How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Learn about the many opportunities for family nurse practitioners.

The Basics

What you'll do: You'll handle duties commonly performed by a physician, often partnering with patients throughout the family life cycle. You'll offer education and counseling as well as tests and procedures and be trained to provide a wide range of care to a diverse group of patients. You'll focus on health promotion and disease prevention beginning in childhood and continuing throughout the aging process, and diagnose and develop treatment plans for acute and chronic diseases.

Where you'll work: Clinics, private offices, hospice centers, nurse-managed health centers, schools, homes

Degree you'll need to practice: Master's degree and certification by your State Board of Nursing

Median annual salary: $102,670*

Required Education for Family Nurses

family nurse practitioner wrapping girl's wrist

FNPs are nurse practitioners (NPs) with a specialty in family medicine.

Most family nurse practitioners spend their early years as RNs or BSNs then go back to school to earn their master's degree and become an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN). APNs are specialized nurses with masters or doctorate level training that deliver services that are commonly delivered by physicians. In addition to FNP, here are three other titles that APNs can earn:

If you would like to become a family nurse practitioner, you will need a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Then you must become certified by your State Board of Nursing or receive a national certification offered by a variety of agencies, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Master’s Nursing Program Curriculums

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) have accredited more than 330 master's degree programs. There are a variety of available programs, including the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, Master of Nursing (MN) degree, Master of Science (MS) degree with a major in nursing, or Master of Arts (MA) degree with a nursing major. The requirements for each degree depends on the institution providing the program. If you already have a hospital diploma or associate's degree, there are accelerated programs that allow RNs to earn their baccalaureate and master's degree in one program. Some universities also offer joint-degree programs, such as a master's in nursing combined with a Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Health, or Master of Hospital Administration.

An advanced nursing degree allows you to tackle a range of healthcare issues, and a family nurse practitioner studies to become equipped to deal with a wide span of healthcare needs. Both class time and clinical work are imperative to your education. In addition to core courses, depending on specialization, you may be expected to take coursework in:

  • Research methods and management
  • Statistics
  • Health economics
  • Health policy
  • Nutrition and health promotion
  • Family planning
  • Adult and geriatric care
  • Child development
  • Family/lifespan nursing theory
  • Family/lifespan nursing care
  • Management of acute and chronic illnesses
  • Socio-cultural issues
  • Dynamics of family healthcare
  • Family counseling and violence

While a family nurse practitioner is a specialization of a general nurse practitioner, those who are studying to specifically focus on family medicine can choose a sub-specialization as well. FNP sub-specializations include:

  • Medical-Surgical
  • Cardiac
  • Endocrine/Diabetes
  • Renal/Urology
  • Perinatal
  • Long-Term Care
  • Orthopedics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pulmonary
  • Pediatrics
  • Gerontology
  • ER/Trauma
  • Post-Partum
  • Psychiatric
  • Critical Care

Admission Requirements

In general, to enter into a master’s program in nursing, a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by CCNE or by the NLNAC is needed. One must also hold a state RN license, which is attained after passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The years working as an RN are critical to exceling in the master’s programs. Depending on the program, you will also need to provide your college transcripts, letters of recommendation, admissions essay and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) scores. Each program will also require specific courses, such as clinical experience and upper-division courses.

National Certification

After graduating from a master’s in nursing or other post-graduate program, you are eligible to receive your certification to be a family nurse practitioner. Most FNP programs are designed to meet the standards for national FNP certification. In order to practice in your state, you'll need to consult your state’s board of nursing to determine which national certification bodies they accept, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

The American Nurses Credentialing Center, which is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association, offers the FNP-BC certification to those who:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Have earned a master’s, doctorate or post-graduate degree from a program accredited by the CCNE or NLNAC
  • Have a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours
  • Have FNP coursework in health promotion and disease prevention, differential diagnosis and disease management
  • Have FNP coursework in advanced physical/health assessment, advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology

You will need to be recertified every five years. In order to be eligible, you will need to meet certain clinical and continuing education requirements. The ANCC certification is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification.

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners also offers a national certification for family nurse practitioners. To qualify for this certification, applicants must:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Have earned a master's, doctorate or post-graduate degree from a program accredited by CCNE or NLNAC
  • Have a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours
  • Have FNP coursework in advanced physical/health assessment, advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology

Applicants have 120 days to complete the test after they have received approval to test. Just as with the AANC certification, recertification is required every five years, and you will need to meet certain clinical and continuing education requirements.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for nurse practitioners as a whole is very promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is projected to grow 31 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average. Due to the aging baby boom population, demand for nurse practitioners is growing as they are needed for the acute and chronic ailments these patients are facing. Family nurse practitioners can focus on taking care of these aging patients as well as their younger generations.

While in the past most nurse practitioners have worked in hospitals, industry trends indicate that more and more patients are seeking treatment in other healthcare settings like clinics or health-related businesses. Whether taking care of elderly patients in a home setting or working in a specialty clinic, there are increasingly more job options available for nurse practitioners, depending on their area of expertise.

Professional Organizations

Once you become a family nurse practitioner, or any other kind of advanced nurse practitioner, you can join a number of professional organizations to stay current with industry trends, job expectations and workplace rights. These professional organizations lobby on behalf of nurses to Congress and other regulatory agencies. Some of the organizations you can join include:

  • American College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP)
  • American Nurses Association (ANA)
  • American Society for Pain Management Nursing (ASPMN)
  • International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (ISPN)
  • National Gerontological Nursing Association

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.