MSN vs. FNP: Opportunities in Advanced Nursing Practice

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Students pursuing a career in nursing should understand the education and certification requirements for each type of nurse practitioner. For example, all nurse practitioners must possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and other specialized NPs require additional certifications. It is important to understand the differences between an MSN vs. FNP certification, as each type of training prepares students for different daily tasks and responsibilities as nurse practitioners.

Doctor with Mother and Daughter

Why Pursue an MSN?

Before one can practice as a nurse practitioner, one must complete the coursework to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. The MSN program is designed to teach students the required skills for managing and educating nurses as well as providing a more specialized level of care. The MSN curriculum also provides insight into how the health care system works and how nurse practitioners contribute to the field.

MSN Curriculum

An MSN curriculum typically includes coursework in the following areas:

  • Theory: As with any facet of medicine, it is important for nurses and other health care workers to understand the history of their professions, including how their roles fit within a larger context. Students take this course to learn the concepts, strategies, and theories behind various nursing techniques.
  • Pathophysiology: Diseases and injuries affect the body in numerous ways. This 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.

Daily Tasks

Advanced practice nurses provide a variety of services, depending on the needs of their patients. Students weighing the requirements for MSN vs. FNP positions should understand the duties involved in both roles. While there is a significant overlap in the daily responsibilities of both MSNs and FNPs, the biggest difference is the type of patients they primarily treat. While MSNs 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 MSNs and 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 there is a plan 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: In addition to providing medical treatment, nurse practitioners may work with other medical professionals to develop and implement health care policies.

MSN vs. FNP: Which Is the Right Career Path?

How a student envisions his or her daily work as a nurse practitioner should determine which type of certification the student wishes to pursue. Becoming a family nurse practitioner, for example, requires passing the specific training program to become certified.

FNP Certification

FNP coursework often covers the following topics:

  • Assessment and Intervention for Families: Since family nurse practitioners work with each family member, it is important to understand how the role of health care functions in a family context, both as a whole and for each individual. Students will 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.

MSN vs. FNP: Different Opportunities

Understanding the MSN vs. FNP distinction is an important first step towards deciding which type of nursing career to pursue. It is important to consider the specific training and certifications required to work in any given position, whether as a family nurse practitioner or in another advanced nursing role.

Learn More:

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps students gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “10 Specialized Areas for Nurse Practitioners in 2017”
Ohio University Blog, “A Look at Today’s Nursing Health Care Challenges”
Ohio University Blog, “5 Benefits of Health Information Technology for Nurse Practitioners”

Ohio University: Online Master of Science in Nursing
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics: Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary”