For registered nurses (RNs) who want to broaden their career prospects and responsibilities, increase their salary potential, and have more autonomy in a medical setting, becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) may help them work towards their goals.
While many of the duties that RNs and nurse practitioners (NPs) fulfill do overlap, such as conducting physical exams, taking medical histories, and ordering patient tests, nurse practitioners are able to work with patients more closely, develop primary health care and treatment plans, and in some states even have prescriptive authority. Below are several core reasons why registered nurses might wish to consider becoming an FNP.
More autonomy and impact
FNPs are generally able to offer more in-depth and comprehensive care compared to RNs, and also assume more of a health care management role. RNs provide important support to physicians and nurse practitioners by examining patients, monitoring patient health, and maintaining medical records. However, FNPs can fulfill these duties while also making medical diagnoses, developing comprehensive treatment plans for patients, managing patients’ chronic health conditions, and supervising a larger health care team.
RNs work under the supervision of NPs and physicians, while FNPs typically only report to physicians. In addition, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 16 states and the District of Columbia currently allow NPs to work independently of physicians to provide primary care to patients. In these states, NPs have the ability to prescribe medications and set up their own autonomous practices.
The importance of NPs in the primary care of individuals across the lifespan is also evident in the fact that, according to The New York Times and Kaiser Health News, some policymakers have been pushing for new regulations that allow NPs nationwide to lead their own primary care practices, just as physicians do. Widespread concern over the increasing shortage of primary care physicians in the United States has prompted a national discussion about the crucial role NPs play in our health care system, which may lead to strong and long-term career opportunities for RNs who choose to become NPs.
Greater depth and breadth of knowledge
In order to become an NP, RNs must enroll in a graduate nursing program, such as an MSN, post-MSN certificate, or DNP program. These graduate programs often require RNs to choose a specialization within nursing, such as women’s health, adult primary care, or pediatric nursing care.
For RNs who want to provide primary care to individuals of all ages, and who do not want to limit their nursing practice to one specific area such as nurse midwifery or adult-gerontology care, completing an advanced nursing degree with a specialization in family nurse practitioner may be an ideal choice. As FNPs care for individuals from childhood on through old age within the context of the family, they receive advanced training in and are able to fulfill a broad range of primary care responsibilities.
Greater career prospects and salary potential
Due to the rising demand for primary health care in the United States, nurse practitioners are expected to experience strong employment growth in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), NPs, along with nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, are expected to have an employment growth rate of 31 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the national average of 11 percent for the careers surveyed by bls.gov.
In addition, in May of 2013 NPs earned a mean annual wage of $95,070 nationally (bls.gov). In contrast, registered nurses are expected to experience an employment growth rate of 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, and in May 2013 they reported a mean annual salary of $68,910 nationally. (Disclaimer: Salaries for both NPs and RNs are highly dependent on geographic location, professional experience, and place of employment. Therefore, salary data from bls.gov should only be used as a guideline for the potential salary increase between RNs and NPs).
In addition to having greater autonomy and responsibility in a clinical setting, family nurse practitioners also have increased leadership opportunities in patient education, research, academia, and policy advocacy.
FNPs can advance their field by conducting medical research and helping to develop patient education programs. Furthermore, due to their extensive clinical training and education in health care policy and the health care system, FNPs may be better equipped than RNs to engage with policy makers to further the interests of patients and the nursing profession.
In addition, for RNs who wish to work in academia, either as an instructor or a program administrator, completing an advanced nursing degree such as a DNP or MSN may also help them qualify for academic positions at universities that offer nursing programs.
- “Nurse Practitioners Slowly Gain Autonomy,” khn.org, Kaiser Health News, 19 July 2013, Christine Vestal, https://khn.org/news/stateline-nurse-practitioners-scope-of-practice/
- “Nurse Practitioners Try New Tack To Expand Foothold In Primary Care,” kgn.org, Kaiser Health News, 8 September 2013, Julie Appleby, https://khn.org/news/nurse-primary-care-slowed-by-insurer-credentialing/
- “Occupational Employment Statistics: Registered Nurse,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm
- “Occupational Employment Statistics: Nurse Practitioners,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 January 2014, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 January 2014, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
- “The Gulf Between Doctors and Nurse Practitioners,” well.blogs.nytimes.com, The New York Times, 27 June 2013, Pauline Chen, M.D., https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/the-gulf-between-doctors-and-nurse-practitioners/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0