What is the difference between a family nurse practitioner (FNP) and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP)? There is a lot of overlap between the two, but the primary distinction is that FNP is both a job title and a specialization and a DNP is a terminal degree for all types of NPs.

A family nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who specializes in family care and may act as a primary care provider. Often acting alongside (or in place of) a doctor, FNPs diagnose, treat, and manage illnesses. They develop disease prevention methods and health promotion habits and work closely with patients over an extended period. FNPs are known for producing trust and personal relationships with patients and their families.

Becoming an FNP takes time, money, and hard work. FNPs need certifications, licenses, continuing education, clinical training, and, at a minimum, a master’s degree. However, some FNPs go further than a master’s; they pursue a DNP.

Along with a PhD, a DNP degree is the highest degree in the nursing field. Those with a DNP become experts in their chosen discipline through a lengthy and advanced education with hundreds of clinical hours and hands-on practicums. DNPs may specialize in one of several types of patient populations, including adult-gerontology, psychiatric health, and pediatrics.

DNPs may go on to work in emergency departments, hospitals, clinics, or even in the fields of policy, research, and academia—and they often take on a leadership role. Some DNPs choose to take their expert-level abilities back to practice as FNPs in family care.

DNP degrees take much longer than master’s degrees, both at the educational and certification level, and they cost more, too. However, nurse practitioners are increasingly opting for the DNP option. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is now recommending that all advanced practice resident nurses pursue DNP degrees.

With the rapid evolution of healthcare in the U.S. and the increasingly nuanced needs of a diverse population, it may make sense for aspiring advanced practice nurses, even those seeking to work in family care, to pursue a doctor of nursing practice degree.

Read on to find further points of connection and divergence between an FNP and a DNP.

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Side-by-Side Comparison: FNP vs DNP

DefinitionA family nurse practitioner is a registered nurse whose education, clinical training, and daily practice focus on family care.A doctor of nursing practice is the highest degree available in nursing. APRNs with DNP degrees become experts in their field.
EducationFNPs typically have either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) with a specialization in family nursing.DNPs hold the terminal degree of discipline, a doctor of nursing practice.
Featured ProgramsUniversity of Southern California (49 credits) Columbia University (46-49 credits) Maryville University (41-50 credits) Regis College (46-61 credits) Ohio State University (63 credits) University of South Carolina (45-48 credits)Johns Hopkins University (81 credits) University of Pittsburgh (81 credits) Michigan State University (70 credits) Rutgers University (71-74 credits) University of Washington (93 credits) Duke University (74 credits) Note: DNP programs can be offered as ADN-to-DNP, BSN-to-DNP, or as MSN-to-DNP. Credit totals above are listed for BSN-to-DNP programs.
Typical CoursesThe following courses are specific to MSN programs with a specialization in family nursing: Advanced pathophysiology Advanced pharmacology Management and advanced practice nursing Healthcare policy Health promotion and disease prevention Research and analytical methodsCourses will vary based on specialization, but some common DNP subjects include: Advanced pathophysiology Advanced pharmacology Health informatics Analysis and evaluation of population health Clinical reasoning Translational research Healthcare economics Social determinants of health
Program AccreditationFNP programs should be accredited through one of the following organizations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)DNP programs should be accredited through one of the following organizations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
Clinical HoursMost FNP programs require at least 500 clinical hours.Most DNP programs require at least 1,000 clinical hours.
Licensing & CertificationThe American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offer competency-based exams for certification as either a family nurse practitioner, an emergency nurse practitioner, or an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner.The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offer competency-based exams for certification as either a family nurse practitioner, an emergency nurse practitioner, or an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, among other specializations. The ANCC also offers many certifications that cover some DNP specializations, such as adult-gerontology (acute), pediatric (acute), and psychiatric and mental health. Other certification entities include the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), the National Certification Corporation (NCC), and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN).
CompetenciesAn FNP’s skills include: Ability to provide care to diverse populations Development of long-term plans for the management of disease Guidance in the areas of disease prevention and health promotion Quality competence in evaluating organizational structures and processes and how they impact care Technology and IT literacy Policy competency in advocating for policies that promote access to care Expertise in application of ethically sound principles to complex issuesA DNP’s skills include: Scientific underpinnings for practice Organizational and systems leadership Ability to foster improved access to healthcare Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice Technology and IT literacy Healthcare policy and advocacy Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient outcomes Clinical prevention and population health
Professional Associations & ResourcesAmerican Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) International Council of Nurse Practitioners (ICNP) California Association of Nurse Practitioners (CANP)American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA) American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) Note: Many organizations are not exclusive to DNPs but are instead clustered according to nursing specialty.
The Bottom LineAn FNP is an advanced practice nurse specialized in family care. Those who choose this area of practice are committing themselves to long relationships with their patients and their patients’ families. While a master’s degree is the current level of education required to practice, some FNPs have a DNP degree. As healthcare evolves, a higher level of expertise will be necessary to meet the nuances and intricacies of delivering care to families, and both employers and credentialing agencies have taken notice.The DNP is the top clinical degree available in the nursing field. As healthcare evolves, nurses with DNPs are expected to take on more significant roles in problem solving and advocacy. Certain specialties which only require an MSN now may soon need a DNP for credentialing. The AACN has recommended that all advanced practice nurses obtain a DNP degree. While a DNP takes more time and more money, it offers additional options and opportunities to ensure that APRNs will be leaders in their profession and their chosen specialty.

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