Despite the fact that medical professions have traditionally offered a highly desirable career path filled with countless opportunities for professional development and a candidate-friendly job market, the US healthcare sector is currently undergoing a staffing crisis.
In fact, according to recent estimates by the American Nurses Association, there will be far more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession. While the Covid-19 Pandemic has certainly exacerbated this staffing crisis, the need for highly skilled and appropriately qualified nurses has been rising for some time. For this reason, the nursing profession is expected to remain one of the fastest-growing career paths for the next decade.
Although there is a demand for nurses at all skill and experience levels, there is a particular need for nursing professionals with advanced level training and those with master’s degrees.
For those nursing professionals with in-demand qualifications, the career outlook is strong. Not only do they have the ability to earn higher salaries when compared to nurses with bachelor’s degrees, they also benefit from considerable leverage when securing new positions. According to recent studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for registered nurses was $77,600 as of May 2021, while those with master’s degrees, such as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, was around $123,780 per year.
According to the same data set collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth prospects are even better. While the demand for registered nurses is projected to grow by around 9% between 2020 to 2030, this pales in comparison to the projected 52% growth rate for nurse practitioners.
If you are a registered nurse — or are just getting started on your journey to becoming one — there has clearly never been a better time to obtain an advanced nursing qualification. While embarking on one of these degree programs is certainly no easy matter, the potential payoffs have arguably never been stronger!
For many registered nurses looking for the next step in their career, qualifying as a nurse practitioner is an even more attractive prospect given the wide range of specialties that you can potentially pursue. Once you have found your specialty, your job prospects improve even more.
Of the thousands of nurse practitioners qualifying each year and beginning to practice in a variety of health care settings, by far the most popular specialty is family medicine.
In fact, according to reporting by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, of the 11 different specialties that a nurse practitioner can be certified in, family practice is by far the most popular! Family nurse practitioners account for around 69% of all qualified nurse practitioners in the US.
But what makes this specialty so popular, and what steps do you need to take if you want to pursue this career path? Keep reading this article to find out!
What are Family Nurse Practitioners?
Family nurse practitioners (FNP) are a type of nurse practitioner that specializes in family practice medicine. Typically, this means that they have achieved a master’s degree in nursing or a post-graduate certificate which allows them to specialize as an FNP.
FNPs have received a specialized education focused on family medicine, which allows them to treat patients of all ages. This means their practice could cover both pediatrics and geriatrics. FNPs are often ‘family’ medical practitioners, given that they might treat entire families and often build life-long provider-patient relationships.
What Sort of Work Do Family Nurse Practitioners Do?
In terms of the types of medicine that family nurse practitioners practice, there is a focus on helping patients to maintain their general wellness through both preventative medicine and primary care. They also diagnose and manage chronic illness and acute conditions. However, this does not extend to patients who are critically ill with life-threatening conditions for which urgent medical intervention is required.
The work family nurse practitioners undertake is also highly collaborative. FNPs are often required to collaborate with other health care providers and to refer patients to specialty care where necessary. This usually occurs when the patient requires treatment that is outside the scope of the FNP’s practice.
In terms of the specific duties, responsibilities and tasks a family nurse practitioner might undertake, this typically includes:
- Conducting annual wellness exams, physicals and check-ups
- Proscribing medication in line with treatment plans
- Ordering lab diagnostics and tests, as well as interpreting any results
- Drawing up treatment plans
- Educating and informing patients and their families
- Diagnosing both acute and chronic conditions
- Helping patients to manage both stable and chronic illnesses
- Making referrals and managing care transitions for patients
As you can see, the scope of work an FNP undertakes is both quite broad and varied. The nature of family practice means that FNPs benefit from a highly varied workload on a day-to-day basis. While much of their work often involves referring patients for more specialized treatment, they provide a vital first point of contact for many patients in need of medical care.
The variety of work that an FNP undertakes is one of the most attractive aspects of this career path and helps to foster long-term interest in the job. With that said, if you are looking for a long and varied career which is both exciting and challenging, qualifying as a family nurse practitioner could be ideal for you!
Family Nurse Practitioner Practice Authority
The scope of duties that a family nurse practitioner undertakes is incredibly varied. You might also note that they possess a practice authority that exceeds that of an ordinary registered nurse.
This is because nurse practitioners benefit from an enhanced practice authority by virtue of their training and certification. Although this varies from state to state, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners more than 50% of states in the US have granted nurse practitioners full practice authority.
The remaining 50% of states place some limitations on the work nurse practitioners can undertake — such as requiring supervision from a physician or only allowing them to open collaborative practices with a physician. They still benefit from significantly enhanced powers.
Where Do Family Nurse Practitioners Typically Work?
FNPs can work in a wide range of practice and healthcare settings, which includes everything from independent practices to outpatient centers, schools, colleges, and other organizational or educational settings. This includes:
- Primary care offices: Where FNPs have full practice authority, they may act as primary care providers. In states where they are subject to limits, they might work in primary care settings alongside physicians. The primary care setting is particularly attractive and rewarding for FNPs given the current demand for healthcare professionals. FNPs have the opportunity to become an important part in delivering community-focused healthcare.
- Outpatient centers: FNPs frequently provide healthcare to patients in outpatient centers. Here, patients can receive care in circumstances where an extended stay is not possible. This setting might suit FNPs looking for greater flexibility in their working patterns.
- Schools and public health clinics: In school settings, FNPs may provide primary care to students and staff. In this setting, the work typically includes physical and mental health screening, with a particular focus on behavioral health concerns.
- Long-term care facilities: As FNPs work with all age ranges, they are well-suited to working in long-term care facilities. Here, patients often have high health risks and complex care needs. FNPs in long-term care facilities will need to coordinate and liaise with an interdisciplinary staff of healthcare professionals.
- Physicians’ offices: FNPs practicing in locations with more limited practice authority may find themselves working in physicians’ offices. Here, FNPs will typically work under the supervision of or in collaboration with physicians.
As you can see, family nurse practitioners can end up working in a wide variety of clinical and non-clinical settings. This is largely due to the enhanced practice authority they possess across much of the US, which gives them a broader scope for employment. This is one of the things that makes qualifying and working as an FNP so attractive and rewarding, given the range of career options it opens up.
Pursuing an online educational program to qualify as an FNP is the first step in opening up all of these career opportunities.
If you want to learn more about the different settings that a family nurse practitioner can work in, click here.
Another undeniable benefit of pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner and a family nurse practitioner, is that it offers significantly enhanced financial rewards when compared to registered nurses.
As was noted earlier, nurse practitioners have an average salary of $123,780 per year according to statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compares favorably to the average $77,600 registered nurses receive, which itself indicates the power of receiving further graduate-level professional education.
While the final salary you receive as a nurse practitioner will vary depending on the state you work in, your experience level and the clinical setting you are employed in, the average annual salary of a family nurse practitioner is estimated to be $108,488 according to the 2021 Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Salary Survey conducted by Clinical Advisor.
Similarly, an online survey by Salary.com in February 2022 reported an average salary for FNPs of $114,710, with the range typically falling between $106,450 to $124,260. Recently, US News has reported a salary range of between $94,890 and $130,240 for nurse practitioners, which is broadly in line with these estimates.
Please note, however, that this is just an industry average, with many individuals receiving well above this figure in annual compensation. Salaries also vary widely across different regions and states, with the cost of living also being an important factor that should be considered. For example, family nurse practitioners tend to receive the highest salaries in states such as California, New Jersey, New York, Washington and Massachusetts — all of which have very high costs of living.
Nevertheless, regardless of what part of the US you end up practicing in, as a family nurse practitioner, you can expect to benefit from a significantly increased salary compared to traditional registered nurses.
Although working as a nurse practitioner, particularly in a family practice setting, comes with added stress related to the increased responsibilities taken on, individuals working in these roles generally report increased levels of job satisfaction.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, by virtue of the fact that nurse practitioners do have added powers and practice autonomy, the opportunities for professional advancement are much greater. This comes both through further specialization as well as the ability to build and grow your own practice as a nurse practitioner.
The opportunity to practice in a family setting as a relatively independent family nurse practitioner also brings a great deal of professional satisfaction. In particular, FNPs have the opportunity to become embedded within their local communities and to build long relationships with patients of all age ranges.
More generally, however, nurse practitioners have the opportunity to benefit from better working conditions and an increased salary that reflects the added responsibilities they have taken on, as well as their higher education levels.
With all these factors in mind, working as a family nurse practitioner can potentially provide a lot of job satisfaction. Perhaps most importantly, however, once qualified, you have more leverage to move around and to secure better employment depending on the path you want to pursue.
Family Nurse Practitioner Career Benefits
With the above in mind, the benefits of pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner might be summarized as follows:
- Salary: FNPs benefit from significantly increased salaries compared to registered nurses.
- Specialization: Qualifying as a nurse practitioner allows you to specialize in one area of medicine, which opens up an almost endless number of opportunities to further develop your professional expertise. Family medicine practice is just one area, however, with many nurse practitioners choosing to cross-qualify in a number of different disciplines.
- Work-life balance: Family nurse practitioners often benefit from better hours and working conditions than registered nurses. As a primary care provider, you are likely to have shorter hours which are more regular and consistent.
- Career development: The longer-term job prospects for family nurse practitioners are incredibly bright, particularly as healthcare organizations look to bridge staffing gaps.
These are just a handful of the main benefits you can expect to experience in your career as a family nurse practitioner, which are in addition to family medicine being an interesting and varied area of practice!
Skills and Personality Traits
Although many of the same skills and traits that would make you successful as a nurse practitioner also apply to the family practice setting, family medicine does require a unique skill set.
Family nurse practitioners are skilled at building long-term relationships with their patients and acting as a first point of contact. Community building is also an important skill FNPs must develop, as they are often trusted members of the communities they work in.
Given the range of issues and the diversity of the population they work with, FNPs must also be flexible and comfortable with being ‘generalists’ rather than specialists with a narrower practice focus. This may not be to every practitioner’s taste, however, as a generalist focus presents a unique set of professional challenges.
Collaboration is also something FNPs must be adept at as they are often a first point of contact for their patients and will be actively involved in referring them for further treatment when necessary.
Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner: The Next Steps
After reviewing the above, if qualifying as a family nurse practitioner sound appealing to you, you will need to follow the following steps. While these timelines might vary depending on your own personal circumstances and whether you choose to study full or part-time, this should give you an estimate of how long it will take:
- Step 1: Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing either through a traditional four- to five-year program, or via an accelerated program following a non-nursing undergraduate degree.
- Step 2: Satisfy the licensing requirements to qualify as a registered nurse.
- Step 3: Gain clinical experience as a registered nurse. Nurse practitioner programs will typically look for between two to three years of experience.
- Step 4: Enroll in a nursing master’s degree program or, alternatively, a Doctor of Nursing Practice program. This will typically be through an accredited family nurse practitioner program, which takes between two to three years.
- Step 5: Become a certified family nurse practitioner by passing certification examinations with the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. This will give you either the FNP-BC or FNP-C certification which will allow you to start working as a family nurse practitioner.