What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

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According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, nearly 70% of nurse practitioners (NPs) have chosen family health as their primary area of certification. However, if you’re not familiar with the profession, 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 the elderly. An FNP is one of the several categories of NPs that focus on different sectors of the patient population.

FNPs are responsible for providing primary health care to families. They are educated at an advanced level, giving them the knowledge and skills to serve the community in a primary care role, often with a high degree of autonomy. Individuals who are interested in pursuing a post-master’s certificate in nursing online can benefit from learning more about becoming an FNP and what the job entails.

Family Nurse Practitioner 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. A chronology of the steps involved in becoming an FNP is presented below.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is the first requirement to fulfill to become an FNP. Individuals who have an associate degree in nursing may be able to earn their BSN through an RN to BSN program. If you have a bachelor’s degree in another subject, you might be eligible to obtain a BSN through an accelerated program.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse

After earning an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a BSN, individuals must then become RNs. To become an RN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and then apply to your state nursing regulatory entity for licensure as an RN.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

Individuals who research what a family nurse practitioner is learn that they can choose from multiple types of graduate degrees to become an FNP. 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).

Nurses also can opt to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the DNP is for individuals who are seeking higher education in areas such as leadership, making improvements in health care quality, and evidence-based nursing practice.

Step 4: Obtain Certification as an FNP

After earning a master’s degree or a DNP, FNPs must pass a certification exam before they’re able to practice. Two organizations offer FNP certification exams: the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) 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.

Step 5: Become Licensed as an FNP

After becoming certified as an FNP, individuals need to receive state FNP licensure or state FNP certification from their state nursing regulatory entity. Nursing regulatory entities vary from state to state, so it’s helpful to learn about the specific requirements in your state.

FNP Typical Curriculum

Through their coursework, FNPs learn how to collect subjective health information about their patients, prioritize potential diagnoses, create patient-centered treatment plans, and evaluate and alter treatment plans based on assessment and testing.

FNP coursework is extensive, as the required areas of knowledge for FNP certification are broad. For example, the AANPCB expects candidates for FNP certification to have knowledge in areas such as:

  • Anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology
  • Biopsychosocial principles/theories
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Evidence-informed practice
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Patient and family education and counseling
  • Physical examination
  • Practice management
  • Principles of epidemiology, population health, and the social determinants of health

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

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical and clinical assessment
  • Pediatric care
  • Gerontology
  • 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

Skills Required for Family Nurse Practitioners

In defining what a family nurse practitioner is, it’s helpful to look at the profession in terms of the skills FNPs need to acquire. The following skills help ensure successful career progression as an FNP:

  • Clinical skills to measure a patient’s breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and to 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

FNP 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 the following:

  • 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

A family nurse practitioner wearing a mask and gloves waits while a parent and child wearing masks approach a hospital reception desk.

FNP Career Opportunities and Specializations

In outlining what a family nurse practitioner is, it can be useful to review FNP 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’re permitted to work independently, FNPs may open their own private practices or form private practices with other nurse practitioners.

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

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

Family Nurse Practitioner Salary

As with most professions, FNP salaries will vary based on location, educational level, and years of experience. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for FNPs was about $97,000 as of August 2021.

The job outlook for nurse practitioners is also bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for nurse practitioners will grow by 52% from 2019 to 2029.

Find Your Purpose as a Family Nurse Practitioner

When individuals learn what a family nurse practitioner is, they open themselves to the possibility of a rewarding profession with the potential for growth. With the need for primary care providers increasing and FNPs gaining more autonomy in their scope of practice, specializing as an FNP is appealing for RNs and NPs who want to advance their careers and expand the services they can provide. Regis College’s online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing program prepares MSN-credentialed RNs and NPs to sit confidently for NP board certification exams in a variety of in-demand specializations, including family practice. Begin your journey toward a career as an FNP today.


Recommended Readings

FNP vs. NP: What’s Right for Me?

Nurse Practitioner Demand: How to Help Solve the Shortage Issue

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: What’s the Difference?



American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board, FNP & AGNP Certification Candidate Handbook

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Fact Sheet: The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Facts

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certification

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Johnson and Johnson Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) at a Glance

PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners