According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP 2018), there were more than 248,000 licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) across the country and 97.8 percent held graduate degrees. The most popular specialty area for NPs was family at 60.6 percent, and among FNPs, 46.2 percent worked in primary care, more than any other clinical focus area. While a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree has historically been the entry-level education for certification and licensure as an FNP, a growing number of FNPs have been pursuing a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), the terminal degree of the discipline.
In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) pointed out that the evolving demands of healthcare call for a new educational standard and preparation for NPs. Some of the factors contributing to this trend include the expansion of complex practices in nursing; widespread concern about patient care quality and safety; an overall shortage of qualified healthcare professionals around the US; and the higher level of academic preparation across other healthcare fields (e.g., dentistry, medicine). In conjunction with the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the AACN has advocated for the widespread adoption of the DNP as the new educational standard in this field. With DNP programs available in 48 states and growing, there is a wealth of options for FNPs seeking the most advanced preparation in their career.
As of April 2018, a DNP was not necessary to qualify for professional FNP certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), but this may change in coming years.
Luckily for aspiring FNPs, there is a variety of schooling options available. In addition to traditional on-campus (i.e., brick-and-mortar) programs, there is a rapidly growing number of online MSN, post-master’s certificates, and DNP programs in the FNP specialty as well. These distance-based programs typically involve the completion of online coursework as well as clinical practicum hours at approved facilities near a student’s home.
Read on to discover what to expect from an online family nurse practitioner (FNP) program, including the typical prerequisites and coursework at the MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP levels.
NursePractitionerSchools.com gathered information from over 640 online NP programs nationwide at the MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP levels. To qualify as online, the school had to require less than ten campus visits for the duration of the entire program. These programs are ranked by total (not annual) out-of-state tuition and have listed the cost-per-credit figures as well, although additional fees may apply. Please note that these figures were gathered between 2017 and 2018, and the most recent tuition estimates are available on program websites. Also, many schools offer additional specializations and program pathways, including post-master’s certificates. Anyone with additional questions is encouraged to reach out to FNP program coordinators directly. To add programs or correct existing information, please contact us.
While there are varying points of academic and experiential entry, a majority of online FNP programs require candidates to be registered nurses (RNs) with at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), although there are exceptions. For example, Frontier Nursing University (FNU) offers an “ADN Bridge Entry” for RNs with associate degrees who seek either an MSN or a DNP (or both). This distance-based program requires only two campus visits during the first year, and while no bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is awarded, students have the opportunity to complete their master of science in nursing (MSN) in the FNP specialty and an optional companion DNP. That said, most of the RN-to-DNP programs are either on-campus or hybrid (i.e., mix of online and on-campus) to ensure that these students have adequate clinical training.
Here are the typical admissions requirements for an online FNP program at all levels:
Please note that most online FNP programs do not require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Additionally, for post-master’s DNP candidates, the program may call for proof of advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the two predominant credentialing organizations for FNPs.
Finally, depending on one’s academic point of entry and whether the coursework is taken part- or full-time, the timeline for these programs varies. Generally, aspiring FNPs with BSN degrees can expect to complete an online MSN in two years. An online DNP may take three full-time years, often awarding an MSN degree en route, and for post-MSN candidates, full-time DNP programs typically take two years.
At both the MSN and DNP levels, family nurse practitioner students may complete an original dissertation or capstone research project, as well as in-person residencies, preceptorships, and/or clinical practicums at facilities close to the students’ homes.
For online MSN programs and post-master’s certificates in the FNP specialty, students focus on the fundamentals of advanced nursing practice for patients across the lifespan in courses such as:
Please note that at the DNP level (post-MSN), much of the coursework focusing in ethics, advanced research methods, global population health, and leadership topics is common to all NP specializations. For online DNP students in the FNP specialty, classes may include:
As mentioned above, a majority of online FNP programs (MSN or DNP) require candidates to have at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, although there are exceptions, which may be referred to as “bridge” programs. Here are three distance-based, RN-to-MSN programs for family nurse practitioners, which typically take three years of full-time work to complete. Please note that all of these are available to post-BSN and post-MSN candidates as well.
The University of South Alabama (USA) provides an online RN-to-MSN program to RNs with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline. This FNP program includes classes such as organizational & systems leadership; evidence-based practice & informatics; physio-pathological basis of advanced nursing; and pharmacology for advanced practice nurses. Please note that students may be required to travel to campus for some courses to complete final exams. Notably, this program is one of the more affordable options for aspiring FNPs and costs $556 per credit-hour, excluding additional fees.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences also offers a distance-based FNP-MSN program to qualifying RNs, featuring courses such as research methodology; clinical pharmacology & therapeutics in advanced practice nursing; clinical management of child & family theory; and clinical management of family reproductive health. This program awards both a BSN and MSN degree and boasts five convenient starting times annually. It also has a project-based capstone course for original research. Please note that students must attend a one-day campus orientation and may be required to visit Little Rock for clinical intensives during the master’s portion of their work. This program costs $632 per credit-hour for BSN courses and $870 for MSN courses (out-of-state).
Finally, Graceland University also provides an online “bridge” program requiring a minimum of one intensive session at the campus in Independence, MO. This FNP-MSN program open to RNs has courses such as advanced pathophysiology, adult primary care, pediatric primary care, and pharmacotherapeutics. This program is also relatively affordable; it costs $797 per semester-hour.
A majority of online MSN programs in the FNP subfield require candidates to have at least a BSN to qualify. Please note that the following online FNP programs are also available as post-master’s certificates to NPs in other specializations seeking to change patient populations or add a certification, and generally take 18 months to two years to complete.
The University of Michigan—Flint provides an online FNP-MSN program with classes such as graduate pathophysiology; epidemiology & disease prevention; physical diagnosis across the lifespan; women’s health; leadership, informatics & policy for advanced practice; and health promotion. This program requires two campus visits per semester. It costs $635 per credit hour for MI residents and $951 for out-of-state students. Please note that this MSN can also be taken as part of a unique accelerated master of science in nursing (AMSN) program open to candidates seeking a BSN and an MSN, although this pathway requires more campus visitation.
Also, Ohio State University offers an online BSN-to-MSN program in the family specialty with coursework in quality improvement & informatics; health promotion & disease prevention across the lifespan; evidence-based nursing scholarship; and pathophysiology of altered health states.
The Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences (i.e., Nursing@Simmons) based in Boston offers a distance-based MSN program in the FNP specialty. It requires one on-campus weekend immersion session and offers classes such as research methods; health promotion (a global perspective); advanced pharmacology across the lifespan; advanced health assessment across the lifespan; clinical decision-making; family theory (health & illness); primary care nursing of the childbearing & childrearing family; and primary care nursing. It costs $1,345 per credit hour.
For NPs with master’s degrees seeking a new certification or looking to change specialties, there are post-master’s FNP certificates available from online schools. In addition to the online MSN programs in the family nurse practitioner specialization profiled above, here are three additional universities to consider. Please note that these programs are also offered as online FNP-MSN programs and similarly take 18 months to two years of full-time study to complete.
Northern Kentucky University of Highland Heights provides a distance-based FNP post-master’s certificate with 100 percent of the courses offered online, although primary care clinical evaluations may require one-day site visits, as well as a mandatory three- to four-day campus residency prior to NP clinical courses. Classes at NKU include advanced human physiology; health promotion & disease prevention; diagnostic reasoning & advanced physical assessment; and common health problems across the lifespan. At the post-master’s level, this online FNP program comprises 14 credits of coursework and costs $624 per credit, making it one of the more affordable post-master’s certificates available.
Finally, George Washington University has an online FNP program requiring 700 clinical hours at the post-master’s certificate level. Classes include advanced pharmacology for nursing; lifespan primary care diagnosis & management; and advanced health assessment & diagnostic reasoning. This FNP certificate program requires two campus visits: once for a new student orientation and again for a health assessment course exam. It costs $1,340 per credit hour.
A majority of online FNP-DNP programs open to those with associate degrees in nursing (ADN) or non-nursing bachelor’s degrees require more time on campus than other DNP pathways. For example, the MGH Institute of Health Professions provides a distance-based DNP program to qualifying RNs, but the eight- to ten-semester course sequence requires the student to be on-campus for the first four semesters to complete the MSN. That said, here are two standout schools offering online RN-to-DNP programs for family nurse practitioners. Please note that these programs typically take four- to five-years of full-time study to complete.
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston provides an online FNP-DNP program with coursework in applied epidemiology & biostatistics in healthcare; scientific underpinnings for practice; informatics in healthcare delivery; advanced care management; applied healthcare economics & finance; and pharmacotherapeutics. It costs $835 per credit hour for SC residents and $985 for non-residents.
Frontier Nursing University based in Hyden, KY provides an excellent online ADN bridge program to qualifying RNs seeking an FNP-DNP, which awards an MSN en route. The first “bridge” portion of the program lasts 12 months and requires two on-campus sessions. Students then undertake the MSN portion of the program—also requiring two campus visits—comprising 675 clinical hours (+360 hours for the companionate DNP) and classes such as evidence-based practice; pharmacology; primary care for geriatrics; primary care of complex issues; and women’s health in the childbearing years. At this phase, students are ready for the online companionate DNP portion of the program, featuring instruction in leadership & health policy and translating the evidence to advanced practice. This four- to five-year online RN-to-DNP program costs $58,760 total.
Additionally, Delta State University offers a distance-based RN-to-DNP program in the family health specialty, which requires 1,140 clinical hours and eight- to nine-semesters of classes such as community health nursing; basic pathophysiology; nursing informatics; management of client care; health policy & ethical decision making; advanced pathophysiology; epidemiology & population health; and advanced statistics for clinical practice. Delta state requires one-to-three campus visits to Cleveland, MS per semester.
To learn more about RN-to-DNP programs, please visit the relevant section of the main online nurse practitioner programs page.
There is a wealth of online BSN-to-DNP programs for prospective FNPs. Here are four standout options for distance-based students:
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) provides an online DNP in the FNP specialty. The distance-based, post-BSN program option takes three years to complete and involves classes such as applied epidemiology & biostatistics in healthcare; scientific underpinnings for practice; advanced clinical assessment & reasoning; advanced pharmacotherapeutics; informatics in healthcare delivery; and a supervised FNP practicum. This program results in both MSN and DNP degrees upon completion. Students are required to travel to campus a few times in the course of the program: once for the initial orientation, once for a project-proposal presentation, and as needed for a few of the core courses. These campus stays typically last 2-3 days each, and students are given three months notice prior to required campus visits. This practice-focused DNP is offered both part- and full-time and accommodates post-MSN students as well. Notably, MUSC ranked second among US News & World Report’s best online graduate nursing programs. Finally, this program costs $8,116 per full-time semester for in-state residents, and $9,553 per semester for out-of-state students.
Idaho State University (ISU) also provides an online DNP in the FNP subspecialty, featuring classes such as human pathophysiology; rural & global communications in society; advanced evidence application; health policy; primary care of the young adult; approaches to scholarly writing; primary care throughout the lifespan; and genetics for the healthcare professional. ISU’s School of Nursing awards $42,000 annually in scholarships, and this program is especially affordable for full-time, in-state residents at $4,464 per semester. For non-residents, tuition is $11,852 per semester. Please note that ISU also provides an online DNP in the FNP specialty for post-MSN students.
Gonzaga University has an online “post-bacc” DNP program in the FNP specialty, involving 13-15 semesters (including summers). This 75-credit program requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical practicums and an average of two campus visits to the Spokane, WA area annually. There are ten credits of online FNP courses in the primary care of three distinct populations: adult & geriatric; infant, child & adolescent; and gender-based. The 34 credits of DNP courses include evidence synthesis for practice, integrated application of evidence for advanced practice (I-IV), population-focused care, inferential statistics, and theoretical foundations for the DNP. At $1,020 per credit, please note that this program is available to students among ten states, concentrated mainly in the west (AK, AZ, CA, ID, NV, OR, MT, UT, WA, and WY).
Duke University provides an online BSN-to-DNP program in the FNP specialty. Students earn both their MSN and DNP in the program, and Duke has unique opportunities for further subspecialization in areas such as cardiology, endocrinology, oncology, orthopedics, or HIV. Online classes include physical assessment & diagnostic reasoning and advanced practice nursing in primary care for adolescents & adult patients. Finally, this competitive online program is offered in both part- and full-time formats and costs $12,488 per semester.
As mentioned above, many post-master’s DNP options require candidates to have national certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) prior to admission. Here is a selection of featured online DNP programs in the FNP specialty:
The University of Arizona provides an online DNP in the FNP specialty to candidates with a master’s degree in nursing (i.e., master of science in nursing, or MSN). During the August prior to their first term, DNP candidates complete a five-day campus residency: the Resident Intensive Summer Experience (RISE). Students also complete a minimum of 1,000 immersion hours, comprising both clinical practicums and an original research project under the guidance of a mentor. Online classes include statistical inference for evidence-based practice; theories of leadership & organizational management; molecular & clinical genetics; emerging diseases & population health; and issues in gerontological health.
George Washington University (GWU) offers an online DNP with a focus on family specialty nurse practitioners (FSNPs). In addition to clinical hours completed at approved facilities, aspiring FSNPs complete web-based classes integral to the DNP such as concepts in population health, knowledge management in nursing, and healthcare quality improvement. Students may also take online electives in grant writing, teaching with technology in the health professions, or topics in pharmacology. Online, family-specific coursework includes primary care of the family, advanced family primary care, and an FNP clinical practicum. Please note that GWU requires only three campus visits for its post-MSN students: an initial orientation, a project preparation meeting, and a final research presentation. This program costs $1,340 per credit hour.
The aforementioned Frontier Nursing University provides a post-master’s DNP for nationally certified FNPs which takes 15 months to complete. This program requires only two campus visits—one for a welcome orientation and one for a capstone project presentation—and comprises 33 semester-units of coursework, in addition to self-directed clinical experiences. Classes at FNU include ethics & healthcare policy, leadership & organizational theory, and evidence-based practice. Please note that this program costs $15,820 total, and is also offered in post-BSN and post-ADN formats.
Prior to applying to an online FNP program, students are strongly advised to verify the accreditation status of their school and program of choice. Accreditation is a program- and/or institution-approval process which ensures a baseline of quality with respect to curricula, faculty, facilities, student preparedness for credentialing, and other important outcomes measures. There are two main types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic.
For institutional accreditation (i.e., recognition which applies to the whole university), there are six regional bodies recognized by the US Department of Education: the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), or the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
For programmatic accreditation, there are two main program-approval entities in nursing: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN).
To learn in-depth about the process, please visit the individual accreditation body websites or the corresponding section of the online NP programs page.
Prior to enrollment in an online FNP program, students are also advised to check the state authorization status of their distance-based nursing school. There are varying state laws regarding the provision of online education and as a result, it’s imperative to verify that there’s not a mismatch between one’s state of residence and the state in which a web-based school is located. For example, the University of Arizona offers a state authorization map on its main DNP page, noting that it is unable to offer its online program to students in some areas, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. Other schools such as Duke University put their state authorization information on a separate page. If state authorization information isn’t readily available on program websites, students are advised to contact program coordinators to ensure their eligibility.
As mentioned above, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) typically seek professional credentialing after completing their master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees. There are two main organizations which credential FNPs.
First, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the family nurse practitioner board certified (FNP-BC) credential. To qualify, candidates must have:
This credential is valid for five years and can be renewed following the completion of qualifying contact hours or continuing education. For a detailed overview, please check out the ANCC renewals policies.
Second, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) also offers a five-year FNP certification. To qualify, candidates must fulfill similar criteria to that of the ANCC credential. The competency-based AANP exam for FNPs—developed in a partnership with the Professional Examination Service (ProExam)—comprises 150 multiple choice questions. For a detailed overview of the AANP credentialing process, please visit the AANP Handbook.
Finally, to learn in-depth about credentialing and education for FNPs, check out the FNP programs page.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN – NP" programs page for more details.