Online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) programs are offered at the MSN, post-MSN certificate, and DNP levels for registered nurses (RNs) who wish to fulfill advanced practice provider responsibilities for patients across the lifespan, from childhood on through old age. Family nurse practitioners typically provide primary care and care coordination services to individuals within the context of the family unit, and must learn how to analyze patient medical data to develop plans of care, present findings to colleagues, and organize other medical care professionals in the delivery of care to patients. Online FNP programs prepare nurses for these responsibilities through a combination of online coursework, faculty and staff support via advanced learning technologies, and clinical practicum hours.
Different Types of Online FNP Programs: 100% Online, Limited Campus Visits Required, and Hybrid Online FNP Programs
Online FNP programs can be categorized into three different types, each of which has advantages in terms of flexibility and opportunities for in-person interactions with course faculty and peers. Below are brief descriptions of the three types of FNP programs that employ varying degrees of online instruction:
- 100% Online FNP Programs: These types of programs deliver their course content in a 100% online format, and do not require students to make any visits to campus during their enrollment. These programs may be ideal for students who have family obligations, work schedules, and/or geographical restrictions that make traveling to a physical campus difficult. While convenient due to their flexibility, fully online FNP programs may not be ideal for students who benefit from in-person interactions with program faculty and peers.
- Online FNP Programs with Limited Campus Visits Required: These types of programs require students to attend a limited number of on-campus intensives during their enrollment in the program. The purpose of these campus intensives is to provide students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning activities, such as clinical simulation experiences, as well as networking events and practical examinations. Online FNP programs with limited campus visits required provide students with much of the same flexibility of fully online programs, with the advantage of in-person engagement with program faculty, staff, and classmates.
- Hybrid Online FNP Programs: These types of programs generally fall into one of two categories: programs that mix fully online classes and fully on-campus classes, and programs that have classes that are comprised of both on-campus and online elements. As hybrid programs require fairly regular visits to campus, they are less flexible than 100% online programs and programs that require only a limited number of campus visits per year. However, hybrid programs may be ideal for students who benefit from in-person lectures and discussions with faculty and classmates.
Students interested in any of the FNP programs described above should note that all graduate advanced practice nursing programs, including 100% online FNP programs, require students to travel to a local medical facility to complete clinical practicum hours in person under preceptor supervision. Furthermore, when researching programs, students should be aware that there is no standard definition of online FNP programs versus hybrid programs. Different nursing schools define online and hybrid differently, and as a result there may be some programs that describe themselves as online, but which actually require more campus visits overall than does a program that classifies itself as hybrid.
To help students sort through the confusion and better understand the travel requirements of a given online FNP program, OnlineFNPPrograms.com defines an online FNP program as one that requires three or fewer visits to campus annually. Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified as hybrid and not included on the site at this time.
Online Instruction Methods: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Instruction
The delivery of online course content in online FNP programs is generally comprised of either a mix of synchronous and asynchronous components, or solely asynchronous course content. Synchronous course content is defined as class lectures and discussions that occur in real-time, and which require students to log in at certain times of the day to participate. Asynchronous instruction is defined as course content that is available 24/7, such as online textbooks and pre-recorded lectures that students can watch and re-watch as needed. All online FNP programs have asynchronous components (such as readings students must complete on their own time), while not all programs have synchronous elements.
Clinical Practicum Requirements for Online FNP Programs
Clinical practicum requirements for online FNP programs vary from institution to institution, but in general all FNP programs–whether online, hybrid, or on-campus– require students to complete a minimum of 500 supervised clinical practicum hours. While some programs may require more than 500 clinical hours, this is the minimum number of clinical practicum hours necessary to sit for the national Family Nurse Practitioner certification examination administered by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP).
Online FNP programs vary in how they structure clinical practicums and assist students in securing clinical practicum sites and supervisors. While some programs find medical sites and preceptors for their students, other programs require students to seek preceptors and medical facilities willing to take students for a given clinical rotation. Furthermore, some online FNP programs require students to rotate between different types of medical settings (such as women’s health, geriatrics, and pediatrics) with each term. As clinical practicums are an important and very time-intensive component of students’ graduate nursing education, prospective students should carefully research which programs match their needs best in this area. For example, some students may prefer to find their own clinical practicum site and supervisors, while other students may wish to enroll in a program that handles this process for them.
On-Campus Intensives and Immersions for Online FNP Programs
As mentioned previously, some online FNP programs require students to attend on-campus intensives periodically during their enrollment. The frequency of these intensives varies by program. Some programs also have an on-campus orientation at the beginning of the academic year that students must attend. Students should note that they are typically responsible for the travel expenses associated with attending their program’s orientation and any on-campus intensives throughout the year, and should therefore account for these expenses on top of their program’s tuition and other costs/fees.
During on-campus intensives for online FNP programs, students often engage in networking events, in-person class discussions, and guided activities that reinforce the concepts they learn from their lectures and readings. For example, clinical skills workshops, medical simulation experiences (in which students may perform physical examinations or practice certain medical procedures on volunteer patients), and in-person examinations are common elements of a typical on-campus intensive.
The Importance of Licensing Requirements and Program Accreditation
When researching programs, students must make sure to only consider online FNP programs that are accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Completion of a CCNE or ACEN-accredited graduate nursing program is one of the requirements for nurses to receive national certification as family nurse practitioners from either the ANCC or AANPCP.
In addition to earning national certification as an FNP through the ANCC or the AANPCP, RNs must also seek licensure as an advanced practice provider from their state’s board of nursing. Each state board of nursing has slightly different requirements for APRN licensure. As a result, students who wish to enroll in an online FNP program that is based in a state that is different from their state of residence should check with the program’s staff to confirm that this program meets both national certification requirements and their state board of nursing licensing requirements.
Admission Requirements for Online FNP Programs
Admission requirements for online FNP programs vary. However, in general, online FNP programs require applicants to have an active and unrestricted license as an RN in their state of residence, Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, and a year or more of professional experience in a primary care medical setting. Some programs may require applicants to have maintained a certain overall GPA in any nursing-related baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate coursework they have completed.
Required application materials for online FNP programs generally include a personal statement, transcripts of all academic courses completed, and professional and/or academic letters of recommendation.
State Authorization Considerations
When researching programs of interest and their admission requirements, students should also take state authorizations into consideration. State authorizations are the permissions that a state grants to out-of-state academic institutions to accept and enroll its residents. Every state has individual requirements for out-of-state academic institutions to admit prospective students from its jurisdiction. Some states require out-of-state schools to apply for and receive authorization prior to admitting and enrolling students from its jurisdiction, and these states may only review applications for authorization at specific points in the year. As a result, schools whose authorization status with a given state is pending may not admit students from that state. Students should check with admissions staff at their online programs of interest to see if these programs have received authorization from their state of residence.
In an effort to make online and distance education more accessible to students nationwide, some states have joined the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA). This organization does not replace the requirement for programs to receive state authorization prior to admitting students; however, it simplifies and clarifies the authorization process for out-of-state schools. States that are members of SARA agree to have comparable authorization standards for interstate online and distance education programs. Students can research which states are SARA members by referring to the National Council for State Reciprocity Agreements’ website: http://nc-sara.org/sara-states-institutions.