Healthcare is a truly rewarding field to work in. Every day you go to work, you know that you are making a real difference to people’s lives. It’s not always an easy job, but for those drawn to it there’s nothing they would rather do. There are many different fields you can go into within the world of healthcare, and the path that’s right for you will depend on a variety of factors such as your skills, personality, experience and interests. One option that many people find appealing, however, is nursing.
Contrary to some of the stereotypes, nurses are highly trained men and women who use their expert knowledge and skills as part of a multidisciplinary team. They work alongside doctors and other healthcare professionals to treat and care for patients of all backgrounds and in all sorts of different medical settings.
The reality is that ‘nurse’ is not just one job. There are a multitude of fields that you can specialize in, with plenty of options for gaining advanced training and qualifications, if that interests you. Some paths involve focusing on one specific health condition or age group, whereas others involve learning how to provide more comprehensive care to all patients.
The role of a Family Nurse Practitioner is one of the latter roles, and in this article you can find out everything you need to know about what the position entails, how you can train for it, and why it makes such a good career option.
What is a Family Nurse Practitioner, and what do they do?
A Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP, is a highly specialized nurse who has undertaken advanced training in order to provide primary healthcare services to a diverse range of patients. They may work alongside a physician, but usually also have the autonomy to work more independently (the exact details depend on the state that you work in).
An FNP can work in a wide variety of settings, including clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals, schools, or even a patient’s own home. Many Family Nurse Practitioners choose to work in underserved communities, and tend to have a strong tie to, and knowledge of, the community they are part of. They will often see the same patients over many years, working with entire families sometimes, and develop long-term relationships with those they care for.
The exact scope of your tasks as a Family Nurse Practitioner will vary depending on both the type of place you work in and the types of patients you see. However, you can expect to perform a wide range of duties that may include:
- Taking medical histories
- Updating and maintaining patient records
- Conducting diagnostic tests and screenings
- Diagnosing health conditions and illnesses
- Developing treatment plans for both acute and chronic diseases and health conditions
- Monitoring chronic health conditions such as diabetes
- Conducting physical examinations of patients
- Prescribing medication to patients
- Administering medication to patients
- Assisting with minor medical procedures
- Collaborating with other healthcare practitioners and maybe even supervising a healthcare team
- Educating patients on disease prevention and living a healthy lifestyle, for example through diet and exercise
- Referring patients to specialists where necessary
It’s a very varied role, so be prepared for every day to be different!
What skills are needed to be a good Family Nurse Practitioner?
Aside from the actual clinical skills, like with all nursing positions it takes a certain type of person to be an excellent Family Nurse Practitioner. Firstly, FNPs work very closely with patients of all ages and states of health. Therefore, interpersonal skills such as compassion, empathy, a positive attitude and a good bedside manner are all key traits to have. You need patients to trust you and feel comfortable around you in order to provide them with the best treatment.
Similarly, you’ll need excellent communication skills, as you will have to be able to explain potentially complicated ideas to people of all ages and backgrounds. For example, a key part of the role is educating patients on how to live healthier lives, how to manage and treat any health conditions they may be suffering from, steps they can take to prevent disease, and so on. You might also have to explain how different diagnostic tests work and why you’re running them, and also be able to take detailed medical histories. Active listening is another valuable skill, as sometimes what patients don’t say is just as important as what they do say.
As a Family Nurse Practitioner is an advanced role, you will also need to have strong time management and organizational skills. Attention to detail is another vital talent to have, because you will need to be able to cope with specific information on things such as medicine dosages and test results.
You’ll need to be a good team player, as you’ll be working alongside other healthcare providers, plus have the ability to be flexible and adapt to unexpected situations as they arise. Being willing to continuously develop your skills is another key aspect, because the field of healthcare is always advancing and you will have to be able to keep up with new tools and technologies. Finally, you will need to have confidence in your training, knowledge and decision making in order to work effectively.
How do I become a Family Nurse Practitioner?
If the above personality profile sounds like you, a career as a Family Nurse Practitioner could be ideal. The steps you will need to take will vary depending on the existing qualifications and experience you have – there are several different pathways open to you. However, what they all have in common is the need for a Master’s degree in Nursing.
These programs are offered by numerous colleges, including Marymount University. In fact, a Marymount nursing degree can be taken online, so you don’t need to worry about moving to a new city or struggling to fit in class attendance around work and family commitments. There are clinical requirements that must be completed in person, however, these can be arranged near where you live. Take some time to check the options that are available in order to find the program that best suits you and your situation.
To enrol on a Master of Science in Nursing program you will generally need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) already and be licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN) with some experience under your belt. The course usually takes between one and three years to complete. Alternatively you could study for a doctoral degree in nursing instead, which takes a little longer and is particularly well suited for those with an interested in research or teaching.
As part of your studies you may be able to specialize in an area that particularly interests you, for example cardiac, pediatric or psychiatric care. After completing your degree program you will then need to sit an exam so that you can be certified and licensed as a Family Nurse Practitioner in order to find employment in the role.
What are the benefits of becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner?
There are a whole wealth of benefits to becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. Firstly, it’s a role that enables you to have greater autonomy and responsibility as a nurse (such as the ability to prescribe medications) without sacrificing the chance to work directly with your patients. Many nurses find that this leads to a higher level of job satisfaction and career fulfilment, plus the opportunity to have a bigger impact on the community that they serve.
This increased job responsibility also means a corresponding increase in salary – with a median annual income of $115,800 in 2019 – and with it increased financial security. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the number of Family Nurse Practitioner roles is growing at a much faster rate than average. This means that those who are qualified in the field can enjoy high levels of employability and job security. Given the increasing demand for healthcare services in the US, this trend is unlikely to change any time soon.
Being qualified as an FNP also opens the door to lots more opportunities for development and growth, both in terms of the job roles you can progress to and the further qualifications you can go on to take. For example, you could move into a leadership or management role, academia, or even a field such as health policy. So if you are dedicated to your learning and your career, this path is likely to be extremely well suited to you.
On a personal level, studying for a Master of Science in Nursing and becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner also enables you to get a much more in-depth look at the field you work in. You’ll benefit from highly specialized training, often with the chance to focus on an area you are particularly interested in, all with the goal of providing the best possible care to the patients you look after – which ultimately is the entire purpose of nursing.