What Does a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner Involve?

career as a nurse

A career in healthcare can be exceptionally rewarding, providing you find the right role to suit your personality and interests. With so many different career paths within the sector, it’s important to undertake comprehensive research and make strategic choices regarding your career progression.

While many nurses begin their careers as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN), you can progress to a variety of roles once you have gained sufficient experience. For example, an experienced RN may choose to become a:

  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Educator
  • Healthcare Manager

For experienced RNs, pursuing a career as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is a popular choice. The additional responsibility and increase in salary associated with being an FNP ensure it offers a challenging and satisfying career path for a wide variety of healthcare professionals.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

A Nurse Practitioner is a more advanced role than a Registered Nurse and involves considerable decision-making. As a Nurse Practitioner, you will be qualified to diagnose and treat patients, as well as being equipped to deliver care in a clinical setting. The duties of a Nurse Practitioner vary but typically include:

  • Diagnosing patients
  • Prescribing medications
  • Administering treatment
  • Referring to other medical professionals
  • Ordering and undertaking diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients on a range of healthcare issues

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner also gives you the opportunity to specialize in a particular area. A range of specialties is available to NPs, including:

  • Acute Care
  • Family Health
  • Oncology
  • Pediatric
  • Mental Health/Psychiatric

Once qualified as a Nurse Practitioner, you will also have the opportunity to join the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or AANP. As well as hosting a number of professional events and representing NPs, the AANP provides access to a range of educational resources and training opportunities. Like most healthcare professionals, Nurse Practitioners are required to maintain clinical skills and training. By joining relevant and reputable professional organizations, practitioners can undertake a variety of courses throughout their careers and further their specialisms while meeting the statutory requirements to practice.

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

A Family Nurse Practitioner is an NP who specializes in family health. Often working in clinical settings within the community, many FNPs are based in offices and surgeries, rather than in hospitals or on wards.

Family health is a particularly popular specialism for Nurse Practitioners because of the varied nature of the role. When treating families, you have the opportunity to work with patients of all ages, including children and the elderly. This varied patient list ensures you’ll encounter numerous healthcare issues, which provides for a challenging yet rewarding role.

As a Family Nurse Practitioner, your day-to-day duties will cover a number of areas, such as:

  • Providing primary care to all age groups
  • Offering prenatal care
  • Treating acute and chronic illness
  • Undertaking disease-specific screening
  • Providing family planning services
  • Carrying out minor surgeries

While many FNPs enjoy the varied nature of the role, the opportunity to treat patients throughout different stages of their lives is also an attractive prospect for many healthcare professionals. While many nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals will only see patients once or within a specific timeframe, Family Nurse Practitioners are often a patient’s primary care provider for years.

This gives FNPs a unique role in a family’s life and enables them to cultivate a rewarding professional relationship with their patients. Having in-depth knowledge of a patient’s medical history is also particularly useful when it comes to diagnosing and treating both acute and chronic conditions, which helps FNPs to provide a superior level of care.

Working as a Family Nurse Practitioner

Qualifying as an FNP gives you the opportunity to work in a variety of settings. While most RNs work within a hospital environment, FNPs generally work in a wider range of locations, such as:

  • Healthcare clinics
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Schools and colleges
  • Urgent care centers
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Nursing homes

As Family Nurse Practitioners have the opportunity to work in a wider variety of clinical settings, they have more flexibility when it comes to creating a schedule that suits their lifestyle. While working in a hospital, urgent care center or emergency room typically means working a range of shifts over a 24-hour period, FNPs may choose more family-friendly hours in alternative settings.

If you work in private practice or a retail clinic, for example, your family nurse practitioner hours are usually more aligned to standard working hours, such as 9am – 6pm. For healthcare workers, the opportunity to create a more sustainable work/life balance is certainly an attractive career option and one which is highly coveted.

Although many Family Nurse Practitioners have one, full-time role, there is the potential to work in a variety of environments. You may choose to split your working week and undertake two days as an FNP in a school and three days as an FNP in private practice, for example.

Once qualified as an FNP, you may prefer to work in a team setting, alongside other medical professionals. Being employed in a large and busy doctor’s office will involve managing your own caseload while working in collaboration with other healthcare providers, for example.

However, many Family Nurse Practitioners choose to launch their own clinics and practices. Depending on the rules and regulations imposed by your state, your career as an FNP may include running your own clinic and even extend to employing other staff. Although different states have different rules regarding the level autonomy FNPs have, an increasing number of states are allowing FNPs to practice with full authority.

To date, the following states permit Nurse Practitioners to practice with increased autonomy or full authority:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  •  Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

In contrast, other states require Nurse Practitioners to work in close collaboration with other medical professionals. In Alabama, for example, Nurse Practitioners are required to spend at least 10% of their practice time working with a collaborating physician. Similarly, Californian law stipulates that prescriptions issued by Nurse Practitioners must be endorsed by a physician to be eligible for insurance reimbursement.

Although the level of autonomy that Family Nurse Practitioners have does vary depending on their location, NPs always have more authority and responsibility than RNs. As such, becoming a Nurse Practitioner is a natural career progression for many experienced Registered Nurses.

How Do You Qualify as a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Prior to qualifying as a Nurse Practitioner, most FNPs work as a Registered Nurse. After completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, graduates must also pass the NCLEX-RN to obtain their license. Following this, RNs can gain experience in a clinical setting before pursuing further qualifications, if they choose to.

To become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you will need to complete an advanced qualification. Both the AANP and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCP) provide FNP certification via a number of educational institutions and course providers.

Enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing program is, perhaps, the most efficient way to embark on a career as a Family Nurse Practitioner. Once an FNP is Board Certified, they are permitted to begin working as a Family Nurse Practitioner, although this certification must be renewed every five years to ensure on-going clinical competency.

Combining Post-graduate Study with a Full-time Career

As post-graduate study is required to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, RNs must decide whether to take time out in order to complete their MSN. Historically, this was the only viable option if RNs wanted to undertake advanced study and specialize in a particular area. However, taking a career break or sabbatical can have a variety of practical implications. As well as missing out on valuable clinical experience, a sabbatical may mean giving up your income for a temporary period of time.

For many people, taking a career break isn’t a viable option, even if it means investing in your future. Fortunately, the opportunity to study online ensures that you can combine post-graduate study with a full or part-time career. By completing your family practitioner hours with an accredited online university or course provider, you can study in a more flexible setting and at your own pace.

This approach to learning and career development has made progression easier for a significant number of healthcare professionals. Whereas financial limitations and practical issues prevented many people from pursuing their career objectives, the opportunity to study online has revolutionized the way in which FNPs can obtain the qualifications they need to progress in their chosen field.

For today’s BSN graduates, the varying routes to achieve an MSN, DNP or Post-Graduate FNP Certificate, ensure anyone can succeed as a Nurse Practitioner, providing they have the motivation to do so. Practicing as a Family Nurse Practitioner will always be a demanding and challenging role.  It is also one which offers a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction.

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