Family nurse practitioners are becoming increasingly common in the healthcare landscape, delivering a much-needed service to patients. Their role is multi-faceted and requires a wide variety of personal and professional attributes. The responsibilities of this role are far-reaching too, as nurse practitioners take on many tasks that would only have been performed by doctors in the past.
In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look at the role and responsibilities of the nurse practitioner, discovering how they contribute to responsive and high-quality patient care. We’ll also find out how to qualify as a nurse practitioner, suggesting a trusted educational route to gaining the skills and experience to take on this valued role.
What is a family nurse practitioner?
A family nurse practitioner, also known as an FNP, is a highly qualified nursing professional offering care to patients of all ages, from babies right through the elderly. They most often work in primary care settings and generally provide services to patients who do not have life-threatening issues.
Working with a high level of autonomy, they perform many of the roles that previously only doctors would carry out. These include diagnosing patients, creating treatment plans, and prescribing medication. It means that, in addition to performing a valuable role in delivering patient care, they are also helping to plug gaps in healthcare. This is especially true in rural areas, where patients may experience more difficulty accessing the healthcare services they need. FNPs also offer a valuable service by promoting the good health and well-being of their patients. So, their focus is not only on treating disease but also on preventing it and empowering their patients to live healthy lifestyles.
As highly qualified healthcare professionals with leadership qualities, FNPs also have a vital role in improving healthcare policies and practices by taking an active part in research, learning about and delivering best practices, and participating in boards and committees with the ultimate aim of improving patient outcomes.
Why are family nurse practitioners needed?
Family nurse practitioners are needed now more than ever before. That’s because, currently, there are not enough primary care physicians to serve the population. This issue is compounded by the fact that not only is the population of the United States growing, but it is also aging. The 2020 census revealed that older people aged 65 and over totaled 16.8% of the entire population of the United States. It inevitably puts a strain on primary care services, as individuals are more likely to need medical care as they age.
What’s more, many physicians currently working in primary care are older and are projected to retire within the next five to 10 years. The shortage of primary care physicians is particularly acute in rural and deprived areas, making access to healthcare services a challenge for many people. These are two of the areas where FNPs can make a real difference to communities, providing excellent and accessible care to the people who really need it.
It’s also important to understand the implications of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which aimed to open up affordable healthcare to more people. It was achieved by extending the Medicaid program, which helps individuals on lower incomes with healthcare costs. While this is, of course, a positive move for many individuals and sectors of society, it means that there is yet another factor putting strain on healthcare services.
This combination of factors means that the role of FNP is becoming increasingly needed to meet the healthcare demands of the general public.
Roles and responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner
Let’s take a deep dive into the roles and responsibilities of FNPs to understand more about this valuable profession.
Before we list these, it’s worth knowing that an FNP’s scope of practice may vary by state. Many states grant FNPs “full practice” rights. It means they are free to practice without the supervision of a physician and can diagnose patients, order and interpret tests, give treatment, and prescribe medication.
Other states allow FNPs to operate on a “reduced practice” basis. It means that one of the tasks listed above is restricted, and there must be an agreement in place between the FNP and another health provider so that they can practice.
Finally, a proportion of states say that FNPs may work on a “restricted practice” basis, so one of the tasks listed is restricted and must be supervised or managed by another healthcare provider.
Let’s move on to a selection of the roles and responsibilities of a typical FNP. Administrative tasks mainly ordering diagnostic tests, writing treatment plans for their patients, prescribing a range of medications, making referrals to other services, for example, physical therapists, and communicating with other healthcare professionals about patients. However, there are many practical elements to working as an FNP, such as examining blood tests and conducting hands-on research. These include:
- Examining patients
- Carrying out procedures themselves to help them diagnose patients (for example, taking blood pressure, drawing blood, etc.)
- Interpreting the results of these tests
- Making diagnoses
- Carrying out hands-on tasks to treat patients, for example, stitching or dressing wounds
- Working with their patients to promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease
- Taking other actions to prevent disease, for example, giving vaccinations
- Maintaining patient records
- Ensuring a high level of confidentiality
- Communicating with patients, their caregivers, and family members
- Leading on or taking part in research projects to advance best practices
- Learning about the latest developments in their field through self-guided reading, further education, on-the-job training, and attending professional events
Where do family nurse practitioners work?
We’ve seen that a family nurse practitioner’s tasks are many and varied. The same goes for the settings where they work. The majority of FNPs work in outpatient primary care settings. These include:
Community health clinics
These are frequently funded by the state or government and cater to underprivileged communities. Here, the FNP will provide a wide range of services, including health promotion, to patients of all ages, from newborns through the elderly.
Here, the FNP may work by themselves, running their own clinic, or alongside other healthcare professionals, including physicians and other nurse practitioners. Again, they will be providing a range of primary care services to patients at all life stages and will often care for several members of the same family.
Outpatient hospital clinics
The role of the FNP in this setting is frequently to provide treatment for a condition linked to a recent surgery or a long-term health condition that does not require hospital admission. It can include wound care following surgery, administering infusions, or helping with chronic pain issues.
Urgent care clinics
Here, FNPs help patients who need to see a healthcare professional urgently but do not necessarily need to go to the emergency room. The types of issues they may encounter here include sprained ankles and acute but non-life-threatening illnesses or infections.
Rural health clinics
FNPs play a valuable role in rural health clinics, which are set up to provide services in isolated areas with healthcare shortages. They work alongside other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, physician assistants, and nurse midwives, to provide a wide range of care.
These are provided by companies for the benefit of their employees. They often have a focus on disease prevention and well-being, for example, helping with weight loss or smoking cessation, as well as providing first aid services.
Schools and universities
FNPs working in this type of setting provide a valuable service to young people, helping with acute issues like minor injuries and illnesses through help and advice around substance misuse, mental health, and sexual health issues.
Specialized areas of practice for family nurse practitioners
FNPs may also specialize in a particular area of healthcare and work in a clinic dedicated to this sector. These areas can include:
It is the practice of providing cosmetic services to clients, including wrinkle-reducing injections, fillers, laser treatment for skin conditions, liposuction, and tattoo removal.
Here, FNPs help patients affected by diseases and disorders of the heart, including congenital heart defects, heart failure, and coronary artery disease.
It is the practice of caring for the skin and conditions that affect it, such as eczema, psoriasis, and skin lesions such as skin cancer.
This specialty deals with issues related to hormones and covers a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, menopause, and thyroid disease.
Palliative care is about making patients with terminal diseases comfortable in the last stages of their lives. Care may be provided in a hospice, clinic, or home setting.
In this role, FNPs care for women with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. They may give advice on birth control, carry out regular health screening, for example, PAP exams, or guide a woman through menopause.
In addition to the settings mentioned above, FNPs may work in telemedicine services. It means they assess and advise patients mainly through telephone calls or videoconferences and can refer them to in-person services as appropriate. Without a doubt, FNPs have a wide range of environments and specialties where they can practice their skills and provide responsive, high-quality care to their patients.
How can I qualify as a family nurse practitioner?
Here is what you need to know about qualifying to work as a family nurse practitioner.
You’ll need to start by pursuing a nursing program that will lead to qualifying as a registered nurse (RN). This could typically be a nursing diploma, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Once you’ve gained this solid foundation, you’ll need to take an exam to get your licensure and practice as a nurse. It is usually the NCLEX (National Council Licensing Examination). Once you’ve passed, you’re free to apply for jobs and gain experience as a registered nurse.
After you’ve worked in a hands-on role for some time, you may wish to further your skills, education, and job prospects by progressing to the role of family nurse practitioner.
One of the most direct routes to get there is to follow a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program, such as the one offered by Texas Woman’s University (TWU). It equips students with the skills required for career progression, from leadership & communication skills through advanced clinical practice and also helps you explore the options for questions like ‘where do family nurse practitioners work?’. This combination of theory and practical advice will set you up to take on this role with confidence, fully prepared for a new environment and fresh challenges.
Of course, if you are already a busy working nurse, you may be wondering how to fit in extra study alongside your other commitments. Many aspiring family nurse practitioners are opting to study online, which gives them the flexibility to learn at their own pace from a location that suits them.
The online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program offered by TWU is one such course that can flex around your lifestyle. It’s designed for nurses who already have a BSN and a desire to improve their skills to deliver the very best patient outcomes. It can be completed in two and a half to three years on a part-time basis if you wish to continue with your professional commitments. Or, if you opt for full-time study, you can accomplish your goal within two years.
It offers a direct route to becoming a family nurse practitioner via a comprehensive course that covers what you need to know to practice this responsible role.
You’ll learn about evidence-based practice, health policy, and foundational concepts for the family nurse practitioner, amongst other skills and knowledge, to enable you to apply for your dream job as a family nurse practitioner.
While you can complete your studies online, you will also take part in clinical experiences with the support of faculty staff. These placements will give you the hands-on experience you need to apply your knowledge at a practical level. At the end of the program, you will be prepared to take your FNP licensure exams, confident in the knowledge that 90% of candidates from TWU pass the first time.
Then, you will be free to take up your first position as a family nurse practitioner, where you can make a noticeable difference in patient care and outcomes.
What’s the outlook for a family nurse practitioner?
Given that primary care is currently facing shortages of physicians and other healthcare staff and is projected to continue to do so, family nurse practitioners are highly in demand.
A report recently published by research portal Research.Com stated that the number of nurse practitioners is forecast to remain in the top 10 fastest-growing professions within 10 years to meet demand, which is a significantly faster rate than the average for all professions.
The report also states that FNPs can expect competitive salaries to reflect their skills and experience. It means that anyone qualifying as an FNP today can expect a choice of roles and a secure future, as well as the job satisfaction this profession offers.
Help to progress healthcare in your community
For any nurse with an interest in delivering the very best in patient care and outcomes, a family nurse practitioner role is attractive. By committing to a course of study, you will not only develop the skills needed to progress healthcare in your community but also secure an exciting and rewarding career and future for yourself.
If this sounds appealing, don’t hesitate to find out more about the online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program offered by TWU.
It’s designed for professionals just like you who are dedicated to their profession and have a strong desire to see patients in their communities thrive.