Why You Should Consider Studying to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

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For many registered nurses who are looking to broaden their job prospects, becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is a natural and desirable progression in their career. If you're looking to enjoy a higher salary and better job security, plus have more autonomy and responsibility at work – all while continuing to care for patients on a personal level – then studying to be an FNP could be the perfect next step for you. It is a position that enables you to make an even greater impact on your patients' lives and the community that you serve. 

Here's everything you need to know about the role and the course to help you make your decision. 

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner? 

A Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP, is a type of specialized nursing role. It involves a higher level of training in comparison to being a Registered Nurse (RN). An FNP provides a wide variety of family-focused healthcare services and can work with patients of all ages and in numerous different settings. These include clinics, private practices, hospitals, universities, and care facilities. 

The type of work that a Family Nurse Practitioner does is extremely varied. Some duties overlap with those of a Registered Nurse, while you will also share some of the same responsibilities as doctors. You might find yourself educating patients on disease prevention, performing physical exams, keeping medical records accurate and up to date, ordering or performing diagnostic tests, prescribing medication and treating both acute and chronic illnesses. There is also the opportunity for those who want it to specialize in certain areas that you are interested in, for example, pain management, obesity, or diabetes. 

What are the benefits of becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner? 

There is a wealth of benefits to be gained from becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. Firstly, you can enjoy much more autonomy and responsibility in your role. The level of care that you can offer is more in-depth and comprehensive compared to being a Registered Nurse, with the ability to make medical diagnoses, develop health plans for patients, and even supervise healthcare teams. Depending on the state in which you work, you will also have some level of prescription authority. All of this also gives you increased leadership opportunities and the chance to work within research or academia if that is of interest to you. 

At the same time, you get to maintain a close and compassionate relationship with your patients, which is key to nursing. The role involves getting to know your patients and their needs on a personal level, from infants, children, and adolescents all the way up to adults and the elderly. Family Nurse Practitioners work to diagnose and treat illnesses and educate people on preventing disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This means that even as you progress in your career, you continue to work closely with both patients and physicians. As such, you may well find that you benefit from greater fulfillment and satisfaction at work. 

Becoming an FNP also offers increased job stability. Highly qualified nursing professionals are in high demand nowadays, with employment predicted to grow dramatically in the near future. This is unlikely to change any time soon, especially with the country's aging population. Consequently, there is also a financial advantage to becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner, and you can expect to earn a significantly higher salary after qualifying. 

Should I take an MSN or DNP course? 

To become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you will need to take one of two types, of course: a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Both are graduate degrees that prepare Registered Nurses for a range of advanced roles within the industry. Unlike the MSN, the DNP is a terminal course, meaning it is the highest education level available in nursing. 

The DNP curriculum expands on that of the MSN and gives you an edge if you are particularly interested in working in a management role such as Chief Nursing Officer. Fewer students take the DNP, meaning you will certainly stand out among other Family Nurse Practitioners if that is the option you choose. There is also some suggestion that a DNP may eventually become the requiredstandard for advanced nursing roles in the future, so it's worth checking the specific requirements for the area that you wish to specialize in to see if that's relevant to you. 

Having said that, the DNP is a longer course that requires more commitment from students and a lengthier wait before certification. There is also no dramatic difference in employment levels after qualification, so it may not be necessary for you to take that route. Of course, after earning your MSN, you can always go on to study for the DNP at a later date if you want to. 

What does an FNP course involve? 

A typical FNP course involves a mixture of traditional study and clinical placements. You have the chance to gain a wealth of theoretical knowledge, which you then go on to put into practice through the delivery of advanced nursing care to diverse populations. You may be required to design preventative strategies to reduce the risk of disease, promote health, or incorporate principles and technologies to optimize healthcare. Other subjects that may be covered include regulations, ethical standards, and finance. You can also expect to have plenty of coursework to complete as you learn. 

One of the key parts of your study is likely to be a clinical placement. This parallels the work you do in the classroom to prepare you for doing the job out the real world. A typical number of clinical hours for an MSN course is 700, while for a DNP course, it is likely to be over 1,000. After completing your studies, you will need to sit a certification exam with either the American NursesCredential Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Online FNP study 

These days it is also possible to attend an FNP school online, meaning that you can continue to work as you complete your studies. This is particularly helpful if you cannot afford to take a break from employment to go back to school. Online study is very flexible, and can be adapted to fit your lifestyle and needs, for example if you have a family. Some courses will even let you begin your qualification at a time that's suitable for you, rather than having to follow the structure of the traditional academic year. In some cases online courses actually cost less too, while still qualifying for federal financial aid.

Even if you study online, you may be able to attend in-person residency programs on campus to hone your skills in a real-life setting. During this time, your professors can assess your clinical capabilities, and you will also have the chance to socialize with your cohort of fellow students. 

Studying as a mature student 

For some, the idea of going back into education as an adult can be daunting. Perhaps you haven't studied in a long time, and worry that you won't be able to keep up. However many people find that on the contrary, returning to study as a mature student actually helps you to get more out of the experience. You have a better idea of how you learn best, and as long as you are passionate about the subject and work hard, you shouldn't have any problems. 

These days it's becoming more and more common for people to undertake a university education later in life, either to advance their current career or to embark on an entirely new one. There are bound to be plenty of other students in the same position as you on your course, and colleges have a wealth of resources in place to help you out. If you opt for part-time study, you can rest assured that you will be able to fit your studies around your work, family life, and any other commitments you may have. 

Next steps 

If you decide that you are interested in studying to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, the next step is to research available programs. Universities across the country offer these. There are several factors that you will want to consider when choosing where to apply. These include the entry requirements, location, tuition fees and availability of funding, and the specifics of the course curriculum. You'll also need to decide whether you want to study on a full-time or part-time basis and whether you'd prefer an online course or one held on campus. 

To get an idea of the quality of a course, there are several issues to consider. Look at testimonials from past students, as well as statistics on how many of them passed their certification exam and managed to find employment. It's also a good idea to check if placement services are offered, and whether any relevant bodies accredit the course or not.

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