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What is a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)?

June 3, 2020 | Staff Writers

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Family nurse practitioners (FNP) earn high salaries working in a variety of settings. For these reasons, the occupation is among the most popular specialized nursing roles. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, about 67% of nurse practitioners across the nation hold the FNP credential.

FNPs work with families to implement healthcare plans and provide preventative care. Most FNPs hold a master’s degree in nursing and a background as a registered nurse (RN). The position requires both certification and licensure.

A family nurse practitioner cares for patients of all ages in hospitals, clinics, and care facilities. FNPs also teach patients to promote good health throughout the lifespan.

Many focus their practice on specific healthcare subfields, such as oncology or diabetes. Keep reading to learn how to become a family nurse practitioner and explore this rewarding career path in depth.

What Does an FNP Do?

Depending on the setting, FNPs may work alongside physicians and nurse practitioners. However, some work fairly independently. FNPs prescribe medications, conduct physical exams, educate patients, and keep medical records up to date. Most FNP work full time, but some healthcare providers also hire part-time candidates.

Some FNPs focus their practice on midwifery, outpatient services, or mental health services. According to the AANP, the most popular focus areas include internal medicine and primary care.

Many FNP nurses provide healthcare services in underserved communities. Today, FNPs also find jobs operating COVID-19 information hotlines.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between an FNP and a physician?

FNP responsibilities are similar to those of physicians, such as prescribing medications and managing both acute and chronic conditions. Unlike FNPs, physicians must complete medical school and a residency after their undergraduate education. The path to becoming a physician is much longer than that of an FNP. Their salaries also differ considerably.

Is an FNP a good job?

Yes. In terms of pay and opportunity, working as an FNP is a promising career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the fast-growing field is projected to add 53,300 nurse practitioners from 2018-28. FNPs seeking jobs in healthcare management or medical research can earn additional credentials and/or a Ph.D.

Are FNPs doctors?

No. FNPs and doctors have similar duties, but their responsibilities and their educational experiences differ. An advanced practice registered nurse and physician both care for patients under the Hippocratic Oath. They both treat patients to the best of their ability while maintaining patient privacy. Both professions also work to educate future health practitioners.

How long does it take to become an FNP?

No set pathway determines how to become a family nurse practitioner. Every FNP’s journey varies according to their individual circumstances. FNPs must hold a master’s degree, which takes about 2-3 years to complete. FNP nurses must also earn state licensure and pass the national certification exam.

Advantages of Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner

There are many benefits to becoming an FNP. While FNPs perform many of the same responsibilities as doctors, the position offers the intimacy of working directly with patients.

FNPs enjoy more freedoms than RNs, including the ability to prescribe medications, obtain thorough patient histories, perform physical exams, and create comprehensive treatment plans. They also enjoy higher salaries than other nurse practitioners and RNs. Both rural and urban areas need advanced practice nurses like FNPs. This high demand allows FNPs to choose from a variety of specializations and work in many different settings.

Visit this page to find the best online nurse practitioner programs and learn how to become a family nurse practitioner.

How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

After completing an accredited two-year graduate program, FNPs must pass the certification exam. Most apply for certification shortly before graduating. Prospective FNPs must submit proof of state licensure and transcripts to sit for the exam.

Keep reading to find out how to become an FNP and explore educational requirements.

Education Requirements to Become an FNP

Most employers expect FNPs to hold a master’s degree. About 95.9% of nurse practitioners earn a graduate degree, according to the 2019 AANP Compensation Survey.

Students pursuing a master’s in nursing with a concentration in family nurse practitioner usually complete around 48 credits. Along with research-focused curricula, the best online master’s in nursing programs include practicum experiences in specialized clinical settings.

Practicum requirements vary by school and state. Students may complete up to 700 hours of clinical experience. Learn more about requirements for different nursing programs on this page.

Clinical Hour Requirements for FNP Students

FNP students should expect 500-700 clinical hours, some through a preceptorship where a practicing clinician mentors them in a clinical setting. Clinical rotations allow future NPs to experience life as an FNP in a variety of healthcare settings, including cardiology, maternity, and palliative care wards. For most online programs, schools assist students in finding placements at local health facilities.

To fulfill requirements to become an FNP and sit for the ANCC certification exam, FNP candidates need at least 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours. Note that minimum required clinical hours may vary depending on specialty. In addition to 500 hours of direct care, students also gain practical experience through labs and simulations.

Certification and Licensure Requirements for FNPs

The knowledge and skills nurses gain in an FNP master’s program prepares them to take the national certification exam. According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which administers the competency-based exam, applicants must answer about 150 questions. The test assesses the applicant’s knowledge of healthcare delivery across the lifespan, including prenatal, pediatric, adolescent, adult, and geriatric healthcare.

Eligibility for certification includes completion of an accredited graduate program. Students must complete classes in advanced physical assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. Only licensed nurses can apply for certification. MSN students who have completed their clinical practicum hours and core curriculum can start applying for certification six months before they graduate.

Concentrations Offered for Family Nurse Practitioners


  • Cardiology

    Cardiology-focused MSN graduates find work treating patients with heart disease, including arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. Candidates complete specific coursework and 200 clinical hours under the supervision of an expert cardiovascular clinician. Students graduate ready to apply cardiology best practices and implement the latest evidence-based knowledge as an FNP.


  • Neonatology

    A subspecialty of pediatrics, neonatology focuses on the care of newborns, especially infants or “neonates” who are born prematurely or with illnesses. Through focused coursework and clinical practice, prospective neonatal FNPs develop expertise in clinical management for acutely or chronically ill neonates.


  • Emergency Medicine

    FNP graduates trained in emergency medicine learn to evaluate, assess, diagnose, treat, and educate patients experiencing acute or life-threatening health issues. Operating under pressure requires quick thinking and a level head, and this specialty prepares FNPs to provide urgent, evidence-based care to patients experiencing medical crises. Emergency medicine FNPs might work in hospitals or urgent care clinics.


  • Oncology

    Another specialty for FNPs is oncology, which trains them to work with cancer patients and their families. Students study topics like cancer prevention, disease treatment, symptom management, palliative care, and epidemiology as it pertains to cancer types. This specialty typically requires three additional courses and more than 200 clinical hours.


  • Women's Health

    The women’s healthcare specialty focuses on health issues and conditions typically associated with women, including reproductive health, gynecological care, and prenatal and postpartum care. The specialization also covers disease prevention and health education specific to healthcare for women, and FNPs in this specialization can work in hospitals, ambulatory facilities, and family clinics.


Salary and Career Outlook for FNPs

The FNP career path offers a six-figure salary in an industry projected to grow by 26% from 2018-28. However, salary potential depends on their clinical setting, their professional experience, and their geographical location.

Nurse practitioners earn an annual median wage of $109,820, with top earners working in state, local, and private hospitals. NPs with an FNP certification earn a median annual wage of $114,000, according to the 2019 AANP National NP Sample Survey: Compensation.

As NPs gain more experience, their salary increases. With up to five years of experience, NPs earn an annual base salary of $104,000. NPs with 11-15 years of experience draw an annual base wage of $118,000.

Find Out More About Nursing Practitioner Programs


Reviewed by:

Expert Reviewer: Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne is a recent graduate from the University of Portland’s doctor of nursing practice program. She received her bachelor’s in nursing science from the University of Portland in 2012, and worked in acute care providing bedside nursing care on a general surgical unit for eight years at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington before pursuing her doctorate.

There, she also assisted in teaching new graduate nurses through simulation experiences with Swedish’s Nurse Residency Program, in addition to contributing to several quality improvement projects during her tenure. She will soon begin her first position on faculty as a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Oregon Health & Science University’s Department of Family Practice in Portland, Oregon.

Krippaehne has a distinct interest in preventive care and health promotion. She practices an evidence-based, ethical, and patient-centered approach with regard to societal, cultural, and economic influences on health and quality of life. She believes in providing equitable access to healthcare to all those she serves and alleviating disparities within our health system.

Advertisement NurseJournal.org 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.

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