Advanced Nursing Practice: The Role of FNPs

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A family nurse practitioner talks to a parent and child in a hospital room.

Nurse practitioners are an essential part of health care. They’re also some of the most versatile care providers, thanks to the various specializations that stem from the core profession. The most popular of these specialized roles is family nurse practitioner (FNP). According to data provided by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 69.7% of all nurse practitioners carry FNP certification.

Students interested in becoming an FNP must have a firm grasp on the responsibilities and requirements for these specialized nurses. For example, nurse practitioners must possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but FNPs and other specialized NPs require additional certifications. Therefore, students need to understand how an MSN degree and certification can uniquely prepare them for different daily tasks and responsibilities as nurse practitioners.

Why Pursue an MSN?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 45% employment growth for advanced practice nurses, including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, between 2020 and 2030. The outlook for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and other NPs is even more promising, with predicted job growth of 52%.

While these numbers symbolize future opportunities, they shouldn’t obscure the fact that there is still a distinct path to pursuing these roles. Before one can practice as a nurse practitioner, one must complete the coursework to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. MSN programs are designed to teach students the required skills for managing and educating nurses, as well as providing a more specialized level of care. The traditional MSN curriculum also provides insight into how the health care system works and how nurse practitioners contribute to the field.

MSN Curriculum for FNPs

An MSN curriculum typically includes coursework in the following areas:

  • Theory: As with any facet of medicine, nurses and other health care workers should understand the history of their professions, including how their roles fit within a larger context. Students take theory courses to learn the concepts, strategies, and theories behind various nursing techniques.
  • Pathophysiology: Diseases and injuries affect the body in numerous ways. A pathophysiology course examines the bodily changes that accompany different conditions, as well as the way different conditions develop and progress in the body.
  • Pharmacology. Any students aspiring to work in the medical field should have an understanding of pharmacology. Courses in this branch of medicine focus on the way prescription drugs act on the human body.

If an MSN program offers an FNP specialization, students may also enroll in courses that explore specific topics that pertain to family nursing, such as advanced care strategies for the demographics cared for by FNPs and the FNP’s role within the context of primary care.

Family Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities

Advanced practice nurses provide a variety of services, depending on the needs of their patients. Students interested in the FNP career path should understand the duties of this specific type of nurse practitioner. While nurse practitioners can serve a wide range of patients, FNPs focus on serving families and are trained to treat patients through every stage of life, from childhood to old age.

Advanced practice nurses, including FNPs, have important responsibilities in many different areas of care:

  • Patient History: Nurse practitioners are responsible for learning the medical history of each patient so that they can safely administer the proper form of care and treatment.
  • Diagnosis: Nurse practitioners must be prepared to diagnose various types of illnesses and injuries so that patients can receive the necessary treatment.
  • Care Plans: NPs help develop proper health care plans by examining the medical history and current condition of each patient. Once a plan is in place, they must also be able to counsel patients and provide clear and concise information regarding their treatments.
  • Prescriptions: Nurse practitioners prescribe medications based on the needs and conditions of each patient and administer various forms of immunizations.
  • Administrative Work: In addition to treating patients, nurse practitioners perform many office-related tasks throughout the day, such as updating medical records and filing paperwork.
  • Health Care Policy: Nurse practitioners also may work with other medical professionals to develop and implement health care policies.

The scope of what an FNP can do on their own varies by state. Some states offer full practice authority, which means that FNPs can administer patient care independently and prescribe medication without final approval from a physician. Nurses must keep abreast of what their state of practice allows so they can build their care delivery strategies in a legally compliant manner.

FNP Certification

FNP coursework often covers the following topics:

  • Assessment and Intervention for Families: Since family nurse practitioners work with each family member, they need to understand how the role of health care functions in a family context, both as a whole and for each individual. Students explore evidence-based strategies to provide family-centered care through assessment and intervention.
  • Maternal and Child Care: Providing care for children is a major responsibility for family nurse practitioners. An FNP certification program trains nurses to assess the mental and physical health of children, as well as provide women with prenatal and postnatal care.
  • Primary Care: Family nurse practitioners must also receive training on how to operate a primary care practice, including lessons on clinical care, medical ethics, and collaborating with other health care professionals.

Gain the Skills for Advanced Nursing Practice

It is important to consider the specific training and certifications required to work in any position, whether as a family nurse practitioner or in another advanced nursing role. Having this understanding can not only help individuals build their careers in a way that aligns with their interests; it can also enable them to provide patients with the best care possible. 

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Our program’s Family Nurse Practitioner concentration can also allow students interested in becoming an FNP to deepen the knowledge and competencies needed to provide optimal care for patients throughout different stages of their lives. Explore how our program can prepare you to excel in one of the health care industry’s most intriguing roles.

Recommended Readings

5 Benefits of Health Information Technology for Nurse Practitioners

A Look at Today’s Nursing Health Care Challenges

10 Specialized Areas for Nurse Practitioners in 2017


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary