FNP vs. PNP: Comparing Nursing Career Paths

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under MSN

A smiling nurse practitioner.In 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked nurse practitioner as the third-best job in the United States. Aspiring nurse practitioners can consider a number of specialties, including family nurse practitioner (FNP) and pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP).

Both specialties provide professionals with the opportunity to provide patients with quality care. When considering the roles of FNP vs. PNP, registered nurses should understand that while the two career paths require an advanced degree in nursing, many distinctions set them apart.

What Does an FNP Do?

A family nurse practitioner can treat a wide range of patients, from infants to seniors, which allows them to provide care throughout a person’s lifetime. In many cases, FNPs care for entire families. These professionals can develop long-term medical relationships with patients since they are qualified to treat them at different stages of their lives.

Part of an FNP’s role is to educate patients and their families about preventive care. For example, they may determine that obesity could be an issue within a family unit. They can then work with the family to develop health strategies, such as better eating habits and more exercise.

FNPs can earn further certification in specific areas, such as childhood obesity or diabetes. Certification provides them with the expertise to develop effective preventive care strategies. They also treat acute illnesses, such as the flu or chest congestion.

For patients with chronic illnesses — seniors with arthritis, for example — FNPs can offer pain management strategies or refer them to specialists. In some states, FNPs are certified to prescribe medications without physician oversight, while in other states, they collaborate closely with physicians to develop medication plans for patients.

What Does a PNP Do?

Pediatric nurse practitioners provide specialized care for infants, children, teenagers and young adults. They see patients in a variety of settings and often offer primary care in areas that lack physicians.

Those who specialize in pediatrics can expect to treat a wide array of acute and chronic illnesses that affect children, including colds, the flu, asthma and minor injuries. PNPs monitor and develop strategies to help young patients manage their chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer or cystic fibrosis.

PNPs develop childhood wellness strategies to assist families in combating preventable medical conditions, such as childhood obesity. These professionals can also work with school districts to develop districtwide health initiatives. Though PNPs provide health care to younger patients, they work closely with parents and caregivers to give their young patients quality care.

Similarities Between FNPs and PNPs

The roles of FNP vs. PNP overlap to some extent in job responsibilities, educational requirements and key skills.

Job Responsibilities

Both specialties provide patients with optimal care. For example, FNPs and PNPs offer medical care to infants, children, teenagers and young adults, although PNPs may have more in-depth knowledge of pediatrics.

FNPs and PNPs develop various strategies to treat acute illnesses and manage chronic diseases. They can prescribe medication to patients without oversight from a doctor in 22 states, while the other 28 states require physician approval. They often act as intermediaries between patients and physicians. In some cases, they may serve as patient advocates to help patients acquire specialized care.

Educational Requirements

The first step toward a career as an FNP or PNP is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). After graduation, prospective nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam proctored by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to become licensed registered nurses (RNs).

Those interested in advanced nursing careers, such as nurse practitioner, must pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Many graduate programs require nurses to have at least a year of experience working as an RN. Nurses aspiring to become an FNP or PNP should first consider working as an RN in pediatrics or family care.

Skill Set

FNPs and PNPs rely on common core skills, spanning the areas of analysis, communication, leadership and technology.

  • Analysis: FNPs and PNPs use their analytical skills to develop strategies and treatment plans to address their patients’ health concerns. They monitor patients’ responses and assess treatment plans to determine whether they are effective.
  • Communication: Strong communication skills are crucial when working on cross-functional teams with physicians and other health care professionals, explaining treatment plans, and listening to patients’ symptoms and concerns.
  • Leadership: Both specialties require leadership skills to help them make informed medical decisions that positively impact their patients’ health care goals. They must take the initiative to provide their patients, families and caregivers with the guidance to manage and treat various illnesses.
  • Technology: FNPs and PNPs must monitor the latest technological trends affecting their field, including electronic health records (EHRs) and telehealth.

Differences Between FNPs and PNPs

The percentage of all nurse practitioners who decide to become certified FNPs is about 65%, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. By contrast, PNPs make up just 4% of NPs. The distinctions between an FNP and a PNP, despite the similarities, can affect an individual’s inclination toward either career.

Job Responsibilities

Looking at the responsibilities of FNPs vs. PNPs reveals a key difference: their patient populations. FNPs provide care to patients throughout their lifetimes, while PNPs provide care for patients from infancy to young adulthood.

PNPs offer a focused assessment of their patients’ development through the various stages of childhood. They have a deep understanding of the many chronic and acute illnesses that impact children. Moreover, they work with parents and caregivers to ensure that their young patients develop into healthy adults by addressing health concerns such as childhood obesity or diabetes.

In contrast, FNPs possess primary care expertise that allows them to care for patients of all ages. Though they often treat young patients, FNPs manage a wide scope of acute and chronic illnesses that affect patients at various stages of life. On any given day, they may work with a parent to develop a treatment plan for a child and then treat an elderly patient for a chronic heart condition.


After earning an advanced degree in nursing from an accredited university, prospective FNPs and PNPs can take a certification exam. Aspiring FNPs must pass an exam proctored by either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

In comparison, future PNPs must pass the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner exam for either primary or acute care (CPNP-PC or CPNP-AC) through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). PNPs who specialize in acute care have an advanced knowledge of caring for patients with acute or chronic illnesses. In contrast, primary care PNPs focus on minor illnesses, preventive care and developing long-term health care strategies.

After passing the relevant exam, FNPs and PNPs can work in their specialty. Every five years, FNPs must complete the recertification process, which requires 100 continuing education hours and 1,000 hours of clinical work within that period, according to the AANP. PNPs must recertify every year and complete 15 hours of continuing education annually. The PCNB also requires PNPs to take four approved PNCB modules within a seven-year period.

Work Environment and Salary

FNPs can work in hospitals, schools, public clinics or their own practices. PNPs work in similar settings, with the addition of pediatrician offices and pediatric intensive care units. In some cases, FNPs and PNPs may work in the same facility but in different units.

In 2019, the median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $109,820, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Both FNPs and PNPs can expect to command higher salaries after earning experience in the field.

Explore an Exciting Career as an FNP or PNP

Nurses interested in advancing their careers should consider the many benefits of earning a graduate degree. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the University of North Dakota’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program allows students to choose a specialized area of concentration: Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Regardless of concentration, all students take a core set of courses to prepare for certification exams, such as Theories and Concepts in Nursing; Advanced Pharmacology; Ethical, Legal and Health Policy Issues; and an independent study project.

Learn more about how the University of North Dakota’s online MSN can help you gain the knowledge base, education and skill set to pave the way to an advanced career as a nurse practitioner.

Recommended Readings

AGNP vs. FNP: Comparing Two Essential Nursing Roles

Exploring the Types of Nursing Specialties and Salaries of Nurse Practitioners

How to Become a Director of Nursing


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Renewal Requirements

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

News Medical Life Sciences, “Nursing Specializations”

PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

PayScale, Average Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (CPNP-AC)

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (CPNP-PC)

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, Acute Care Recertification

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, Primary Care Recertification

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29-1171 Nurse Practitioners

U.S. News & World Report, Best Health Care Jobs

U.S. News & World Report, 100 Best Jobs