What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

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Man on crutches shaking hands with a nurse practitioner

The expanding need for communities and families to access primary and specialized care — from disease prevention to health checkups and treatment — has resulted in a growing demand for qualified family nurse practitioners (FNPs) all over the country. Those who aspire to provide advanced nursing care to individuals and families may begin their journey by asking, “What does a family nurse practitioner do?” As licensed nursing professionals working in advanced and specialized areas, FNPs assume key roles in settings that can impact patients, families, and even entire communities. Students who plan to become family nurse practitioners must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, among other licensing requirements.

Becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Family nurse practitioners, also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), are trained and educated to independently handle various health care and nursing functions, making them eligible as primary care providers. APRNs typically focus on specific patient populations such as women, patients undergoing surgery, and families. More specifically, APRNs can work as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners.

To begin their journey to become APRNs, students need to first obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), although bridging courses are available to those with a diploma or an associate degree. Once this coursework is completed, graduates work on their registered nurse licensing exams. They then proceed to attain a clinical nursing master’s degree with course concentrations based on their chosen specialization.

Additionally, there are standard requirements beyond academic degrees to becoming an APRN. These include passing a certification exam and obtaining additional licenses for APRN specialization, such as assuming the position of a family nurse practitioner. The licensing credential, which is valid for five years, may be obtained through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). To maintain their credentials, family nurse practitioners are required to renew their licenses as well as their certifications.

The Distinct Role of the Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are licensed advanced practice registered nurses who provide both primary and specialized care to patients and their families across diverse communities. As primary care specialists, family nurse practitioners are qualified to serve as primary care providers.

The services that FNPs can offer differ from state to state. So, the question “What does a family nurse practitioner do?” results in a broad answer. Some of the important and distinct responsibilities of an FNP include educating patients and their families about preventive health care, diagnosing health issues, administering treatments, evaluating how a patient responds to certain treatments or medications, and beyond.

Family nurse practitioners are trained to perform advanced health care functions in a variety of settings, whether in a hospital, health clinic, outpatient center, and even in academia.

With the health care system and the medical needs of patients continuing to evolve, family nurse practitioners perform a variety of crucial roles. FNPs affect the well-being of individuals, families, and communities by providing timely diagnosis, treatment, and preventive care for various medical issues. For example, a family nurse practitioner may serve as the primary care provider to a family or teach an undergraduate nursing course on pharmacology. For patients suffering from chronic ailments, an FNP may dispense treatment and provide preventive education about possible complications.

Preparing for a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner

We’ve already learned that FNPs must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), pass a national certification test, and earn a five-year renewable credential specific to their FNP role. But there are other skills that are vital as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some of the important qualities for family nurse practitioners include communication and critical-thinking skills, leadership ability, resourcefulness, and compassion.

Family nurse practitioners might also consider taking business courses or learning about entrepreneurship. While FNPs may find employment in hospitals and in academia, they are also qualified to operate and manage their own health clinics and practices. Consider the story of family nurse practitioner Gaye Douglas, who was profiled by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. In 2006, Douglas secured the funds to create the Campus Health Center clinic in Johnsonville, South Carolina. Since then, the clinic has served more than a thousand students and teachers on campus, as well as community residents.

FNPs aren’t required to start their own clinics, but many find themselves gravitating toward leadership or business roles. Successful FNPs may be tapped for executive positions in health care systems or to function as operational leaders in clinical settings. Understanding how business works and having an entrepreneurial mentality can prepare FNPs for success in these roles.

Those who ask, “What does a family nurse practitioner do?” will find the answer complex and exciting. Family nurse practitioners may assume careers that are entrepreneurial in nature, like Douglas’ venture in starting a successful health clinic. Others may have careers in hospitals, clinics, or academia. Still, other FNPs may work in health care leadership or policymaking. Each career track offers its own rewards, challenges, opportunities, and avenues for growth.

The opportunities for FNPs are varied, and candidates who have FNP experience are highly desirable. The BLS reports the demand for FNPs is expected to increase by 31 percent from 2016 to 2026. Nurse practitioners, including family nurse practitioners, earn a median salary of $103,880, according to the latest data.

Those who wish to understand what family nurse practitioners do on a daily basis might consider consulting local clinics about job shadowing opportunities. For nurses who are interested in furthering their education and pursuing a future as an FNP, the online MSN degree program at Ohio University is an excellent place to start.

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.

Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “BSN vs. MSN: The Benefits of a Postgraduate Nursing Education”
Ohio University Blog, “The Rise of the Robot Nurse”
Ohio University Blog, “Master’s in Nursing vs. Bachelor’s in Nursing: Growing Your Nursing Career”


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
American Nurses Credentialing Center, Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
American Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, “Nurse Practitioners in Community Health Settings Today” (PDF)