Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are quickly becoming leaders in delivering primary healthcare services, thereby alleviating the burden on primary care physicians and often filling the gaps in underserved rural areas.
A career in nursing means a lifetime of dedication, care and compassion. The interaction with people from all walks of life and a constant learning process ensure that there is never a dull moment in the life of a nurse.
In addressing the needs of the entire family, from childhood through adulthood, and the management of elderly patients with their multiple ailments, a family nurse practitioner uses a range of skills and competencies. Often a pillar of strength in the community, these nurses get to know their patients well, dealing with their ailments, assisting with health problems, and educating communities on the maintenance of healthy lifestyles.
Core functions of a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
The scope of duties that an FNP can practice differs from state to state, according to the licensing legislature. In states with full practice authority, FNPs can perform their full scope of practice without the supervision of a physician. However, there may be a requirement for a specific amount of experience.
In reduced practice states, an FNP may need to be part of a practice with supervision, although they still have a reasonable level of autonomy. Restricted practice states require FNPs to work under supervision for the full scope of their practice. The scope of NP practice includes:
- Maintaining patient records and developing care plans when required.
- Treating acute and chronic illnesses, injuries and other conditions.
- Performing physical examinations and routine check-ups on patients.
- Prescribing medication.
- Consulting with other medical professionals.
- Ordering and performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results.
- Educating patients on health and wellness practices in their home environments.
- Performing or assisting with minor procedures.
- Overseeing patient care in medical facilities.
- Making referrals to specialists as needed.
There are enough tasks on the list to keep the average FNP very busy. However, there is more to being an FNP than these basic tasks.
Encouraging patients to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing is a key focus of FNPs. The benefits of educating patients and watching them grow in their knowledge bring immense satisfaction to those in this role. Teaching them about the need for regular checkups, screening and immunization results in healthier patients and a happy, healthy community.
It’s not just about the growth of patients. As general family practitioners, FNPs are constantly collaborating with medical practitioners and specialists, gaining more knowledge in the process, improving their skills, and making a difference in the lives of others.
The training they receive, combined with their extensive nursing backgrounds, encourages FNPs to take a more holistic approach with their patients. They are skilled in taking into account the background, family situation, and other pertinent aspects of the patient’s spiritual, emotional and mental health as well. They will refer patients to a physician where necessary but also involve the family when possible so patients get the support they need.
FNPs often get to work with diverse patients across all age groups and cultures. Learning to deal with the very young or trying to communicate with someone in a different language can be challenging and hugely rewarding once accomplished.
Family nurse practitioners help to bring new lives into this world and watch them as they grow. They help adolescents with acne and broken bones and care for pregnant mothers, guiding them through one of the most important times of their lives.
Caring for the elderly comes with its challenges but can be very satisfying at the same time. Ensuring that these individuals are comfortable and assisting them with their many ailments instills a sense of gratitude in older people and a sense of achievement in a younger FNP.
One of the most important areas where an FNP can make a difference is in underserved areas. This may be in an outlying rural area or an underprivileged community. In many states, FNPs can set up clinics in underserved areas, becoming a pillar of support in a community where there is no access to medical assistance.
In addition to medical services, an FNP could include a health and wellness center to educate people and get them involved in helping others in the community. An FNP in an outlying area can use their position to advocate for improved medical services and make a big difference in an underserved community.
The employment opportunities for FNPs are numerous and often varied. For FNPs with a busy family life, working in a practice with flexible hours might be suitable while juggling between responsibilities at work and home. For a job that is more demanding, FNPs can work in a hospital or clinic, find employment in a private practice, or even open their own practice, if state laws permit. Operating a practice on one’s own could involve long hours and dedication, however. One solution to this could be forming a partnership with two or three other FNPs, helping to share the workload and enabling everyone concerned to work flexible hours.
FNPs have the option to practice on a broad scale or within a smaller, more specific area of healthcare. Broad-scale practice involves daily interactions with people from all walks of life, and each day brings its own unique set of challenges in the form of illness and injury. At the other end of the scale, an FNP may prefer to work in a smaller, more specialized environment or even move into a teaching or research role at a university or scientific institution.
When working in a practice, FNPs play an important role in their patients’ lives, coordinating their wellbeing with the different specialists and making sure they get the best treatment possible. With the emphasis on preventative care and disease control, an FNP empowers individual patients and families to lead healthier lifestyles and improve their overall wellness.
In a hospital situation, a senior registered nurse or a nurse with a master’s degree can move into a management role if they find they have strong leadership qualities and the ambition that goes with it.
Nurse managers are responsible for a department or hospital unit. They resolve staffing issues and employ new staff, plan work schedules and oversee budgets.
A qualified NP can also apply for other leadership roles in the hospital environment, such as clinical nurse specialist or clinical nurse leader.
With leadership experience, a master’s graduate can also pursue a role in administration or apply for a position as a director of nursing or chief nursing officer.
Work where it suits you
FNPs have a wide scope of working environments from which they can choose. You can work in community clinic settings, general healthcare centers, private healthcare practices, hospitals, and even universities.
As mentioned, the laws regarding NPs differ depending on which state you plan to practice in. However, more than half of the states allow NPs to run their own practice. Depending on the state you are practicing in, you may open your own practice, or you can work with a general practitioner (GP), where you can consult them for advice if needed, refer patients when they require more specialized care, and generally alleviate much of the workload, enabling the medical practitioner to address more advanced health issues.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, most FNPs find their preferred niche in outpatient clinics, private physician practices and private group practices, where they can seek help and grow with support from experts. It’s a good place to gain experience and grow into the FNP role before branching out on your own, if that is your goal.
In addition to an FNP’s ability to earn a competitive salary and work flexible hours if desired, the shortage of skilled medical practitioners in the US means there will likely be many job opportunities when seeking employment. This also leads to improved job security and long-term stability. The availability of jobs can fluctuate, however, depending on the geographical location.
Shortage of medical practitioners
America is facing increasing shortages of medical practitioners, and the situation is not likely to improve in the long term. According to a report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the US faces a shortage of up to 124,000 medical practitioners by the year 2034.
To break it down, they predict a shortage of primary care physicians of between 17,800 and 48,000 by 2034 and a shortage of specialist physicians of between 21,000 and 77,100 by the year 2034. These predictions were based on the demographics of population growth, with a predicted figure of 10.6 percent by 2034.
There are fewer university graduates entering the medical field right now, while people are living longer thanks to vast improvements in technology and medical care in general. However, the aging population does place a greater strain on the system as a result of multiple conditions, many of them chronic, and the need for specialized, long-term care. This has created an imbalance between the demand for and availability of medical professionals.
With their depth of knowledge and skills, nurse practitioners can step in and fill the gap in many areas of healthcare, enabling primary care physicians to focus on the more complicated issues and alleviating the long waiting periods for medical attention in many facilities.
In addition to their basic nursing skills, NPs can take on tasks such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medication; managing long-term chronic illnesses such as asthma, kidney disease, and epilepsy; and overseeing the welfare of elderly patients with multiple health issues.
Disadvantaged and underserved communities benefit from the day-to-day medical care that FNPs provide, as well as their expertise in many areas of healthcare. By getting involved not just in medical services but also in ongoing education on healthcare, FNPs can make a big difference in the long term. In rural areas, NPs are often the sole healthcare providers, and having an FNP to turn to in an emergency helps to alleviate the workload on emergency service personnel, who would have to travel long distances to provide assistance.
Steps to becoming a nurse
Here is a look at the steps involved in becoming a nurse.
Become a registered nurse
A degree from an accredited institution will help you achieve a basic nursing qualification. You will be required to take a licensing examination to become certified as a registered nurse (RN). The license requirements differ from state to state, so it’s important to comply with the licensing regulations that apply in your jurisdiction. In addition to nursing competency, some states require proof of moral character, sound mental and physical health, and proficiency in English.
There are several options available for nursing studies, although you will need a bachelor’s in nursing to take your career to the next level. Here’s what you need to get started:
- A diploma from an accredited institution: This is a two- to three-year course that is done primarily in a medical facility. Some of this training can be used later as credits for a bachelor of science degree.
- An undergraduate or associate degree in nursing (ADN): This will take between 18 months and two years to complete and should qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN examination to become a registered nurse.
- A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN): This takes approximately four years to complete, and in some states, a BSN has become a mandatory requirement to practice as a registered nurse. Some states mandate that nurses achieve this degree within ten years of licensure.
Step 2: The family nurse practitioner (FNP)
With a bachelor’s in nursing and an active RN license, you will be ready to take the next step in your career. To learn more about earning a family nurse practitioner master’s degree from Rockhurst University with MSN FNP programs online, click here. As a full- or part-time student, you can become a qualified FNP in two to three years, preparing you for your American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) licensing examinations.
A postgraduate diploma and specialization
In addition to the broad scope of competencies that your FNP education has equipped you with, you might like to add to your set of skills by specializing in an area that appeals to you or perhaps where you see a need in your community.
For example, you may be working in a center that cares for elderly people, so a specialization in gerontology could serve you well. Alternatively, you may find yourself supporting a community with a high prevalence of drug and alcohol addiction, where a qualification in psychiatry will help you deal with these cases.
You can focus on a specialty while studying for your FNP qualification, or it can be done afterward by means of post-graduate diplomas with various educational institutions.
Here are some suggestions for advanced skills diploma courses in specific areas of nursing:
Neonatal NP: Administer pre-term and infant care, in both acute and non-acute settings.
Women’s Health NP: Slightly different from the role of a specialized midwife, this NP’s focus is on the reproductive, obstetric and gynecological health of women of all ages.
Psychiatric NP: Working in mental health, NPs assess patients, study their medical history, and perform tests, making diagnoses and drawing up treatment plans.
Pediatric NP: Working with children of all ages, this NP diagnoses and treats illnesses while educating both children and parents on the management of their illnesses.
Dermatology NP: This NP takes into account medical history, a medication review, pathology, and laboratory reports to diagnose and treat diseases that affect the skin, hair and nails.
Cardiology NP: This NP provides care for patients with acute and chronic cardiac diseases, assesses the status of the patient, and prescribes treatment in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team.
Nephrology NP: Provides care to patients with acute or chronic kidney or urologic disorders who are either on dialysis or have undergone kidney transplants.
Oncology NP: This NP works with oncologists, providing care for cancer patients and lending support to both patients and their families and caregivers.
Orthopedics NP: Conducts physical exams and prescribes tests and treatments for patients with musculoskeletal conditions affecting bones, tendons, joints, ligaments, muscles and nerves.
Gerontology NP: Working in an acute or primary care setting, a gerontology NP has skills in managing chronic and acute conditions in the aging population.
Palliative Care NP: Handling the treatment of life-threatening illnesses, a palliative care NP assesses the needs of the patient, administers treatment and lends support to both patients and families.
With your compassion and empathy for your fellow human beings, combined with good communication and critical thinking ability, the family nursing profession may be just what you are looking for in a career. Being an FNP offers great rewards, ongoing learning and job satisfaction. Get involved in helping people and make a difference in the lives of individuals and families around you.