Quick Facts :
Nurse Practitioners


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Practitioners, May 2017

info-icon Master's Degree
info-icon $110,930 Annual Wage
info-icon 31% Job Growth


What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

A family nurse practitioner fulfills many of the same duties as the traditional family doctor, developing relationships built on mutual trust with patients and serving as the primary point of contact in the community health care system. They may track and treat the health conditions of one or more members of the same family over a period of several years. Additionally, the family nurse practitioner educates patients in nutrition, exercise, and the importance of healthy lifestyle choices. Not only do they treat the patient’s current health problems, but they also focus on preventative care.

Family nurse practitioners typically serve a diverse patient base. They treat pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients who come from a variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. A family nurse practitioner may serve rural areas, with patients of limited financial means. At a medical facility, patients and other staff depend on the family nurse practitioner to understand both the patients and the community. Most advanced practice nurses work in a private physician’s office or at a community outreach clinic.

An effective family nurse practitioner is empathetic and compassionate. In addition, he or she possesses excellent communication skills and the ability to motivate patients to practice self-care. This individual is detail-oriented and possesses excellent organizational skills, both of which are critical in tracking patient symptoms and health conditions over the course of their lifetimes. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, patients who routinely utilize the services of a family nurse practitioner report fewer emergency room visits and shorter hospital stays than those who do not.

Family Nurse Practitioner: Typical Duties & Responsibilities

The family nurse practitioner fulfills many of the same duties traditionally performed by a medical doctor as well as some that are unique to the position. Specific tasks that he or she performs on a daily basis include:

  • Educate patients on disease and injury prevention, including counseling patients on their lifestyle choices and providing referrals to other health care professionals when necessary.
  • Diagnose, treat, and help manage chronic illnesses and acute injuries.
  • Perform physical examinations.
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests.
  • Provide prenatal care and family planning services.
  • Screen for specific diseases.
  • Perform minor surgeries.
  • Prescribe medications.
  • Refer patients with long-term symptoms from injuries or chronic illnesses to physical therapy or other healthcare facilities.

Because it focuses on treatment of the whole person, the role of the family nurse practitioner is unique in the current healthcare climate. While a physician’s primary duty is to treat the patient’s most pressing health concern ‒ the reason the patient is in his or her office ‒ a family nurse practitioner also focuses on the patient’s overall health, lifestyle, and preventative care. This dual approach to patient care lowers health care costs in addition to improving patient outcomes. Each state has different laws that determine the level of independence that a family nurse practitioner has when working with patients. For example, in some states, the family nurse practitioner performs in collaboration with a medical doctor; in other states, the nurse practitioner requires direct supervision from the physician on duty.

Steps to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners are professionals with advanced training and exceptional abilities who can work with other health care professionals to provide services to people of all ages. Family nurse practitioners provide a range of healthcare services, with a focus on family-specific health care. Some family nurse practitioners, as the title indicates, work in family care, while others become healthcare administration professionals.

Because they are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases, the role of a family nurse practitioner goes beyond the normal duties of a registered nurse. To become qualified to perform these services, family nurse practitioners first must seek graduate education and acquire extensive experience as a registered nurse. Nurse practitioners are valuable health care providers who play a critical role in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. Becoming a family nurse practitioner requires multiple steps.

1. Earn Your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Although more than one path exists to become a family nurse practitioner, one of the most common is to get a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). The BSN degree is designed to provide future nurses with an understanding of topics such as fundamentals of nursing, ethics, pathophysiology, anatomy, human behavior, microbiology, nutrition, and health assessment.

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree, students also receive hands-on clinical instruction. BSN students go into real-world clinical settings to observe nurses on the job discharging their day-to-day duties. Through the acquisition of both theoretical knowledge and real-world, practical experience, nurses pursuing a BSN are prepared for careers in a variety of healthcare settings. While in nursing school, BSN students also receive leadership training that will help them perform confidently in their chosen occupation.

Throughout their education, nursing students ready themselves to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Upon graduation, students should be prepared to take the test.

2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) is designed to measure a candidate’s understanding of the concepts fundamental to the practice of nursing. Before a registered nurse can seek employment, he or she must first pass this exam.

This national computerized exam is designed and scored by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCSBN is the organization responsible for regulating health care standards. Asking all nurses to take the same exam ensures that every RN begins his or her career with the same basic information, regardless of location or education.

Students who wish to take the exam must first apply for a nursing license from their state board of nursing. Once he or she submits the application, the student receives an examination candidate bulletin in the mail. Upon its receipt, the student can register to sit for the exam.

The NCLEX-RN exam comprises eight sections that measure nursing competency, including:

  • Management of Patient Care
  • Basic Patient Care
  • Infection Control and Safety
  • Safe, Effective Care Environment
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Pharmacological Therapies and Parenteral Therapies
  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Psychosocial and Psychological Integrity
  • Reduction of Risk Potential

Questions are designed to measure a nursing candidate’s ability to meet the needs of patients who are experiencing a variety of healthcare challenges, including treatment and prevention of disease, injury, and illness. Questions are selected based on the answers to previous questions, so each test score is based on the standard set by the NCSBN and not on the student’s ability to answer questions better than other test-takers. This exam also provides the opportunity for nurses to use the critical-thinking skills they developed in nursing school.

Before taking the test, students should study topics relating to basic care, prevention of disease, infection control, pharmacology, safety, and management of care. Learn more about the NCLEX-RN exam by exploring the NCBSN website.

3. After the Exam – Gain Relevant Experience

Upon completion of the exam, the family nurse practitioner begins working as a registered nurse to acquire the experience required to advance to the next level. Graduate-level family nurse practitioner programs typically require their applicants have at least two years’ experience working as a registered nurse. Although a registered nurse can work in a variety of settings, most FNP programs look favorably on nurses with experience in pediatric, geriatric, women’s health, family, and adult programs.

4. Earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

The Master of Science in nursing program prepares students to be able to provide both primary and specialty practice care. These programs teach theoretical and evidence-based lessons that help students hone their skills and deliver high-quality nursing care. Students who earn their Master of Science in nursing possess many of the same skills and can provide many of the same services as do physicians.

MSN Program Goals & Objectives

In the MSN program, students learn advanced nursing methods, including how to serve diverse populations, diagnose illnesses, and collaborate with doctors and patients to resolve patient health problems. Program objectives typically aim at providing nurses with the skills they need to take leadership roles in clinical practice, while also teaching them how to apply research and theory to real-world settings. In their MSN program, nurses learn to demonstrate accountability and responsibility and how to investigate patient health issues. Nurses learn to synthesize their knowledge of cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors to resolve patient conditions.

Essential Skills & Knowledge

Because they are preparing for an advanced nursing degree, MSN students must achieve a level of independence and problem-solving ability that is not required of the typical nursing student. To meet these goals and master the many necessary skills, students delve deeply into the scientific aspects of nursing. They are taught to apply the knowledge learned through their academic studies, the information garnered from journals, and skills gained from continuing education classes to resolve the real-world problems they encounter in everyday healthcare settings. A combination of advanced critical thinking skills, expertise, analytical reasoning, and depth of knowledge enables an MSN student to continue on to become a family nurse practitioner.

Typical MSN Clinical Coursework, Content, & Training

MSN programs encompass coursework in a variety of topics, including statistics, policy, safety, disease prevention, leadership, program evaluation, epidemiology, root cause analysis, statistics, ethics, social issues and diversity, and the foundations of nursing. Other topics that nursing students cover include management of long-term illnesses, how to promote good health and a healthy lifestyle, how to practice in clinical settings, and how to use ethics in medical practices. Finally, nurses learn critical-thinking skills and how to solve problems independently.

Often, programs conclude with a short residency and mentorship with a licensed, practicing nurse, during which the student learns how to apply theoretical coursework to practical applications. In addition, students learn nursing techniques related to treating specific populations, including pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and advanced health assessment.

5. Ger Board Certified Through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

After a student graduates from an MSN degree program, he or she must become certified by a specialty or state nursing board. The FNP-BC credential is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This board-certification examination assesses a nurse’s understanding of the critical skills and knowledge base necessary to become a family nurse practitioner.

Certification requires the student to successfully pass an exam to earn an accreditation that remains valid for five years. Nurses must maintain their nursing license and meet renewal requirements at specified intervals.

Before sitting for the exam, the test-taker must complete a graduate degree and 500 supervised clinical hours. Students who pass this exam are qualified to work as a family nurse practitioner. ANCC credentialing is accepted by all state boards and the United States military. It is also directly linked to reports of fewer medical errors and increased job satisfaction.

6. Search for Nurse Practioner Jobs & Enter the Workforce

After the potential family nurse practitioner graduates with an MSN degree and acquires board certification, it’s time to find a job. Many job candidates research the job market before graduation, which helps them locate and hone in on the facilities with the best jobs. Upon graduation, newly credentialed students can focus on finding a position with the most highly regarded facility in their region.

Many family nurse practitioners seek positions in hospice facilities, physicians’ offices, schools, nurse-managed clinics, and private practices. Securing a job requires flexibility, effective communication skills, logical thinking, organization, and flexibility. To reveal these aspects of their personality and skill set to prospective employers, family nurse practitioner candidates must craft an effective resume and cover letter portfolio that accurately and thoroughly describes clinical experience as well as education and credentialing. Human resources departments look for flawless, error-free resumes and cover letters.

FNP jobs are often in higher demand in urban areas, which also provide a wider range of employment options. Before applying for a job, the potential FNP should first research the position and the facility to which she or he is applying. Knowing the institution’s values, policies, and organizational structure helps candidates stand out during the interview.

Jobs are often listed on facility job boards and the career pages of websites. Networking with schoolmates and colleagues may also help candidates learn about available positions at a particular facility.

Knowing how to interview also helps secure a job. Employers look for candidates who can confidently express their ideas, discuss their experience, and ask intelligent questions about the position for which they are applying. Employers want family nurse practitioners who can not only demonstrate their clinical skills but who can also speak knowledgeably about nursing theory.

Candidates can prepare themselves for an interview by role-playing with a friend or coworker, which helps them develop the ability to talk about themselves and their experience. With good preparation, many family nurse practitioners have little trouble finding a rewarding position after graduation. Although it takes many years of hard work and study to become a licensed, certified family nurse practitioner, most FNPs feel the time is well spent.

Family Nurse Practitioner Salary & Employment Outlook

According to the website PayScale, family nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $85,435 per year. The fluctuation between those with the least experience and those with the most is not as significant as in other nursing jobs. PayScale reports a range of $69,029 to $103,974 per year for family nurse practitioners. The salary depends more on location and the size of the employer than years of experience.

In 2013, Forbes magazine reported that family physician and family nurse practitioner positions are among the most in-demand jobs in health care. Although Forbes didn’t report exact statistical projections, it’s safe to assume that it’s higher than the 16 percent expected demand for registered nurses. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of the reasons for the projected demand for FNPs. The legislation provides greater access to health care and focuses on care provided in a less-expensive manner. The family nurse practitioner meets ACA goals by controlling costs, improving patient access and outcomes, and providing a higher quality of health care services.

Another factor for the increased demand for this nursing specialty is the need to replace retiring family physicians With fewer medical students going into the study of general medicine, demand exists for family nurse practitioners, who can step in and perform nearly all the same functions as a physician in addition to providing preventive care.