The role of an FNP: A comprehensive overview of family nurse practitioner duties and requirements

Berry Mathew

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The role of an FNP: A comprehensive overview of family nurse practitioner duties and requirements

Have you been considering a nurse practitioner (NP) career? These professionals are in demand more than ever with the looming physician shortage on the horizon and the increased need for healthcare for the aging American baby boomer population.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, nearly 70% of NPs are certified in family care. FNPs are critical in delivering quality healthcare services, such as providing wellness examinations, formulating treatment plans for acute and chronic patients, and prescribing medications.

However, it is worth noting that FNPs do more than that. Here is a comprehensive overview of FNP duties and requirements, why they must be adaptable for different age groups, and how you can become one.

What is an FNP?

FNPs are advanced practice nurses specializing in primary and specialty care of patients from different age groups. They concentrate on providing patients with preventive care, tracking their long-term health, and helping other healthcare professionals with problems that may occur during treatment.

Unlike typical nurses, FNPs operate with independence and autonomy. They can provide extensive services as a primary care provider or specialize in areas of care such as trauma management, post-traumatic stress disorder and orthopedics. Here is a look at some of the healthcare settings in which FNPs can operate.

Private practice: Many FNPs work in private practice outpatient clinics that deliver primary care to their patients or their supervising physician’s patients.

Hospitals: Most FNPs choose to work in hospitals because of their training in primary care. FNPs working in hospitals often acquire additional certifications as emergency nurse practitioners or acute care nurse practitioners.

Urgent care centers: FNPs working in critical care centers provide patients with care for issues such as allergic reactions, sprains, and minor fractures.

Retail clinics: FNPs can also work in retail health clinics. These clinics are open daily during regular business hours and attract many walk-in patients.

Schools and universities: A small percentage of FNPs practice in schools and universities, providing primary care for students and educating future nurses.

Seeking a career as an FNP can be rewarding in more ways than one. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, FNPs earn an average annual salary of $121,610. They note that most FNPs work in physicians’ offices, general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers and home healthcare services.

Roles and responsibilities of a Family Nurse Practitioner

At its core, the FNP’s role is to provide family-centered care. Professionals who want to pursue this career can expect a fast-paced position that allows them to use their medical knowledge. FNPs concentrate on three critical areas of care: primary care, urgent care and internal medicine.

What an FNP does every day often mirrors the responsibilities of a primary care doctor. Like physicians, they can diagnose health issues. In some states, they have the authority to prescribe medication to patients with a doctor’s supervision. Here is a look at some of their other responsibilities.

  • Perform physical examinations

FNPs can conduct routine checkups to collect baseline information about a patient’s health, confirm and identify nursing diagnoses, and make clinical judgments on their changing health status and management. During physical exams, FNPs ask patients about their current lifestyle behaviors, medical history and vaccination status to create an effective treatment plan.

  • Develop care plans

FNPs develop a treatment plan that outlines the patient’s disease, the objectives of the treatment, the treatment options for the disease and its possible side effects, and the timetable for the length of care. They can also offer general health counseling and create a family care plan to help patients and their families.

  • Educate patients and their families

In addition to performing examinations and developing treatment plans, FNPs can educate patients and their families on various topics, such as developing healthy habits and preventing diseases. An FNP’s focus on patient education, disease prevention and health promotion separates them from other healthcare providers.

  • Maintain patient records

FNPs may also be responsible for maintaining patient records depending on their job role and work setting. This includes recording health decisions, updating patient health histories and registering any treatments or prescriptions the patient has had. This enables them to ensure patient needs are met comprehensively.

  • Work with other healthcare professionals

FNPs may work with other healthcare professionals as they develop or contribute to a patient’s current treatment plan. This allows them to improve patient outcomes, healthcare spending and client satisfaction.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the role of FNPs is expected to change soon in response to demographics, technology and legislation. More than a decade ago, the National Academy of Medicine recommended that FNPs practice with more autonomy to use their full scope of expertise and training. While some states do not let FNPs practice to their full extent, others are slowly changing their stance, with Kansas being the latest state to allow full practice authority.

Why must FNPs be adaptable when dealing with different age groups?

The FNP track for a nurse practitioner differs from other NP specialties in more ways than one. Unlike other NPs, the FNP provides holistic care and promotes health and wellness to patients across their lifespans. This means conducting continuous physical assessments, evaluating medical histories, and counseling people at all ages, from the newborn to the aging adult.

For that reason alone, they must learn to work with patients of different ages and walks of life to ensure proper care and better health outcomes. Armed with their comprehensive grasp of treatment across all age groups, FNPs have a meaningful sense of the general health of their respective communities.

Now that the importance of being adaptable has been established, you might wonder how FNPs can show adaptability while working with patients from multiple age groups. Of course, no one-size-fits-all formula exists since every patient has unique needs and requirements. However, an excellent starting point is understanding how to communicate effectively.

FNPs must use multiple methods of communication to ensure a successful outcome of personalized nursing care for each patient. This means that what might work for a toddler may deliver different results with teenagers, young adults and adults. Nevertheless, FNPs must always avoid using inappropriate language when communicating with patients.

Can FNPs specialize?

Although the FNP focuses more on managing chronic issues and primary care, they have various subspecialty options. It is not uncommon for nurses who are working in a specialty to pursue advanced education to specialize as an FNP.

While there are unique focus areas, these specializations usually fall within the category of primary healthcare. Many FNPs have a subspecialty in fields such as oncology, chronic health, dermatology or cardiology. FNPs that choose a subspecialty are often not required to acquire additional certifications.

Does that mean FNPs can moonlight as adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNP) since they work with adults, too? Although FNPs treat everything from common childhood diseases to severe health conditions, AGACNPs specialize in life-threatening illnesses, ailments and diseases that worsen during aging.

Some of the critical roles of AGACNPs, such as monitoring chronic conditions closely, developing comprehensive treatment plans, and implementing preventive care, are similar to FNPs. So, it is not uncommon for them to be referred to interchangeably. However, their roles and responsibilities differ in several ways.

Patient demographics: FNPs treat patients of different ages and backgrounds, while AGACNPs work exclusively with geriatric and adult patients. AGACNPs may work in several locations, including psychiatric hospitals and outpatient facilities. Their responsibilities include assisting with daily tasks such as walking, dressing, bathing patients, monitoring health vitals, and administering medications.

Care and treatment: FNPs work in primary care. They are often the direct point of contact and the initial life of defense for all potential health complications, questions, and issues. In addition to treating illness and injuries, they can educate people about preventing disease and integrating healthy lifestyle habits.

On the other hand, AGACNPs work in acute care and take a holistic approach to care. Instead of serving as the initial contact for extensive health issues like FNPs, AGACNPs’ work is more specialized because they deal with adult patients to manage chronic conditions.

Certification opportunities: FNPs and AGACNPs have significant opportunities to advance their careers by earning certifications from state-regulated nursing agencies. AGACNPs can earn the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Board Certified credential from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Meanwhile, FNPs can earn the Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified certification from the ANCC, which must be renewed every five years. They can also earn additional certifications in obesity, pain management and diabetes management when required.

Now that the acute care nurse practitioner vs family nurse practitioner debate has been settled, you might wonder which one fits you, especially if you are studying at a prestigious academic institution such as Rockhurst University. They offer both programs online, so you can fit your studies in with your lifestyle.

If you are passionate about improving health outcomes for chronically ill individuals and significantly impacting the lives of patients who require consistent care, an AGACNP role might be a great fit.

Alternatively, if you enjoy working with diverse communities and are passionate about health promotion and disease prevention, you are well suited for an FNP role. This enables you to empower patients who are seeking control over their health and wellness.

While AGACNPs and FNPs perform different specialized duties in the healthcare system, both roles are indispensable in ensuring that unique patient needs are met. Therefore, you must evaluate what you want and choose a nursing career path that aligns with your goals, values and beliefs.

How to become a Family Nurse Practitioner

If you want to become a family nurse practitioner but don’t know where or how to start, here is a step-by-step guide on how you can realize your dream and begin your FNP career.

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree

Although you do not always need a bachelor’s degree to become an FNP, earning one is highly recommended to build a solid foundation. Moreover, many NP programs do require a bachelor’s degree for admission. A Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) degree program will involve teacher-instructed training and supervised clinical hours that last four years.

Upon completing your BSN program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and meet your state’s board of nursing’s requirements to apply for licensure. Obtaining an RN license involves earning a passing score on the NCLEX, proof of education, several background checks and fingerprinting.

  • Earn your MSN or DNP degree 

The path to becoming an FNP starts when an RN decides to advance into a specialized area of nursing. This means earning a master’s degree that includes education and clinical experience. Choosing a highly respected academic institution that offers a master’s degree program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is imperative.

The CCNE is a highly regarded nursing education accreditation agency approved by the US Secretary of Education. It establishes appropriate indicators to evaluate the quality of an online academic institution’s nursing degree program. Additionally, it ensures that the institution’s nursing baccalaureate, graduate, residency and fellowship programs uphold high criteria and provide students with the best possible experience to become practical nurses.

Prospective employers thoroughly research the degrees their job candidates have earned to ensure approval by specific regulatory boards. This confirms you have the appropriate skills and training to perform duties and deliver performance that positively impacts a healthcare organization.

As an aspiring nurse, you must complete a strengths-based curriculum highlighting analytical thinking, interdisciplinary teamwork and clinical judgment. This will give you the right skills and training to address specific patient needs and provide safe and better care.

How can you tell if your chosen academic institution offers highly regarded nurse practitioner programs, and how do you define highly regarded nurse practitioner programs in the first place?

A good rule of thumb is to check university rankings online. Some stick exclusively with general rankings, while others have separate rankings for each degree program. This can provide valuable insight into which universities offer a nurse practitioner degree program that contributes to your personal and professional goals.

Furthermore, you can explore the resources that are available at your desired academic institution. Even if you are taking nurse practitioner classes online, your chosen university must provide you with various study and learning resources to ensure your success. From virtual learning resources to online guidance counselors and electronic books, you must take any help you can get to enhance your overall learning experience.

Now that the importance of choosing the right academic institution has been established, you might ask what to expect from an FNP degree program. Depending on your chosen educational institution, you are expected to take on coursework that tackles patient care advocacy, diagnostic and prescriptive duties, and patient assessment and management.

Most FNP course programs require students to undergo a mixture of clinical experiences, laboratory work and classes. This helps students learn how to perform physical examinations and distinguish between typical and atypical findings using biological study and clinical reasoning.

Depending on your instructor, you must also expect a wide range of projects and assignments. In many advanced nursing classes, projects and homework on population health, statistical principles and epidemiology are common. Other online universities will also give you a capstone experience before you graduate to apply your learning.  

  • Become a board-certified FNP

Once you’ve completed your NP degree and clinical assignments, the next step is to become a board-certified FNP. This is similar to the NCLEX-RN examination you took to become an RN, although the contents of the exam will differ depending on the specialty you pursued in school.

Upon passing the examination, you must obtain an NP licensure. The licensure process involves acquiring proof of NP certification, proof of NP education, background checks and your RN license. Licensure is usually done via the state board of nursing or the health department in the state you choose to practice.

Once you’ve earned your license, you must acquire your National Provider Identification (NPI) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) numbers. The NPI code is a distinctive number that helps identify you from other national providers. This number never changes and does not require any renewal process.

Meanwhile, the DEA number is a requirement that permits you to prescribe any scheduled drugs, hormone therapy and opioid treatment options, such as suboxone. FNPs must obtain a DEA number because they work with patients from different age groups.

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Working toward a meaningful career as an FNP

Advancing your career as an FNP will provide you with multiple opportunities to gain more autonomy while increasing your job prospects and salary. Learn more about becoming an FNP by enrolling in a nursing degree program and starting your journey toward meaningful work.