What Does an FNP Do?

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A smiling nurse holding an office door open and shaking hands with a patient.

The expanding need of communities and families for access to primary and specialized care — for everything from disease prevention to health checkups and treatment — has resulted in a growing demand for qualified family nurse practitioners (FNPs) all over the country. But what does an FNP 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 should consider earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree as an avenue toward nurse practitioner certification.

How to Become an FNP

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 to work as primary care providers. APRNs typically focus on specific patient populations such as women, older adults, or families. More specifically, APRNs can work as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners.

Those wondering how to become an FNP should consider the available educational paths. To begin their journey to becoming APRNs, students need to first earn 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 (RN) licensing exams. They can then earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a family nurse practitioner concentration.

Additionally, there are standard requirements beyond academic degrees to become an APRN. These include passing a certification exam and obtaining certification as an APRN with a specialization, such as that of a family nurse practitioner. The 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.

Family Nurse Practitioner Duties

Family nurse practitioners 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.

Family nurse practitioner duties can differ from state to state. So the question of what an FNP does has a broad answer. With the health care system and the medical needs of patients continuing to evolve, family nurse practitioners perform a variety of duties to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities. The duties of FNPs may include:

  • Patient assessments and diagnoses
  • Administering treatments
  • Educating patients and their families about preventive health care
  • Evaluating and adjusting treatment methods when necessary

Family nurse practitioners are trained to perform advanced health care functions in a variety of settings, including in a hospital, health clinic, outpatient center, or even in academia. For example, a family nurse practitioner may serve as the primary care provider to patients within a private practice or teach an undergraduate nursing course on pharmacology.

Preparing for a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner

The steps involved in becoming an FNP can include earning a Master of Science in Nursing, passing a national certification test, and earning a five-year renewable credential specific to their FNP role. However, there are also vital skills that prospective FNPs should build for success in the role. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the skills family nurse practitioners should have include the following:

  • Communication. FNPs must be able to simplify medical knowledge to make it easy for patients and their families to understand, as well as be able to have discussions with their co-workers in which their message is clear and concise.
  • Critical thinking. FNPs should use out-of-the-box thinking to assess patient conditions and find solutions to complex, specific health problems.
  • Resourcefulness. FNPs must use their knowledge, experience, and relationships to find the best answers and resources when dealing with unexpected or difficult medical situations.
  • Compassion. FNPs must be able to empathize with the pain and difficulties of their patients, guiding them patiently through any struggles they’re having.

Gaining these skills can influence what FNPs do and change the trajectories of their careers.

FNPs in Business and Leadership

While FNPs may find employment in hospitals and in academia, they are also qualified to operate and manage their own health clinics and practices. Even those FNPs who aren’t interested in starting their own clinics may 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.

Those thinking about becoming entrepreneurial FNPs might also consider taking business courses or learning about principles of entrepreneurship. Understanding how business works and having an entrepreneurial mentality can prepare FNPs to be successful in these roles.

FNP Income and Job Outlook

Nurse practitioners, including family nurse practitioners, had an annual median salary of $111,680 as of 2020, according to the BLS. The BLS also reports the number of jobs for nurse practitioners is expected to increase by 52% between 2020 and 2030.

A Nursing Degree to Help You Advance

If you want to pursue a nursing career and are interested in what FNPs do, you may want to consider earning an advanced nursing degree. A graduate education can help you build on foundational undergraduate skills and prepare you for certification as an APRN with an FNP specialization.

With a fully online course load and three on-campus intensives, Ohio University’s online MSN program with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration can equip you with all the skills and experience you need to elevate your nursing career. Courses offered include Assessment and Intervention for Families, Family Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care Practice, and Advanced Maternal and Child Care. Explore our curriculum and start advancing your career in nursing today.

Recommended Readings

BSN vs. MSN: The Benefits of a Postgraduate Nursing Education

Working as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Underserved Communities

Steps for Starting a Family Nurse Practitioner Practice


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

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)”

American Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

American Nurses Credentialing Center

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)

Daily Nurse, “How I Became a Nurse Entrepreneur”

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Licensure

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, NCLEX & Other Exams

National Nurse Practitioner Entrepreneur Network, Our Story

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