The profession of nurse practitioner (NP) covers a spectrum of specialties, including pediatrics, women’s health, and adult gerontology. A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a nurse practitioner who specializes in family medicine and treats a diverse patient base, providing care to patients throughout their life span.
All categories of NP require a master’s degree in nursing, usually a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). A typical curriculum for this degree program includes courses that are common to all specialties, which are known as core courses. Additionally, students must choose a specialty and complete extra courses specific to their area of interest.
When it comes to an FNP vs. other NP degree specialties, the main difference is that an FNP program is more flexible, enabling graduates to treat people of all ages, from infants to older adults. The other NP specialties are narrower in scope and focus on a specific age group, branch of medicine, or medical setting.
Exploring the role of an FNP, along with the associated educational requirements, career outlook for an FNP, and salary potential, can help aspiring NPs determine whether this career path is right for them.
FNP vs. NP Degrees
When making the FNP vs. NP comparison, the natural starting point is their distinct educational paths. Most students seeking to become an NP enroll in one of the following three degree programs:
- Associate degree in nursing to MSN
- Non-nursing bachelor’s to MSN
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to MSN
NP degree programs generally offer multiple specializations — including an FNP — allowing students to pursue the branch of nursing they’re most interested in.
What Is an FNP Degree?
Earning an FNP degree is what determines nursing students’ eligibility to sit for the Family Nurse Practitioner board certification exam that’s offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). This advanced degree program instills the skills and knowledge a nurse will need to work as a primary care provider for a broad range of patients.
What Is an NP Degree?
An NP degree in another field generally involves more specialization than an FNP degree. Whereas FNPs are viewed as generalists, other types of NPs have a more narrow focus. For instance, a nursing student might choose to focus on pediatrics; their coursework would revolve around how to work with young patients, preventive care, and learning about the conditions that infants and young children are most vulnerable to.
FNP vs. NP: Educational Requirements
To practice as an FNP, nurses must have a master’s degree in nursing. Registered nurses (RN) with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and several years of relevant experience are eligible to enroll in a master’s program.
Master’s Degree Options
More than 300 nursing schools across the nation have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). These programs offer the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) graduate degree, but many offer variations like the Master of Nursing (MN). Some programs offer more specializations than others, such as pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), adult gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), along with FNP specializations.
Eligibility requirements for these programs depend on the institution. Some universities and colleges may offer an accelerated program that enables RNs without a bachelor’s degree to earn their bachelor’s and master’s in one program. Others offer joint degree programs whereby RNs can earn a master’s in nursing combined with a Master of Hospital Administration (MHA), a Master of Public Health (MPH), or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a health care concentration.
FNP Degree Program Curriculum
An FNP degree program will train a nursing student to deliver health care services to patients at every stage of life. A typical master’s degree curriculum for an FNP includes courses covering the following subjects:
- Family planning
- Family counseling
- Family/lifespan nursing theory
- Family/lifespan nursing care
- Advanced physical and health assessment
- Advanced pharmacology
- Advanced pathophysiology
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- Differential diagnosis
- Disease management
- Child development
- Adult and geriatric care
- Dynamics of family health care
- Acute and chronic illness management
- Sociocultural issues
- Health policy
- Health economics
- Research methods and management
FNP Degree Specializations
Within the broad spectrum of family care and practice, FNPs can further specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as:
- Perinatal health
- Long-term care
- Medicine and surgery
- Emergency room/trauma
- Critical care
The exact role of an FNP can be determined by their specialty area or concentration.
FNP programs include at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical hours, which are required for certification after graduation.
After graduating, FNPs must be certified before being permitted to practice. Different state nursing boards accept certification from either the ANCC or the AANP.
These accreditation agencies have similar eligibility requirements to take their exam for certification. Both bodies require recertification every five years, and FNPs must meet specific clinical practice and continuing education requirements during each cycle.
The purpose of FNP certification is to formally establish that a candidate has all the skills and knowledge necessary to treat the patients they’ll be working with.
FNP vs. NP: Duties and Responsibilities
The role of an FNP is not the same in every state, although their skills and knowledge generally are. Depending on the practice authority granted to NPs in a particular state, an FNP may work independently or in collaboration with physicians and other healthcare professionals to deliver family care to patients of all ages. They often develop relationships with a family unit to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent diseases while providing care and counseling across the entire life span.
FNPs are found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, medical practices, and schools. They are qualified to diagnose and treat medical conditions as well as prescribe medications.
Typically, an FNP can be expected to have the following duties and responsibilities:
- Conducting physical and health assessments
- Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results
- Prescribing medication
- Developing treatment plans for acute and chronic illnesses
- Providing education and guidance on disease prevention and healthy lifestyle habits
- Facilitating preventive care and disease management
- Managing patient care for patients of all ages
By comparison, NPs do not have a standardized skill set and knowledge base, because they are educated and trained in different concentrations of advanced nursing practice. Their duties and responsibilities are dictated by the patient population they treat (e.g., children, women, or older adults), a specific area of the body (e.g., the heart or reproductive system), or a core set of medical issues they’re trained to treat.
NPs conduct health assessments, perform tests, prescribe medication, and develop treatment plans just as FNPs do; however, the way they execute these tasks differs from specialization to specialization. Additionally, sometimes NPs need to refer patients to another provider because they aren’t trained to handle a particular health issue.
For instance, many older adults who are suffering from chronic conditions have an adult gerontology nurse practitioner as their primary health care provider. However, if it were discovered that the patient had heart issues, they would likely be referred to a cardiac nurse practitioner. Both NPs are qualified to treat the patient, but for different reasons.
NP Job Outlook
When comparing clinical oversight levels for FNPs vs. NPs, it’s clear the two are similar. Both types of nurses may work autonomously, though they are not replacements for doctors. Nevertheless, they play a vital role in the medical profession, and there are currently 26 states — plus the District of Columbia — that don’t require physician oversight of an NP practice. California also recently passed legislation to grant full practice authority to NPs. Other states restrict NPs and FNPs from prescribing controlled medications. A physician must be directly involved in these cases.
The benefits of NPs working in states where their responsibilities aren’t restricted include:
- Expanding their services to a broader patient base
- Decreasing reliance on physicians so physicians can focus on other patients
- Cutting down on the number of referrals and office visits
- Making the treatment process quicker and more efficient
In the past, most FNPs and NPs worked in hospitals, but more patients are turning to clinics and private practices for their health care needs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of jobs for NPs will increase by 46% from 2021 to 2031.
The BLS reports that the median annual salary for all NPs in 2021 was $120,680. However, to look at an FNP’s salary specifically, a different reporting source must be used, as the BLS doesn’t break down NP salary by specialty. According to Payscale, the median FNP salary was approximately $98,700 in November 2022.
To add further context regarding NP salaries, Payscale’s most recent data (November 2022) shows that those certified as gerontological nurse practitioners had a median annual salary of approximately $103,000. Those certified as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners had a median annual salary of approximately $115,000.
Individual NP and FNP salary figures will be affected by the nurse’s education, their experience, the region where they work, the facility hiring them, and other factors.
Begin Your Pursuit of Higher Education in Nursing
Although several differences stand out when making the FNP vs. NP comparison, both serve an important role in the health care system and provide essential care to their patients.
The growing demand for advanced practice providers, especially nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners, is expected to remain strong through the coming years. It is a career path that can provide RNs with more opportunities for nurse leadership and clinical autonomy.
If you’re considering an MSN with a specialty in FNP, visit the online Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner program at Regis College. Regis College provides its NP and FNP students with a rigorous educational experience and a flexible instructional design. With core courses that cover health assessment, evidence for nursing practice, nursing theory, and more, the program provides nursing students with the foundation they’ll need to progress in their careers as FNPs or NPs with a different specialty.
Take the first step toward a career in advanced nursing with Regis College.