion of an accredited family nurse practitioner MSN program, you’ll be eligible to earn your FNP certification from either the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Family nurse practitioner certifications from both organizations are valid for five years before requiring renewal, and prove you’ve got the knowledge and experience to take the lead in a wide variety of clinical scenarios.
Family Nurse Practitioner Salary
How Much Do Family Nurse Practitioners Make?
According to Salary.com, family nurse practitioners earn an average salary* of just under $113,000 per year, or about $54 per hour. FNPs in the 90th percentile of earners among the profession can expect to bring home $130,000 per year or more.
Family Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook
What is the Job Outlook for Family Nurse Practitioners?
As advances in medical science and technology have made top-notch healthcare more accessible, many nurse practitioners are stepping up to fill roles traditionally reserved for physicians, including serving as the primary care provider for entire families. That’s excellent news for all advanced-practice nurses, but especially for family nurse practitioners. While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for FNPs, the overall number of nurse practitioners is expected to increase a massive 45% by the year 2030. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs is around 4%, family nurse practitioners can expect to enjoy one of the rosiest long-term job outlooks in the healthcare industry.
Ready to Start Your Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?
If you’re excited by the idea of a nursing career with lots of independence and flexibility, and the chance to care for multiple generations living under the same roof, becoming a family nurse practitioner should be one of the nursing specialties at the top of your list! Not only is it one of the highest-paid nursing careers, it’s a field that continually offers new challenges, plus opportunities to specialize in the areas you find most fulfilling.
Ready to start taking steps toward a rewarding career as a family nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!