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How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
By Rachel Schneider
Last Updated: February 2020
This guide explores the process of becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP), from earning a bachelor's degree to pursuing licensure and going into practice. Prospective FNPs can read on to learn more about what these nurse practitioners are, what they do, and where they work. We also look at state certification and licensing information and resources, related programs and careers, salary potential for FNPs, and job growth rates in the field.
What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?
Family nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who perform many of the same functions as physicians. FNPs diagnose conditions and diseases and treat them with the necessary medications. Family nurse practitioners often serve as patients' first point of contact in healthcare systems, relaying pertinent information to physicians and working with them to provide the highest possible level of care. Some FNPs also serve as primary care providers for insurance companies.
What Do Family Nurse Practitioners Do?
Similar to primary care physicians, FNPs provide comprehensive healthcare across the lifespan, along with disease management, preventative health services, and health education. FNPs also help patients manage chronic illnesses and conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and provide episodic care for various acute illnesses.
FNPs often manage and monitor pregnant women's wellness and health, providing them with prenatal and preconception care. These practitioners also care for children and infants and treat minor acute injuries.
Where Do Family Nurse Practitioners Work?
Family nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, where they collaborate with other specialists to manage patients' conditions and provide effective case management for patients dealing with long-term injuries and illnesses.
Some of the diverse settings family nurse practitioners work in include physician's offices, independent private practices, schools, state and local health departments, major hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, and community clinics. FNPs often find employment opportunities in rural and urban settings, where physician shortages are common and they may serve as the sole healthcare provider for multiple patient demographics.
Steps to Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner
All professionals must satisfy certain requirements before they can legally practice as FNPs and offer their services to the public. While licensing guidelines differ from state to state, most candidates are expected to complete the following steps, regardless of their location.
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree
The first step toward becoming an FNP is obtaining a BSN. Candidates in all states must earn a BSN before they can pursue RN licensure. Most full-time students spend around four years completing their BSN. After earning a bachelor's degree, graduates may apply to a master's program. Prospective FNPs are required to complete a master's degree before they seek licensure and certification.
Obtain Licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN)
Bachelor's degree-holders may pursue RN licensure. While RN licensing requirements differ between states, candidates in all 50 states must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
Pursue Specializations While Working as an RN
Licensed RNs may begin working to complete the professional and clinical experiences needed to pursue advanced degrees, licensure, and specialty certifications. Completing experience in a particular specialization allows individuals to build a foundation for their FNP careers.
Gain Admission to an Accredited Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program With a Specialty in Family Primary Care
Upon obtaining RN licensure and completing mandatory professional experience hours, candidates may apply to an accredited MSN program. MSN-holders may wish to pursue a DNP. Individuals applying to both program types should pursue a specialty in family primary care. While admissions criteria vary between schools, applicants can expect to provide proof of earning a BSN, active and unencumbered RN licensure, and a minimum GPA.
Earn a MSN or DNP Degree
Prospective FNPs must hold a master's degree or doctorate. MSN programs should boast accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. These programs include courses on evidence-based practice, nursing, and organizational leadership. DNP programs allow learners to focus on specialized subfields of nursing, preparing candidates for the widest scope of job opportunities after graduation.
Obtain Certification From the American Nurses Credentialing Center
After earning an advanced nursing degree, professionals may pursue one of two certification opportunities from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Candidates seeking the family nurse practitioner certification (FNP-BC) must pass a competency-based exam and renew their credential after five years. The family nurse practitioner certification requires professionals to pass an examination and demonstrate competencies in a variety of areas, including physical examination, evidence-based practice, healthcare economics, and legal and ethical issues.
Obtain Nurse Practitioner State Licensure
NPs must obtain licensure for the state in which they wish to practice. While licensing guidelines vary from state to state, all U.S. candidates must meet educational eligibility requirements, complete a certain amount of professional experience, and pass a licensing examination.
Prospective FNPs may seek employment after they earn a bachelor's and a master's degree in nursing, obtain RN licensure, and satisfy all educational and experiential licensing requirements. Some candidates also complete an optional DNP program. Professionals who hold a DNP can explore a wide spectrum of career opportunities with the highest earning potential.
Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner FAQs
What is the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner and a Family Nurse Practitioner?
A nurse practitioner serves a variety of demographics in many different specialty areas, including adult-geriatric, women's health, and pediatric care. FNPs specialize in family medicine, and FNP programs are typically relatively flexible. NP degree programs encourage candidates to focus on a certain age group, practical setting, or branch of medicine.
Are Family Nurse Practitioners in Demand?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth rates for all nurse practitioners are projected to grow by 26% between 2018 and 2028. This rate is much faster than the 5% growth rate for all other occupations nationwide, and twice as fast as the 13% projected job growth rate for other health diagnosing and treating practitioners.
Can a Family Nurse Practitioner Deliver Babies?
RNs who work in labor and delivery units might deliver a baby if the doctor is unavailable, but only certified nurse-midwives are specifically trained and legally allowed to deliver babies.
How Many Hours a Week Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Work?
Most NPs work 40 hours each week, although their hours can vary depending on where they practice. Some FNPs work on an on-call basis, while others might work overtime on nights, weekends, and holidays. FNPs who work in emergency rooms may find that this setting features more demanding hours.
Can a Nurse Practitioner Become a Doctor?
Nurse practitioners can become doctors after graduating from medical school, completing the necessary residency requirements, and passing state licensing examinations. Educational requirements for NPs are different from those for doctors, who must fulfill a separate set of educational, experiential, and licensing guidelines.
Family Nurse Practitioner Credentials
Prospective FNPs must satisfy a variety of credentials. Family nurse practitioners must obtain both RN licensure and APRN licensure before they can move on to other credentials in the field. Below, readers can review the requirements to accomplish both types of licensure.
In addition to learning more about obtaining the licensure necessary to work as family nurse practitioners, professionals can read the following section to learn more about the certification opportunities available in the discipline, including the requirements of each type of certification.
Family Nurse Practitioner Licensing
Candidates must obtain an RN license before pursuing a master of science in nursing or qualifying for certification. The path to licensure typically entails earning a bachelor of science degree, submitting an application, and sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam. While individual RN licensing requirements vary by state, applicants in all 50 states must pass the NCLEX-RN. This exam is computer adapted and graded on a pass-fail basis.
APRN certification features respective specialties for nurses, allowing them to focus on the area they want to pursue professionally. Candidates for APRN certification include family nurse practitioners, adult nurse practitioners, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, and nurse-midwives. To be eligible for licensure, professionals must hold a master's degree, meet continuing education requirements, and pass national certification examinations related to their nursing specialty.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing is a nonprofit independent organization that allows nursing regulatory bodies to counsel and act together in matters of common interest related to public health, welfare, and safety. The organization includes the creation and development of nursing licensure examinations.
Family Nurse Practitioner Certification
Professionals exploring FNP certification opportunities may choose from two different paths to certification. Candidates who pursue the family nurse practitioner certification (FNP-BC) option must complete a competency-based certification exam demonstrating their entry-level clinical expertise. Professionals who meet the eligibility requirements receive the family nurse practitioner board-certified credential, which remains valid for five years.
The family nurse practitioner certification requires candidates to complete an entry-level, competency-based examination that tests their clinical knowledge in family and individual care across the lifespan. Professionals may demonstrate their skills and knowledge over the course of 150 questions.
Family Nurse Practitioner Resources
American Association of Nurse Practitioners With more than 4,000 members, AANP is the nation's largest professional organization of its kind. Members can participate in research opportunities, continuing education programs, and federal and state advocacy efforts.
Nurse.com Job Search FNPs can access nurse.com's job search function to explore nursing specialty-specific career opportunities. Site visitors can also select their desired location to ensure they only see job opportunities within a certain distance from their chosen area.
American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board AANP's certification board is an independent, nonprofit certifying body. The organization prides itself on using valid, reliable programs to evaluate professionals seeking credentials. Candidates may pursue one of three specialty certifications, or explore recertification options on the Academy's website.
American Nurses Association Dedicated to protecting and advancing the nursing profession, this professional organization offers a variety of useful resources. Members receive access to free webinars and discounted online learning modules that may count as continuing education credits.
American Nurses Credentialing Center The ANCC provides credentials for both individuals and organizations in the nursing industry. Candidates may pursue specialists certifications in adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric-mental health nursing, and other areas. The organization's website features test prep resources and a career center.
Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners and Related Careers
Prospective FNPs can review the internal resources below to gather more information on the discipline, explore related career opportunities, and succeed professionally. The following resources can help ensure that candidates thoroughly understand the FNP profession and similar roles.
In states such as Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon, NPs have full practice authority and enjoy relative autonomy in treating patients, working to the utmost extent of their training and credentialing. In places such as Tennessee, however, NPs labor under restricted practice conditions and may be treated as mere mid-level providers who require physician supervision throughout their careers.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a widespread problem in the U.S., with the incidence having doubled over the last 20 years, according to the American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA). In fact, the American Kidney Fund reports that nearly 31 million people in the U.S., or about 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, suffer from CKD.