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Family Nurse Practitioner

By an allied health world contributing writer

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What is a family nurse practitioner?

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a highly trained nursing professional that has demonstrated advanced clinical knowledge and is qualified to be a first-contact or direct care provider. An FNP may be a registered nurse with a Master of Science or other advanced degree in nursing who has selected a specialty, completed a rigorous clinical rotation, passed a national examination, and received the appropriate license from his or her state of residence.

How is a family nurse practitioner different from other nurses?

There are many types of nurses with varying degrees of education and training. A licensed vocational/practical nurse (LPN or LVN) has one to two years of education and may only have an associate’s degree. Registered nurses (RN) may have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and have typically completed a two-year education program.

family nurse practitioner A family nurse practitioner may complete a master’s or doctoral program that offers a family nurse practitioner track in addition to completing at least 500 clinical contact hours. An FNP candidate must select family nurse practitioner as their specialty population, which will then include specific courses about that area of practice.

The advanced education and thorough clinical training an FNP graduate receives allows them to work and deliver care much more independently than either an LVN or an RN. LVN’s work under the general supervision of a registered nurse. Registered nurses work more independently than LVN’s, but still work under the direction of a physician. RN’s can deliver care, but they are generally not in a position to direct it.

In contrast, family nurse practitioners typically work collaboratively with doctors, and in most states they are licensed to order tests and prescribe medication and other treatments. A family nurse practitioner directs the care that his or her patient receives, and in some cases the patient may have no need to see a doctor at all unless their condition is complicated enough that it should be referred to an MD specialist.

Are there different types of nurse practitioners?

Yes. There are several types of advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. These are all areas where a nurse completes specific educational requirements and then passes a national examination to receive his or her advanced practice family nurse practitioner certification.

Within the category of “nurse practitioner” there are several sub-specialties, including family nurse practitioner. Other specialty areas include acute care, adult emphasis, several pediatric specialties, psychiatric and mental health, gerontology and diabetes management.

A family nurse practitioner studies aspects of health, wellness, illness and injury management for a full array of ages and conditions. An FNP is prepared to manage the care of patients both young and old, and takes special consideration to the relationships between patient and caregivers. FNP’s are considered generalists, meaning they have a broad knowledge base to offer care to a very broad demographic.

What does a family nurse practitioner do?

More and more, FNP’s are becoming first-contact providers. This means that when someone goes to a doctor’s office for a visit, they may actually be seeing the family nurse practitioner first. The education and training an FNP receives qualifies them to treat many conditions and make decisions with regard to the appropriate treatments, tests or medications a patient may need. A case will be referred to a physician or specialist if it is complicated or resistant to normal treatments, but it is possible that an FNP will direct the care from start to finish.

In addition to being extremely qualified care providers, the philosophy of nurse practitioners is to create a framework of overall health. This includes treating illness and injury, but also involves teaching a positive approach to prevention, wellness and a healthy lifestyle. While an FNP may be the first clinical contact for someone who needs medical attention, the FNP’s overall approach to health care delivery includes a holistic approach to maintaining health and wellness in the long term. This means that an FNP may spend equal time treating a condition and providing education by being an advocate for preventive care and general health and wellness.

Do family nurse practitioners work directly with doctors?

In some states a collaborative or supervisory relationship with a doctor is required. In other states the FNP may work more independently. While national standards in the accreditation and certification of FNPs means that most family nurse practitioner programs will create graduates of equal quality, specific guidelines for what an FNP can do – or their “scope of practice” – is determined by each state. States vary in the amount of independence that an FNP is allowed to have, so make sure that you are familiar with the guidelines that your state’s licensing board establishes.

What sorts of settings do family nurse practitioners work in?

There are many settings where family nurse practitioners might work, from freestanding clinics to hospitals.

It is very common to find a family nurse practitioner working in a physician’s office as part of a team that creates a successful family practice. An FNP may see patients in the office, or visit patients in hospital on physician’s behalf. A family nurse practitioner might work in a public health clinic helping care for patients who need access to health care despite having limited access to insurance. FNP’s might also work for insurance companies as part of wellness education programs, or providing claims oversight.

As health care demands increase, and provider shortages continue to be a problem, the skill and training of family nurse practitioners continues to open doors in all health care settings.

Family Nurse Practitioner Schools

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Kaplan University is focused on recognizing the achievements of military and veteran students and offers the flexibility of an online education.


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Capella provides a flexible online learning environment designed for working adults who want to advance in their profession.


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