If you’ve been affected by the pandemic or have always wanted to pursue a career where you can make a real change and help others, nursing is likely one of the top professions you’ve considered.
But have you thought about becoming a family nurse practitioner rather than qualifying as a registered nurse?
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about becoming a family nurse practitioner: what the difference is, why the US needs more, and the training or application process to start your new career.
What’s the difference between a nurse and a family nurse practitioner (FNP)?
Despite the incredible and important work that they do, nurses are more of an entry-level position. A family nurse practitioner will receive more training than a nurse but less than a doctor. They are almost like a middle man between the two professions.
Family nurse practitioners tend to have more autonomy and authority than a nurse, with more responsibilities too. In areas where there is limited access to healthcare – such as rural towns – family nurse practitioners can even manage their own clinics without the need for supervision from a physician.
They can officially diagnose and recommend treatments to patients.
Can family nurse practitioners prescribe medication?
Family nurse practitioners cannot prescribe controlled substances immediately after being certified. In order to have the authority to prescribe medication to patients, FNPs can do so through the licensure application or register with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).
Why become a family nurse practitioner?
There are so many reasons to become a family nurse practitioner. Both non-nurses and current nurses can qualify to be practitioners, and here are just a few reasons why you should consider the career choice:
They’re in high demand
Similar to the shortage of nurses in the US, family nurse practitioners are in high demand. In Mississippi, for example, there are around three nurse practitioner roles for every 1,000 jobs advertised, with a significant number of these being for FNPs. It doesn’t seem a lot, but if you think about how many jobs are available at any given time, it’s pretty significant!
This urgency for more FNPs certainly provides a bright future for those looking to qualify. You should have no issue finding a position in your area – and perhaps you’ll have your own clinic within a few years’ time.
Family nurse practitioners can earn a high salary
While nobody goes into a person-centered role for the money, it’s good to know that those who train to be nurse practitioners are compensated nicely. The average salary for a family nurse practitioner is around $97,011.
You could make healthcare more accessible for everyone
There are now 27 states that allow nurse practitioners full practice authority, and 18 states allowing a reduced practice environment. That means that family nurse practitioners can either run or co-run their own practice and provide access to health care for all generations.
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted not only the distinct shortage of healthcare professionals but also the access to services. Rural areas of the country struggled to get access to healthcare, with no appointments available and practices too far away for those shielding.
With the help of the new state licensure laws, family nurse practitioners can help to provide easier access to healthcare for the most vulnerable people in society. Allowing FNPs more autonomy helps to reduce patient costs and allows people to gain medical advice without having to wait for weeks.
How to become a family nurse practitioner
Become a registered nurse
The first step to becoming an FNP is to become a licensed registered nurse in your state. To register, it’s recommended by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) that you also study a bachelor’s in the science of nursing.
This is like an undergraduate degree; however, if you’ve already graduated, there are accelerated courses also available that can be completed within a year.
The array of online FNP programs available do tend to require prospective students to have a BSN already, so it’s definitely worth looking into getting qualified before you apply for any nurse practitioner course.
In fact, the AACN even reports that those with a BSN can help to lower mortality rates, improve medical accuracy, and increase the chances of a positive patient outcome.
Choose a focus
When studying to become a nurse practitioner, you will likely be required to choose a specialism. For FNPs, you’ll need to choose a specialism in family care or take a specific FNP course.
There are five other population focuses:
- Women’s health
- Psych/mental health
According to the AANP, 7 out of 10 nurse practitioners focus on family health. However, while these are population focuses, there are also other specialisms such as dermatology or cardiology that can also be studied.
A lot of people choose a family focus because it gives you a broad scope of knowledge across multiple population groups. Those that become family nurse practitioners are still more than welcome to do additional training to specialize in other populations so that you can offer the best treatments and advice to a wider range of people.
Family nurse practitioners treat and prevent acute and chronic illnesses. They’ll work with children and teens right through to seniors.
Complete your family nurse practitioner program
As mentioned above, FNPs require more training than a registered nurse. This training is typically done through a post-graduate course or a master’s degree. There’s also the DNP, Doctor of Nursing Practice, that can help you become a nurse practitioner.
There are over 2,000 graduate nursing programs in the US, so you should have no trouble finding one that suits you.
It’s important to make sure that whichever course you choose, it’s accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Otherwise, you may struggle to find an employer.
What’s the difference between an MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate?
An MSN (master of science in nursing) course will provide graduates with a more advanced overview of nursing. These courses typically take 1-2 years to complete when studied full time. An FNP course will allow you to qualify with a master’s degree with a focus on family nursing.
As for a DNP, this will help you take your knowledge to a more advanced level with the intention to specialize in a specific area. DNP graduates can go on to enjoy work as a family nurse practitioner or take on a more administrative role within a healthcare organization, helping to structure and improve systems at the top level in order to improve both patients’ and nurses’ experiences.
Along with the shortage of registered nurses and practitioners, there is also high demand for nurse researchers, educators, and leaders. The reason there are so many nurse positions to fill, despite thousands of people applying to nursing school each year, is due to the shortage of nurse educators available to actually teach them.
Qualifying with a doctoral degree gives you the flexibility to either take a hands-on role in a health facility or to work to educate the next generation.
Those wanting to study a DNP or FNP will need a BSN degree first. Depending on which level you are at with your education, these degrees can take around three years to complete – so it’s definitely something to heavily consider before diving in.
As for a post-master’s certificate, this is a course that can be taken as almost a top-up to your master’s. Those that have already graduated with an MSN can take a post-master’s certificate to boost their knowledge in a particular field. These certificates have a clinical focus and can take around one to two years to complete.
Can I study online to be a family nurse practitioner?
If you’re already looking into a nursing degree or BSN, you’ll know there are plenty of online courses available. But are these legitimate?
The short answer is yes. With so many people wanting to attend nursing school, colleges are able to offer more places when the course is taught online.
There are also plenty of benefits for the students too.
Those interested in becoming family nurse practitioners can study both the BSN and MSN-FNP online. That means you can also work while studying if you can’t afford to dedicate yourself to studying full time. This makes qualifying easier for parents and those that need to balance their time between studying and other priorities.
It also makes getting qualified a little more affordable. As you’ll be studying from the comfort of your own home, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to relocate or pay for student accommodation, commuting, and on-campus food.
As part of your studies, you will be required to take part in clinical placements so that you have both the theoretical and practical skills for the job. Therefore, even though the course is online, you may want to choose a course near to home or within a commutable distance.
Take the Nurse Practitioner National Certificate Exam
Even after registering as a nurse and gaining your further degrees, you still need to pass the Nurse Practitioner National Certification Exam. This certification is completed via both an exam and an online application. The aim is to test your knowledge and skills in regard to your chosen population focus or specialism (families, for example).
While studying for your certification, your state may be able to offer you a temporary state certification. This will allow you to work under the supervision of a licensed physician during the run-up to your exam.
Once certified, you will be required to renew every five years.
Complete a monitored residency
The final step to becoming a family nurse practitioner is an evaluation of your practical skills in a clinical setting.
New graduates will be required to complete 720 hours of monitored work. This residency is different from the clinical placements you’ll do during your studying.
Apply for your FNP license
As with any nursing role, you’ll need to be licensed to work in your state. Once you’ve worked your 720 hours, you’re finally ready to get your license and move on to bigger and better job prospects.
And since no process seems particularly simple when pursuing nursing, the application process is no different.
You’ll need to gather documentation and upload it to an online application portal. You will need proof of your RN license, national nurse practitioner certificate, and an official transcript from your family nurse practitioner program.
The application also requires evidence of your residency hours and verification from each physician you’ve worked with. Lastly, you’ll be required to have a fingerprint-based criminal background check.
You’ll then – finally – be a licensed, registered family nurse practitioner! Congratulations!
How to renew your license
As mentioned above, you need to renew your FNP license every five years. However, you also need to renew your registered nurse license. This needs to be done every two years, with the deadline being the 31st of December.
As part of the renewal process for your FNP license, you will need to complete 40 hours of ‘continuing education’. This ensures that family nurse practitioners are up to date with all the latest trends, challenges, and treatments available.
How to find work as a family nurse practitioner
Licensed family nurse practitioners should have no issue with finding long-term employment. There is a huge demand for FNPs across the states. If you choose to move states for a new role, there may be different requirements for your licensing, so it’s worth doing plenty of research beforehand.
The nursing organizations mentioned in this post all have their own specific job boards, so this is the perfect place to begin looking for work. Alternatively, standard job sites like Monster and Indeed will also advertise roles for family nurse practitioners in your area.
These organizations may also offer you the chance to sign up for member benefits, networking events, and professional advocacy.
So, with your training and licensing under your belt, you’ve got everything you need for a rewarding career as a family nurse practitioner. If you get bored (though it’s unlikely!), you can also move to more administrative, managerial, or educational roles that will help improve the working environment for generations of nurses to come.