What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

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FNP with patient

You may be wondering, “What is a family nurse practitioner?” A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who cares for patients of all ages, from infants to geriatrics. An FNP is one of the six categories of nurse practitioner (NP) that focus on different sectors of the patient population.

The responsibility of an FNP involves the primary health care of the family. FNPs are educated at an advanced level, which gives them the knowledge and skills to serve the community in a primary care role, often with a high degree of autonomy.

Educational Requirements

To practice as an FNP, a nurse must have either a master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing. To be eligible to enroll in a graduate program, a student must be a registered nurse (RN), have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and have several years of nursing experience.

  • Master’s Degree Choices

RNs may choose from several accredited schools, colleges, and universities for their master’s degree in nursing. The most popular degree is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Other accredited programs offer a Master of Nursing (MN), Master of Science (MS) majoring in nursing, and a Master of Arts (MA) with a nursing major. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are the two agencies that administer the accreditation of nursing educational programs.

Some colleges and universities allow RNs who hold an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to study toward their bachelor’s and master’s degrees through one program. In other institutions, RNs may combine their master’s degree program with another area of study. These other areas may include a Master of Hospital Administration (MHA), a Master of Public Health (MPH), and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a health care concentration.

  • Typical Curriculum

A typical master’s degree curriculum for an FNP includes the following courses:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical and clinical assessment
  • Pediatric care
  • Adult and geriatric care
  • Child development
  • Family planning
  • Family nursing theory and care
  • Family counseling
  • Nutrition
  • Acute and chronic illness management
  • Dynamics of family health care
  • Disease prevention and health promotion
  • Health policy


  • Certification and Registration

After graduation, FNPs must pass a further certification exam before they are able to practice. This exam is set by one of two certifying agencies that are preferred by various states. These are the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

FNPs are also required to be recertified every five years, and must complete approved additional practical experience and ongoing education in nursing before doing so. After certification, an FNP must be registered with the nursing board in the state where they intend to practice.

Necessary Skills

Developing the following skills helps ensure successful career progression in the FNP profession:

  • Clinical skills to measure a patient’s breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and body temperature, and make health assessments
  • Strong verbal and written communication, as well as listening skills
  • Good leadership skills to manage other health care personnel and ensure the efficient operation of a facility or practice
  • Strong decision-making and problem-solving abilities
  • The ability to collaborate effectively with other members of a health care team
  • Sound time management and organizational skills
  • The ability to employ techniques to manage stress

Typical Duties and Responsibilities

Many states allow FNPs to work independently, while others require them to be supervised and overseen by a physician. In the scope of their work, FNPs provide primary care for patients of all ages. For many families, an FNP may become the preferred health care provider.

Typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Conducting physical and clinical assessments
  • Performing diagnostic tests and evaluating results
  • Prescribing medications
  • Developing treatment plans for both acute and chronic illnesses
  • Performing minor surgical procedures
  • Promoting health and wellness
  • Counseling patients on disease prevention and development of healthy lifestyles

Career Opportunities and Specializations

FNPs are in demand for employment in hospitals, community clinics, medical practices, state and local health departments, and schools. In states where they are permitted to work independently, FNPs may open their own private practices or form private practices with other NPs.

Many FNPs provide general primary care to their patients, while others opt to specialize by completing a post-graduate certificate program in their area of interest. FNPs may specialize in many different medical areas, including:

  • Cardiac care
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Pulmonary care
  • Gerontology
  • Perinatal care
  • Urology
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgical care
  • ER/Trauma care
  • Critical care

FNPs of all specialties may have the opportunity to develop a long and lucrative career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has forecast that employment of FNPs will grow by 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, the fastest growth of any profession or occupation in the country. In 2017, the average salary earned by an FNP was $110,930.

By using the information in this article, you should have a better idea of how to answer the question: “What is a family nurse practitioner?” This is a profession that can provide a lucrative income while allowing you to provide a critical service to the community.

Learn More

With the need for primary care providers increasing and the family nurse practitioner’s autonomy as an advanced practice provider, specializing as a family nurse practitioner is appealing for nurses and NPs who are trying to advance their careers. Regis College offers online Post-Master’s Nursing Certificate programs that prepare students to sit for a certification exam with a new, flexible learning format.

Recommended Reading

Family Nurse Practitioner Programs Online: A Modern Solution for Upwardly Mobile Nurses

FNP vs NP: What’s Right for Me?

Nurse Practitioners and the Primary Care Shortage



Regis College

Mayo Clinic

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Campaign for Nursing