What you need to know about how to become a Family Nurse Practitioner

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Working in the healthcare sector can be extremely rewarding, because it enables you to have a career dedicated to helping other people. It’s by no means always an easy field to be employed in, however it’s one that can let you make a real difference to your community, continually improve your knowledge and skills, plus you can benefit from good levels of employability and job security. So, it’s no wonder that so many people are drawn to this industry!

Within healthcare there are a great many different career pathways you can choose, from being a doctor or a pharmacist to a medical researcher. One popular option that appeals to lots of people is becoming a nurse, because this allows you to work directly with all sorts of patients to provide them with both medical care and emotional support. 

There are many different job roles available to you within the sphere of nursing, and plenty of opportunities to specialize in an area that is of particular interest to you. For example, you could become an oncology nurse and care for people with cancer, or a neonatal nurse looking after newborn babies. A great choice for those who want to work with a diverse range of patients and health conditions however is to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.

This article will discuss the role of a Family Nurse Practitioner in more detail, examining both the skills that you need to succeed in the role and the benefits of becoming one. It will also cover how you can train for the job, and what studying for the necessary qualifications is like. Hopefully, this will help you to figure out if it’s the right career choice for you.

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

A Family Nurse Practitioner, also known as an FNP, is a highly trained, advanced nurse who has completed specialist education within the field. They provide primary care services in a wide variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, schools, clinics, community centers, care facilities, and in patients’ own homes. Often this involves working alongside a physician and other medical professionals, but the role does give you more autonomy in comparison to that of a registered nurse (RN).

As touched upon in the introduction, the role of an FNP is a very varied one because of the diversity of patients that you work with. You’ll see people of all different ages and backgrounds, with any number of different health conditions. The exact tasks and duties that you have will depend on the precise healthcare setting that you work in and patients that you see, however you can anticipate having many of the following responsibilities:

  • Taking the medical histories of patients and talking to them about their health
  • Conducting physical examinations of patients
  • Ordering or conducting diagnostic tests and screenings
  • Diagnosing healthcare conditions and diseases
  • Administering medications to patients
  • Prescribing certain medications to patients
  • Developing treatment plans for a range of different acute and chronic health conditions and diseases
  • Monitoring patients who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes
  • Assisting other medical professionals with certain medical procedures
  • Maintaining patient records accurately
  • Referring your patients to other medical professionals where appropriate
  • Collaborating with other medical professionals
  • Supervising your own healthcare team
  • Educating both your patients and the general public on disease prevention, healthy lifestyles, and other relevant issues

Many nurses choose to become FNPs because of the opportunity if offers to specialize in an area of interest, for example women’s health, pediatrics, or mental health. If you take a specialist route this will of course affect your daily job role. 

What skills do I need to be a good FNP?

An FNP is one of the more advanced roles within the nursing industry, and as such requires a high level of specialist medical knowledge and clinical skills. Of course, you’ll work on this during your time studying for the relevant qualifications, and these will prepare you to hit the ground running after graduation. However, there are also a number of transferable soft skills that you’ll want to develop in order to truly excel in the role. If you’re already a registered nurse then it’s likely that you already have many of these, but it never hurts to give them a boost.

One of the most important areas to develop is your interpersonal skills. As mentioned above, you’ll be working directly with patients from all different walks of life as well as other medical professionals, which means that strong communication skills are a must. A large part of the role of an FNP involves educating others about how to manage chronic diseases and how to live a healthy lifestyle. This means you might need to explain complex health conditions and medical procedures to people who don’t know anything about them, or who are in a state of distress. To help with this it’s important to have excellent active listening and observational skills, plus an understanding of body language. It’s often just as much about understanding what people are not openly saying to you as what they are.

As a high-level role, being an FNP involves a greater amount of independence and responsibility. Thus, it’s important to have the ability to make quick and effective decisions, as well as solve problems. Attention to detail is another crucial skill because you’ll be dealing with precise dosages of medications, nuanced medical symptoms, complex patient notes, and so on – sometimes in situations where a mistake can have very serious consequences. Coping with such a high caseload also requires strong organizational and time management skills to ensure that you stay on top of everything.

What characteristics do I need to be a good FNP?

Being a great FNP isn’t only about your practical skills, it’s also about the type of person that you are. For example it’s crucial for nurses in all roles to be kind, compassionate and empathetic people if they’re going to have a good bedside manner and give their patients the best possible care. You want to be able to put yourself in the shoes of those you’re caring for, so that you can understand what they’re going through and figure out the best way to help and support them.

At the same time, it’s critical for you to have the emotional resilience not to become too affected by upsetting cases. Sometimes situations don’t work out the way that you want them to, but it’s important to be able to set clear boundaries between your work life and your home life in order to protect your own mental health and wellbeing. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should switch off completely and become desensitized, just remember that it’s acceptable to put yourself first sometimes.

As anyone who already works as a nurse will know, the job often involves dealing with unexpected issues or emergency situations as and when they arrive. Therefore, being flexible enough to handle them is an important trait to have. In a similar vein you’ll need to be adaptable in the way that you work with different types of people, for example being more positive and upbeat with young children or showing more patience with senior citizens.

The field of nursing is one in which there are always new developments being made, whether that’s in terms of technologies, treatments or diagnosis. Therefore, you need to be willing to become a lifelong learner and complete regular professional development courses. Finally, as an FNP you must be a good team player and strive to always have a professional attitude and exhibit honesty and integrity in everything you do. 

What are the benefits of becoming an FNP?

There are many different benefits to be gained from putting in the time and effort to train as an FNP. Firstly, the additional responsibility and autonomy you get in this job role leads to a higher level of job satisfaction and fulfilment. As an FNP you may well find yourself working with underserved communities and also seeing the same patients – and their families – for many years. This helps you to develop meaningful connections with those in your care and your local community, giving you a strong sense of purpose and boosting your wellbeing.

At the same time, being an FNP can bring you more material benefits too. The job outlook for this kind of advanced nursing role is predicted to grow by a staggering 45% between 2019 and 2029, enabling you to enjoy high levels of employability and job security. This is because nursing is a field where people will always be needed, especially these days with the aging population and increased prevalence of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Plus, with a median salary of $117,640 in 2020, you can anticipate a greater level of financial stability too.

For those who are particularly ambitious, working as an FNP can also be a good foundation for progressing to even higher job roles. The experience you gain from both studying for the job and actually working as a family nurse practitioner will put you in a strong position to apply for leadership roles or management jobs if you’re interested in those. Other options include moving over to academia or health policy.

How do I train to become an FNP?

There are a couple of different pathways open to you if you want to become an FNP, depending on where you currently are in your career. The following is one of the most common routes to take:

  • Earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN)
  • Become licensed as a registered nurse (RN)
  • Gain more clinical experience in a relevant healthcare setting
  • Obtain either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Become certified and licensed as an FNP
  • Get other medical certification like ACLS, that will help you stand out in the crowd.

The choice between doing an MSN or a DNP is entirely up to you. The DNP is the longer and more academically challenging of the two, and as such will give you more of a competitive edge when it comes to applying for jobs. Those who are interested in the highest level positions should definitely give the DNP serious consideration. If you’re unsure, you can always take the MSN first and then progress to the DNP at a later date if you decide you want to boost your qualifications. 

Both part time and full-time study options are available for MSN and DNP programs, as well as online distance learning courses and traditional ones held on college campuses. All of these variations are considered equally valid by employers, so you should feel free to choose the study mode that best suits your personal preferences and individual circumstances.

What is studying to be an FNP like?

Regardless of which degree program you choose, studying to be an FNP will involve completing a mixture of academic work and clinical placements. You’ll take a series of modules on relevant topics, which will be delivered through a variety of teaching and learning methods such as lectures, seminars, tutorials, required reading, group work and written assignments. Some modules will be compulsory, while for others you will have a choice between a list of electives.

When it comes to your clinical hours, these can be done at any relevant healthcare setting and your college will assist you in arranging your placements. The usual requirement is 700 hours for those doing an MSN and 1,000 hours for those on a DNP program. These placements are extremely valuable opportunities for you to put what you’ve been learning into practice under the supervision of an experienced professional. Make the most of the experience by listening carefully to any advice and feedback you’re given, asking insightful questions, and networking effectively wherever possible.

Toward the end of your course, you will also be expected to complete an independent research project on a relevant topic of your choice. This is an ideal chance to delve deeply into a subject that is of particular interest to you and also relevant to your career goal of becoming an FNP, bringing together everything that you’ve learned and demonstrating your mastery of the topic. As such many students find this the most fulfilling and rewarding part of the program.