FNP vs. NP: Differences and Similarities Between Family Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Practitioners

The profession of nurse practitioner (NP) covers a spectrum of specialties, including pediatrics, health, women’s health, and adult-geriatric care. A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a nurse practitioner who specializes in family medicine.

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. In addition, students must choose a specialty and complete extra courses specific to that area of interest.

The main FNP vs. NP difference is that an FNP program is more flexible, enabling graduates to treat people of all ages, from infants to geriatrics. The other NP specialties are much narrower in scope and focus on a specific age group, branch of medicine, or medical setting.

Let’s explore the required education, job description, and career outlook for an FNP.

Educational Requirements

To practice as an FNP, nurses must have a master’s degree in nursing. Registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and several years of relevant experience are eligible to enroll in a master’s degree 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 allow for more specialization than others, like an MSN with options like Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP), Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), and FNP.

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 obtain 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.

Program Curriculum

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

  • 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
  • Nutrition
  • Child development
  • Adult and geriatric care
  • Dynamics of family health care
  • Acute and chronic illness management
  • Sociocultural issues
  • Health policy
  • Health economics
  • Statistics
  • Research methods and management

Degree Specializations

Within the broad spectrum of family care and practice, FNPs can specialize in certain areas of medicine:

  • Cardiology
  • Pediatrics
  • Urology
  • Perinatal health
  • Long-term care
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pulmonology
  • Gerontology
  • Medicine and surgery
  • Orthopedics
  • ER/trauma
  • Psychiatry
  • Critical care
  • Diabetes/endocrinology

In addition, 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 American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

These accreditation agencies have similar eligibility requirements to take the exam for certification. Both bodies require recertification every five years, and FNPs must meet specific clinical practice and continuing education requirements during each cycle.

Duties and Responsibilities

FNPs may work independently or in collaboration with physicians and other health care 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 lifespan.

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 medications
  • 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

Job Outlook

When comparing FNP vs. NP clinical oversight levels, the two are similar. Both types of nurses may work autonomously, but they are not replacements for doctors. Nevertheless, they play a vital role in the medical profession, and there are currently 27 states that don’t require physician oversight of an NP practice. Other states, such as Florida and Alabama, restrict NPs and FNPs from prescribing controlled medications.

In the past, most NPs and FNPs 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 reported that the demand for these professionals will increase by 31 percent from 2016 to 2026. The median salary in 2016 for NPs was $107,460.

Learn More

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 a rigorous educational experience and a flexible instructional design.


Recommended Reading

FNP vs. NP: What’s Right for Me?

Career Outlook: Family Nurse Practitioner

5 Areas of Study for the Master of Science in Nursing Student


American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Family and General Practitioners

American Nurse Today