What is a family nurse practitioner?11 min read
Family nurse practitioners, or FNPs, have long-term patient relationships and are intimately connected with their patients, their patient’s families, and the community. If you enjoy working closely with people and making meaningful connections with them, then you may want to become an FNP.
What is a family nurse practitioner?
There are many healthcare professionals who prefer to have as much distance from their patients as possible. Many of these doctors and nurses become researchers or pathologists in order to avoid working with patients directly.
That being said, there are many more people who derive much of their job satisfaction from directly engaging with patients and who love being an active part of their health plans and medical journeys. FNPs are nurses who enjoy working with patients every day and building relationships with these individuals.
FNPs are nurses who specialize in the primary and specialty care of patients from all age groups. The majority of FNPs’ work involves monitoring patients’ health, creating long-term healthcare plans, helping patients to develop preventive care practices they can maintain, and helping doctors with any medical issues that may arise from one day to the next.
As you can see, the FNP role is incredibly varied and no two days will ever be the same. Instead, FNPs are presented with new jobs, challenges and roles each day as new cases come in and issues arise.
Why would you become a family nurse practitioner?
There are many reasons why someone would want to become an FNP, and these motivations are likely to change over time as the professional grows in their career and develops their experience in the field. That being said, the three listed motivations below are the most common reasons why someone would choose to pursue a career as an FNP.
A calling in healthcare
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, some people feel that they are called or inspired to enter the healthcare sector. They may be particularly interested in human anatomy, public health or caring for the sick. Other people want to make the world a better place and are gifted in mathematics and science, therefore making healthcare a good sector for them to enter.
The FNP role is ideal for individuals who are drawn to the aspects of the healthcare sector that involve care and healing because they have so much direct contact with their patients. FNPs can make a difference when it comes to a patient’s experience of healthcare. This means that they can have an impact on whether their patient feels alienated and intimidated or uplifted and cared for after their appointment.
In a time of increasing distrust of healthcare professionals and the medical sector as a whole, the daily work of compassionate FNPs has arguably never been so important.
A daily challenge
Another one of the driving motivations behind pursuing a career as an FNP is that some individuals really want a career in which they will be challenged every day. Working as an FNP is certainly not a regular desk job in which you always know what the next day will bring – in fact, it is quite the opposite.
An FNP’s job is never going to be the same each and every day because there will always be new patients, health issues and challenges to handle. Sometimes a patient may have a particularly strong personality or be a challenge to work with, and this will be a hurdle to overcome. Other times, a new health issue may arise, such as a patient having a strong reaction to a certain drug and emergency measures needing to be taken.
Another aspect of the FNP career path that is challenging is that the best practices are continually being updated. Science is always progressing and moving forward, and we are constantly learning more about human health, the best treatment options, and optimal nursing practices. If you become an FNP, you will need to be adaptable and ready to learn about and adopt the newest best practices and technology in the healthcare sector.
A healthy job market
Of course, one of the main considerations when choosing any career is the job market and, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for nurses is incredibly healthy and continually growing. As the global economy begins to dip into a recession, the importance of job security has become increasingly important.
The job market for RNs is growing around the world and the demand for specialized and highly trained nurses – such as FNPs – is particularly high. While demand for nurses is growing, nurses can also rely on the fact that there will always be a great amount of job security for them in their roles. Every country needs healthcare professionals and that need for medical professionals will persist regardless of what is happening in the global or domestic economy. This means that it is easy to get a job in nursing and keep that job.
Another important aspect of the nursing career path is that nursing roles are typically well paid and include good benefits. The importance of good benefits is particularly important in countries such as the US where health insurance is an expensive, fully privatized industry.
Advancing your nursing career
If you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or a BSN, and you have already taken your qualifying exams and got your state license, then you may want to start considering what other career options you have. Nurses with BSN degrees who have a few years of experience in the field often start looking for the next step they can take to bring their career (and paycheck) to the next level.
One way that nurses can advance their career is purely through putting in the hours on the floor and trying to learn as much as possible. There are opportunities to learn and grow everywhere. Whether it is through shadowing head nurses, taking on extra projects, or training junior nurses, there are always ways to push yourself and grow in your profession.
However, another way to learn and grow is through undertaking more education. Taking on a postgraduate degree is a great way to hone your skills, develop your understanding of one key target area, and give yourself the opportunity to access new career paths.
Doctorate in Nursing (DNP)
A Doctorate in Nursing, or DNP, is the highest level of education available for practice-based training in nursing. Nurses who have attained a DNP are highly sought after for leadership positions in clinical applications and are viewed as key leaders in the future of healthcare in the US and abroad.
The DNP program is academically rigorous and is designed to create leaders in nursing who are intellectually curious, astute and incredibly hard-working. These nurses have the highest possible level of nursing expertise, and depending on their preferences can work either in leadership roles or in clinical positions. Nurses with a DNP have the expertise needed to influence healthcare outcomes through patient care, implementing health policy, and organizational leadership.
Pursuing a DNP takes an incredible amount of dedication and effort, but the people who are attracted to DNP programs tend to already be very passionate about their field and excited by the prospect of learning more and pushing themselves academically.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Another degree path for BSN-holding RNs is pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, degree. An MSN degree is a postgraduate degree that allows the student to hone their skills and really dive deeply into a particular aspect of nursing that they are particularly interested in.
Nurses who hold MSN degrees are in high demand because of their demonstrated abilities and leadership capacity. Pursuing an MSN degree is a great way to advance in your field, gain access to new career paths, and attain a higher paycheck from your employers. It is also a good stepping stone for those who are considering pursuing a DNP or PhD in nursing.
In order to pursue an MSN, you first need a BSN and a valid nursing license. This means that most MSN candidates are already working nurses who are busily trying to get ahead in their career and often also managing a family or caring for family members. An MSN FNP is also a great way to get into the FNP profession and begin building your career.
Thankfully, there are now new online programs that have greatly increased the accessibility of MSN programs. Degrees such as the online MSN FNP programs offered at Rockhurst Online University have fully online coursework, and therefore are incredibly flexible as students can complete lectures and coursework on their own schedule. This means that busy nurses can still progress their career through an MSN degree without having to give up their job.
PhD in nursing
Finally, nurses who want to either teach at a university or do research can pursue a PhD in nursing. While the DNP is the highest degree level for practice-based care, the PhD in nursing is the highest degree level possible for academic learning and development in the nursing profession.
Individuals who choose to pursue a PhD in nursing will need to write a scholarly research dissertation supervised by a professor. This is a substantial amount of work, and nurses who choose to pursue a PhD will need to dedicate between three and five years of their life to their degree.
That being said, for nurses who really want to work in academia either as professors or researchers, the PhD is an essential degree to get into this profession. Also, nurses who choose to pursue PhDs are typically very passionate about their topic of interest and ready to commit to an in-depth study.
Choosing the right type of nursing for you
If learning about the FNP career path has made you consider what kind of nursing you would like to do, then you may want to take some time to figure out what nursing specialization is the right fit for you. The good news is that there are many different specializations to choose from and you are certain to find something that suits your interests and complements your skillset.
There are many different specializations, and these different types of nursing can vary depending on where you live. For example, if you live in a rural community, you may need to have experience with a broad range of different nursing practices for the smaller population, whereas if you live in a large urban environment, you may be able to specialize more easily in a niche area of practice.
The prospect of choosing a specialization can be daunting, but if you follow the below steps and practices, you will be able to break down the process and make it more manageable.
Taking the time to know yourself and your strengths
When deciding on a specialization, something that you want to avoid doing is rushing into the first practice area that interests you. Many people have enjoyed doing a BSN and have then immediately pursued an MSN and PhD without slowing down to really consider what they are interested in.
It is important when you are starting out to follow the areas you are innately interested in, as you are much more likely to enjoy your work and be successful if you find the work interesting and fulfilling. Give yourself time to explore a number of different fields and specializations, and try out different roles if given a chance.
Exploring your options
You may want to spend a few years in the field before deciding to specialize in one area or another in order to get a sense of what your strengths are as a nurse. If you have narrowed down a number of different areas you are most interested in, you can try to work with your hospital or clinic to transfer to those units or even shadow other nurses in those units on occasion.
If shadowing is not an option for you, then you may want to network with other nurses and learn about their experience and day-to-day life working in that particular area. Just by chatting with these nurses, you will be able to learn about the challenges, benefits and downsides of the specialization you are interested in.
If you are considering pursuing further education, then you may want to take a few of the low-cost or free online courses available. There are hundreds of different courses and lecture series available online at very low rates that may spark your interest and help you to come to a decision.
Finding a mentor
Another important step you can take is to find a mentor who will be able to help you network effectively, learn about other roles, and connect with important decision-makers. The mentor may be a professor or a manager of your current role, but it is important to find someone in your field who is well-established and invested in supporting you and your career trajectory.
The skills needed to succeed as a family nurse practitioner
There are many different skills and aptitudes needed to become a successful FNP, but there are some primary skills and abilities that are particularly important. If you feel that you perhaps do not have some of these skills, then try not to worry as these skills can be learned and developed.
One of the most important skills for being a successful FNP is certainly communication. As a direct care provider who needs to take a medical plan from a doctor and explain it to a patient in terms that a non-medical professional will understand, FNPs need to be good communicators.
There is nothing quite as frightening as feeling that you are losing your autonomy and ability to make choices for yourself. If a patient does not understand what is happening and why, they are likely to feel frightened and may be reactive. Good communication is essential for working both with patients and a larger care team.
There are always going to be problems on a hospital floor, and those problems only multiply when direct care is being provided to patients. Successful FNPs are able to manage priorities, solve problems that arise, and manage conflicts between colleagues and patients.
Teamwork and project management
It truly takes an entire team to provide care to patients, and teamwork is essential. Being able to work with doctors, other nurses and other hospital staff is vital because of the nature of the profession. Tensions are often running high on hospital floors, and being able to cooperate and come together with colleagues is so important to your success.
Finally and most importantly, having compassion for your patients, their families and what they are going through is a key aspect of the FNP role. Healthcare often involves intimidating, painful and difficult treatments, and patients are not always their best selves. Being able to practice compassion is going to be essential to your success as an FNP.