How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

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A family nurse practitioner meets with a young patient and their parent.As the demand for medical care in the United States outpaces the number of physicians to provide it, nurse practitioners (NPs) are playing vital roles in meeting communities’ health needs.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that residents of some rural areas must travel hours for medical care. And the organization predicts a national shortfall of as many as 139,000 doctors by 2033.

The Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, however, notes that nonphysician providers such as NPs are helping to lessen the effects of the doctor shortage. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs), with their capacity for treating patients of all ages for a variety of concerns, are well-positioned to be part of that solution.

Anyone interested in a career that calls for working with diverse populations to meet a community’s health care needs may want to explore how to become a family nurse practitioner. Earning a master’s in nursing is one way to get the necessary education and skills.

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), NPs provide advanced nursing care that combines clinical expertise with an emphasis on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle. They can perform many of the same tasks as physicians.

Family nurse practitioners are NPs who specialize in working with families. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that 67% of the nation’s nurse practitioners are FNPs.

An FNP provides an array of medical care to patients in all stages of life, from infants to the elderly. They work in locations ranging from community health centers to universities.

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

Because FNPs can treat people throughout their lives, they often establish longtime provider-patient relationships. So, for example, a patient who was treated by an FNP for an ear infection as a child may rely on that same FNP for advice about a heart-healthy diet as an adult. That means FNPs must be able to adapt to many different patient needs.

FNPs perform the following tasks:

  • Conducting physicals
  • Ordering and performing tests
  • Prescribing medicine
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Treating injuries and illnesses
  • Maintaining patient records

Where Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Work?

Family nurse practitioners typically work with patients on-site at health care facilities and via telehealth services focused on long-term care. Among the places FNPs work are:

  • Private physician’s practices
  • Community health centers
  • Hospitals
  • Universities

Steps to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

Individuals interested in how to become a family nurse practitioner should learn the steps involved. Becoming an FNP starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then receiving additional education and certifications.

Family Nurse Practitioner Education

To become an FNP, individuals first must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then become a registered nurse (RN). After practicing as a registered nurse for a year, they can pursue a master’s degree, which most entry-level NP positions require.

Becoming an RN requires passing the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This online test measures the skills and abilities required for success as an entry-level RN. After RN candidates pass the NCLEX, they can apply for RN licensure in their state.

RNs who want to become nurse practitioners then must earn a master’s degree in nursing, which is typically required for NP positions. Master’s in nursing programs generally include classroom education and clinical experience, focusing on topics such as navigating the health system, conducting health assessments and handling medications. Those who want to focus on working with families should choose a concentration in that area, which covers various aspects of providing primary care.

Family Nurse Practitioner Certification

In addition to being licensed as RNs, family nurse practitioners must hold FNP licenses. Once they earn a master’s in nursing degree, they can take the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The FNP certification exam measures competencies in care across a patient’s lifespan, from prenatal to elderly adult care.

While both test options for FNP licensing are online, there are differences between the two. The AANP exam contains 150 multiple choice questions, for example, while the ANCC exam has 175 questions in various formats. The AANP test focuses on clinical topics, including commonly performed procedures, while the ANCC test also includes questions about aspects of professional practice, such as licensing and medical privileges. FNP certification requires renewal every five years through a combination of practice hours and continuing education.

After passing the FNP exam, the last step in becoming a family nurse practitioner is getting a state license. That process varies by state, and individuals should check with their state’s board of nursing for details. Additionally, some FNPs also choose to earn additional certifications. Examples include becoming certified in advanced diabetes management or pain management.

Advanced Knowledge and Skills for FNPs

Excelling as a family nurse practitioner requires in-depth clinical knowledge and workplace skills. Those pursuing an FNP role need clinical knowledge in the following areas, among others:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Family practice
  • Primary care
  • Acute care
  • Pediatrics

FNPs and other nurse practitioners also need a variety of soft skills. A few of those skills are:

  • Communication — to work with patients of diverse ages and backgrounds as well as other health care professionals
  • Quick thinking — to make immediate decisions in medical emergencies
  • Adaptability — to learn about new skills and pursue different medical approaches
  • Compassion — to show empathy when caring for patients
  • Detail-oriented — to help ensure errors such as dangerous drug interactions don’t occur

Prepare to Become a Leader in Family Health Care

If you’re ready to work with patients of all ages as you help address the nation’s health care needs, discover how the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program and its Family Nurse Practitioner concentration can get you there. The program offers the flexibility of online learning and a first-rate education that will prepare you to enhance the well-being and quality of life of communities that need it most.

Explore how the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

5 Leadership Skills in Nursing That Nurse Practitioners Should Master

AGNP vs. FNP: Comparing Two Essential Nursing Roles

What Is the Role of a Family Nurse Practitioner?


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board

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

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Pathway to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)”

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Pain Management Nursing Certification

Association of American Medical Colleges, “Attracting the Next Generation of Physicians to Rural Medicine”

Association of American Medical Colleges, “New AAMC Report Confirms Growing Physician Shortage”

Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists, Board Certified-Advanced Diabetes Management

Board Vitals, “ANCC vs. AANP: Which FNP Exam Should I Take?”

Health and Willness, “NP Credentialing Process: Steps After Graduation”

Health eCareers, “5 Soft Skills Employers Seek in Nurse Practitioners”

Johnson & Johnson Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) at a Glance

Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, “Predicted Shortages of Physicians Might Even Disappear If We Fully Account for PAs and NPs”

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

What Is NCLEX, About NCLEX

ZipRecruiter, “Family Nurse Practitioner Must-Have Resume Skills and Keywords”