How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

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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.

  • Find Employment

    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.

Related Programs

Emergency Nurse Practitioner

Emergency nurse practitioners work in emergency room settings, where they care for patients with urgent primary care needs, acute and critical illnesses, and accidental traumas or injuries.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners focus on patients suffering from psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses. These nurses work in community health centers, hospitals, mental health facilities, and outpatient mental health clinics.

Family Nurse Practitioner

As advanced practice RNs who focus on disease prevention and health promotion, FNPs serve patients with varying medical histories at different points on the human lifespan.


Related FAQs

FNP vs DNP

FNPs are advanced practice RNs who focus on family care and act as primary care providers. DNPs specialize in one of many patient populations and work in a variety of settings.

How Much Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Make?

In 2014, the (BLS) reported that nurse practitioners across all specialties enjoyed an average annual salary of $97,990. This figure is more than double the $47,230 average annual salary for all occupations combined.

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

FNPs are RNs with specialized educational and clinical training in family practice. FNPs work with both children and adults, usually in clinical settings or family practice.

FNP vs AGNP

Typically focused on primary care, FNPs serve patients from all backgrounds and age groups. AGNPs work exclusively with adult and geriatric patients in either acute or primary care settings.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Candidates who wish to become a clinical nurse specialist must earn a bachelor of science in nursing, obtain RN licensure, and complete 1-2 years of clinical experience. After earning a master of science in nursing, they may pursue board certification.

How Do I Become a Nurse Executive?

Prospective nurse executives must earn a bachelor of science in nursing, obtain RN licensure, and acquire 1-2 years of professional experience. They must then earn a graduate degree in nursing and obtain professional certification.

How Do I Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

In order to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, professionals must earn a master's degree in nursing or a post-master's certificate, gain RN licensure, and achieve professional certification.

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NursePractitionerSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.