What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)?

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a type of nurse practitioner (NP) who provides primary  healthcare services for patients in all life stages. Choosing a career as an FNP offers a wide range of job opportunities and excellent earning potential. But you may wonder what exactly a family nurse practitioner does and how FNPs compare to other nurse practitioner specialties. In this guide, we discuss what an FNP is so you can decide if this is the right nursing career for you.

FNP Meaning: What does FNP stand for?

“FNP” is an acronym that stands for family nurse practitioner. An FNP is a nurse practitioner who specializes in family medicine. FNPs have graduate or doctorate-level education and undergo extensive training to earn certification and advanced licensure.

FNP Job Description: What does a family nurse practitioner do?

Family nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care for patients of all ages, usually throughout their lifespan. 

Common responsibilities of family nurse practitioners include:

  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Prescribing treatment and medications
  • Preventative care
  • Monitoring long-term health
  • Ordering tests and analyzing results
  • Consulting with physicians and other healthcare professionals
  • Referring patients to specialists (when necessary)

Where do family nurse practitioners work?

Due to their diverse patient population, FNPs have the flexibility of working in a variety of job settings, including:

  • Urgent care centers
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Private practices
  • Hospitals 
  • Community health centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospice centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Schools and universities 

FNP vs NP: What’s the difference?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a nurse with a graduate or doctorate degree in advanced practice nursing and can care for patient population and/or clinical issues. A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is one of the many nurse practitioner specialties. In fact, it’s the most popular nurse practitioner specialty, with 70.3% of NPs holding an FNP certification in 2022, according to the AANP. Unlike other NP specialties, FNPs provide primary and specialty care to patients of all ages. An FNP is not “higher” than an NP but rather is a type of NP operating in a specialized role. Both NPs and FNPs must earn APRN State Licensure, but in order to specialize in family medicine, FNPs must also earn FNP certification.

[ READ MORE: Nurse Practitioner (NP) Career Overview & Specialties ]

FNP vs DNP

The main difference between an FNP (family nurse practitioner) and a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) is that “FNP” is a certification and a career option for nurses, while “DNP” refers to a doctorate degree in nursing. Nurses who have a DNP are often qualified for more lucrative jobs. Earning a DNP qualifies you for a career as an FNP and other NP specialties. However, you do not need a doctoral degree to become an FNP.

FNP vs Doctor (MD)

The major difference between FNPs and doctors (MDs) is their training and education. Doctors go to medical school and nurse practitioners go to nursing school, so it’s difficult to compare the two careers. While NPs undergo more extensive clinical training than RNs, they receive less training than doctors do. Some FNPs work closely with doctors, acting as collaborators between physicians and patients and providing support. Like doctors, nurse practitioners can prescribe medications in all 50 states. In some states, a collaborating physician is a required part of an NP’s team, and the two work together to provide patient care.

Steps to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

The road to becoming an FNP requires patience and commitment. Generally, it takes two to five years to earn your MSN and FNP certification, but the time frame depends on your program–and whether or not you are already a licensed Nurse Practitioner.

Here is a quick overview of the process to becoming an FNP:

Step 1: Enroll in and complete an accredited BSN program

Step 2: Take and pass the Next Gen NCLEX to become a licensed RN

Step 3: Earn an accredited graduate degree in nursing (MSN or DNP)

Step 4: Complete a certified FNP program 

Step 5: Apply for the FNP credential from ANCC or AANP

Step 6: Apply to become a certified FNP in your state

[ LEARN MORE: How to Become a Nurse Practitioner ]

Why Become an FNP

FNPs are intimately connected with their patients, and working as a nurse practitioner can be a very rewarding career. In 2023, U.S. News and World Report ranked nurse practitioner as #1 on its list of Best Healthcare Jobs and #2 on its list of the 100 best jobs in America. There are many reasons why you should become an FNP, but here three important factors to consider:

  1. High-level of autonomy – Family nurse practitioners are often the primary care provider for their patients. Many FNPs work autonomously without physician supervision and are able to prescribe prescriptions without restriction.
  2. Career stability – Family nurse practitioners are in high demand and salaries are on the rise. Due to the current shortage of primary care providers, FNPs have abundant opportunities for career growth and a high level of job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 29,200 openings for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are projected each year over the decade.
  3. Long-term connection with patients – Family nurse practitioners treat patients of all ages, giving them the unique opportunity to work with the same patients for years–if not decades. These long-term patient relationships can be extremely rewarding and lead to a deeper understanding of patients’ individualized health needs.