Family nurse practitioner sitting with patient and family member

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are registered nurses who specialize in providing care for children, adults, and senior citizens. As advanced RNs, these practitioners are specialists in primary care, disease prevention, and preventive health.

One of the best parts about being a family nurse practitioner is treating patients of all ages and backgrounds.  this career will choose a specialty and primary care that allows you to build deep relationships with all your patients.

Through the lens of family-focused care, FNPs focus on providing responsive primary care throughout their lives.

What is the difference between a family nurse practitioner (FNP) and a registered nurse (RN)?

An FNP is a registered nurse who specializes in family medicine. They have a master's degree or doctorate degree in nursing, and they've completed extensive clinical experience treating patients across a diverse population.

The difference between a family nurse practitioner and a registered nurse is that a family nurse practitioner has advanced education, training, and certification.

Registered nurses can also work in family medicine, but they work under the supervision of physicians and nurse practitioners. As a family nurse practitioner, you will have greater clinical responsibility and authority than a registered nurse.

Family nurse practitioners are responsible for patients' primary care plans and treatments. All registered nurses administer medication and perform health assessments and exams. They are not responsible for making diagnoses or prescribing medication or other treatments.

Are family nurse practitioners doctors?

Although they may share many clinical responsibilities, a family nurse practitioner is a nurse, not a doctor. A family nurse practitioner is still an RN; a doctor has completed medical school and residency to become an M.D. or D.O. 

In 1986, a comprehensive study found that FNPs could treat patients as successfully as physicians. Today, many family nurse practitioners practice like doctors, even maintaining their own patients for years at a time. 

However, patients should still know the difference between an FNP and a doctor to make the right choice for their health care.

What qualifications does a family nurse practitioner need?

You can't become a nurse practitioner without first becoming a registered nurse. The start your career, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). While you can become an RN with only an associate’s, all FNPs must hold a master’s or doctoral degree. To qualify for either of those, you’ll need a BSN.

Once you’ve graduated, passed the NCLEX, and become an RN, you must gain clinical experience while pursuing a higher degree. You must choose a master’s or doctoral program with a family nurse practitioner focus.

After meeting the educational and experience requirements, you can take a certifying FNP exam.

Recommended Reading - How to become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) in The USA

What work did the family nurse practitioner do day to day?

Most family nurse practitioners work in an outpatient setting, where they see patients who have appointments, perform assessments, order lab work, diagnose conditions, and develop care plans.

FNP tasks vary day to day because every patient is unique. They might start their day seeing a child with a stomach bug, then tend to an elderly patient with hypertension. Every patient is a new opportunity to put your knowledge and skills to good use, and the diversity of FNP's tasks makes the job engaging and rewarding. 

Where do family nurse practitioners work?

Family nurse practitioners work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and physician’s offices. In some states, a family nurse practitioner can work independently and run their own practice. 

What is it like to be a family nurse practitioner? 

While working as a family nurse practitioner is challenging, it’s also very rewarding. It's interesting getting to treat such a wide variety of patients from all different backgrounds, health conditions, and personal needs.

As a primary care nurse practitioner, you also develop relationships with your patients. This is a nice change of pace from typical nursing, where you usually only see patients for a short period of time.

However, you are more responsible because you work with as many patients as a primary care provider. You are accountable for the diagnoses you make, treatment plans you develop, and medications you prescribe. On top of that, you must be able to manage a diverse caseload every day. 

How much do family nurse practitioners make?

As a family nurse practitioner, you can earn much higher than an RN due to your advanced education and experience. The median annual salary for a nurse practitioner in the United States is $116,438.80. You will likely receive a starting salary of six figures, and you can earn over $150,000 per year as an experienced FNP.

Recommended Reading - How Much Do Family Nurse Practitioners Make In The USA?

Are there different specialties of family nurse practitioners?

Family health is a nurse practitioner's specialty. It focuses on providing primary care to patients throughout their lives, from birth through senior years. An emphasis on family health also means learning about many diseases, disorders, and acute and chronic health conditions. 

Family nurse practitioners see everything from allergies and diabetes to heart disease and autism. 

Suppose you want to focus on a particular type of health condition or patient population. In that case, you can consider becoming an NP certified in obstetrics, gerontology, pediatrics, adult health, women’s health, or school health. 

Each state recognizes different types of NPs, so check with your board of nursing to explore your options.

Advantages and disadvantages of a career as a family nurse practitioner

Being an FNP is a dream for many nurses, but it is a challenging career path that you shouldn’t pursue lightly. First and foremost, you must be 100% certain that family medicine is the right specialty for you. As a broad field, some feel overwhelmed by the volume of patients and range of conditions this field encompasses. 

However, it is also an extremely varied, interesting branch of medicine that ensures no days are the same.

Below are some pros and cons of being an FNP for you to consider.

Advantages of Choosing a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner

1) Flexible work schedule

As Primary Care Providers, family nurse practitioners can often maintain more stable work hours than an RN.  You can work in an outpatient care center or physician's office, usually working 9 to 6 or 10 to 7. 

If you work in a 24-hour medical center, such as an urgent care facility. Then your hours can vary. For a lot of practitioners, this is another huge part. If you want to work weekends, evenings, or nights, they're our careers for you.

2) Specialize in family medicine 

Family Medicine is an all-encompassing branch of healthcare. You become qualified to treat a person at every stage of their life. From first vaccinations to elderly care, this is a wonderful field that helps you attend to each patient from a unique approach.

There are also many crossovers in family medicine, such as disease prevention, holistic care, child development, and mental health.

3) Treat your own patients

Instead of tending to a physician’s patients as their nurse, you will actually have your own patients rely on you for primary care. This is the biggest shift from being an RN to an FNP. It can be intimidating initially, but seeing your care plans, assessments, and diagnoses help people is incredibly rewarding.

4) Help people who face barriers to treatment

Seeing an FNP can be more cost effective but just as beneficial as seeing a physician. FNPs are crucial primary care providers in their communities. They can work anywhere, and some even choose to work in clinics that care for underserved populations. 

5) High pay

Salaries for nurse practitioners start around six figures, and they can even be over $120,000, where NPs are especially in demand. The high starting salary and additional compensation make this a financially reliable career choice.

Disadvantages of choosing a career as a family nurse practitioner 

1) Hectic work days

Because they see multiple patients in a day, it can be difficult to juggle all your responsibilities as a family nurse practitioner. It isn’t uncommon for a nurse practitioner to see 20 or more patients per day. Most full-time NPs (59.4%) see three or more patients daily.

2) Exposure to illnesses

Because you work closely with your patients, you face a higher risk of illness and disease as a nurse practitioner. Many people will come to you for a diagnosis directly, which can jeopardize contracting infections from bacteria through close contact and bodily fluids.

3) Long shifts over irregular hours

Although many maintain a stable work-life balance, many nurse practitioners have to cross-train as a nurse. They must work day, night, weekends, and even holidays. Shifts for a full-time nurse practitioner range between 8 to 12 hours, depending on where they work. 

4) Expensive and time-consuming education

Combined, your bachelor’s and master’s degrees can cost between $50,000 and over $100,000. Becoming a nurse practitioner is a lengthy process, one that requires serious dedication to not only your education but continued education and clinical experience as well. 

How to become a family nurse practitioner

After you earn a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), you can start gaining clinical experience to qualify for master's programs. A nurse practitioner’s program will prepare you to become a primary care provider in family medicine. 

You will have to perform clinical rotations throughout your degree and likely maintain your RN job. After graduating and meeting the necessary requirements, you can take an exam to become a certified FNP. 

Remember that as an FNP, you will need to renew your certification and your registered nurse license routinely. 

Frequently asked questions about family nurse practitioners

How long does it take to become a family nurse practitioner? 

It takes eight years to become an FNP at the minimum. You will need a BSN, master’s, or doctoral degree in nursing and at least 2 to 3 years of experience working as an RN.

Is FNP higher than RN?

Yes, an FNP has more education, clinical training, and expertise than a registered nurse. At the minimum, they have at least two more years’ education than an RN with a bachelor’s degree. They also need thousands of hours in family care before becoming certified.

What is the highest nurse position?

A family nurse practitioner is among the highest nursing positions, alongside clinical nurse specialists. The highest level of education you can earn as a nurse is a Doctoral of Nursing Practice (DPN).

Are family nurse practitioners in demand?

Yes, FNPs are highly sought after because of their advanced skills and ability to treat patients directly in primary care. Nurse practitioner careers are anticipated to grow by 40% in the U.S. over the next ten years.