How To Become A Family Nurse Practitioner: A Step-By-Step Guide (2023)

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Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide advanced primary and preventive care to patients of all ages. Becoming an FNP can be a great way to gain more professional responsibility, respect and autonomy as a nursing professional.

As registered nurses (RNs) with advanced clinical training and graduate-level education, FNPs can perform much of the same work as primary care doctors. Family nurse practitioners can conduct physical exams, create treatment plans, order and perform medical tests and write prescriptions.

This lucrative career offers higher-than-average salaries and an excellent job outlook. Demand for FNPs will likely continue to grow due to an aging U.S. population and an increased need for primary and preventive healthcare services.

Keep reading to learn about how to become a family nurse practitioner and whether this career is right for you.


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(Video) How To Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

An FNP is a nurse practitioner (NP) and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who offers primary care to people across the lifespan, from birth to old age. Nurse practitioners can also specialize in areas like pediatrics, women’s health and mental health. FNPs work for private group and physician practices, hospital outpatient clinics and community health centers.

You need an RN license to become an FNP, but an FNP has more education, clinical training and autonomy than a basic RN. Their advanced skills, knowledge and experience permits FNPs to do many of the same tasks as a family doctor.

An FNP’s scope of practice includes evaluating and counseling patients, creating treatment plans, prescribing controlled substances and ordering or performing diagnostic tests. FNPs help patients with the same injuries and acute or chronic illnesses as primary care physicians.

Some FNPs work under doctor supervision, while others work independently. State practice and licensure laws impact what nurse practitioners can legally do. In full-practice states, FNPs can engage in full NP practice under their state nursing board’s authority. Reduced-practice and restricted-practice states limit FNPs’ autonomy.

Family Nurse Practitioner Salary and Career Growth

Family nurse practitioners face an excellent career outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects nurse practitioners to experience a 46% employment growth between 2021 and 2031. This is much faster than the 5% national average projected growth rate for all jobs.

How much does a nurse practitioner make? Overall, NPs earn significantly more than the typical American. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that FNPs earn a median total income of $115,000 per year.

Steps to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

Complete an ADN or a BSN Degree

You can become an RN with just an associate in nursing (ADN), but a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is required for admission to most NP graduate programs. A typical undergraduate nursing program explores nursing fundamentals, anatomy and physiology, nursing practice, and pharmacology.

Most bachelor’s programs take about four years to complete for full-time students. A typical ADN takes about two years to complete. Most NP programs prefer applicants with an accredited BSN degree, but some schools let students start with an ADN.

Choose a nursing program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or your state’s approved accrediting agency, if applicable. You must graduate from an accredited nursing program to qualify for the national exam required to earn nursing licensure. Consult ACEN’s directory or CCNE’s directory to determine if your nursing program holds accreditation.

(Video) How To Become a Nurse Practitioner and Fastest Way To Becoming One

The nursing industry increasingly sees the BSN as the preferred degree level for nursing professionals. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) encourages all RNs to earn a BSN at minimum to meet the demands of the modern nursing profession and as preparation for graduate education in nursing. AACN reports that 27.7% of healthcare employers require new hires to have a BSN, and 71.7% strongly prefer it.

Pass the NCLEX and Earn Licensure

Each state has its own licensing board for nursing and sets its own requirements to become an RN, but all states require nurses to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the NCLEX, which assesses nursing competency.

After passing the NCLEX, you may apply for RN licensure and learn about specific requirements through your state’s nursing regulatory body. Once your state agency determines your eligibility and authorizes you to test, you can register, pay the fee and schedule your exam.

Plan to study hard and use NCLEX prep resources to pass the test.

Gain Experience

Many FNP programs require or prefer applicants with clinical nursing experience. Gaining some professional experience before applying to graduate school can also help you get more from your education by allowing you to apply theory to practice. AANP reports that the average FNP has 9.8 years of experience.

However, some FNP programs accept applicants who came straight from an undergraduate program.

Complete FNP Schooling

To become a nurse practitioner of any kind, you must earn a graduate degree. Aspiring FNPs should earn a master’s in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate in nursing (DNP) with a family nurse practitioner concentration. A typical family nurse practitioner MSN takes two to three years for full-time students to complete, while a DNP can take four to seven years.

An FNP curriculum usually includes core classes on broad APRN topics like nursing ethics, advanced pharmacology, advanced health assessment and nursing leadership. FNP students also take specialized courses focusing on adult primary care, pediatric primary care and clinical management of adult health problems. Students get hands-on FNP experience through clinical internships.

Choose an FNP graduate program accredited by CCNE or ACEN to ensure you qualify for licensure and certification.

Earn FNP Certification

Family nurse practitioner graduates can qualify for state licensure after passing an FNP national certification exam. See AANP’s guide to practice information by state to learn about specific details on NP practice and applying for licensure in your state.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and AANP both offer FNP certifications.

(Video) How to Apply for AANP Exam: A Step-by-Step Guide for NPs

ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC™)

ANCC awards its FNP-BC certification to nurses who meet all eligibility criteria and pass the FNP board certification exam. This credential is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification and demonstrates proficiency in entry-level FNP skills and clinical knowledge.

The FNP-BC exam is a 3.5-hour, 175-question competency-based computerized test. Exam applicants need current, active RN licensure and must hold an FNP master’s degree, a postgraduate certificate or a DNP from an accredited program. The FNP program must include 500 supervised clinical hours, at least three comprehensive APRN core courses and content in health promotion/maintenance and differential diagnosis.

Initial certification costs $395, with discounts available for members of AANP, the American Nurses Association and the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association.

AANP Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

The FNP certification from the AANP demonstrates entry-level clinical knowledge in patient care across the lifespan. Applicants must pass the 150-question computerized competency-based FNP exam to get the credential. The test covers pathophysiology, pharmacology, physical assessment, and evidence-informed practice. Applicants pay $315 to take the exam or $240 for AANP members.

To qualify for AANP’s FNP credential, candidates must complete an accredited graduate, postgraduate or doctoral program in FNP that covers the APRN core and FNP competencies. The program must include 500 faculty-supervised clinical practice hours. Applicants also must hold a current RN license.

Maintain Licensure

FNP certifications and state licenses require periodic renewal. Specific rules about maintaining licensure vary by state. AANP and ANCC family nurse practitioner certifications require renewal every five years. FNPs must prove that their knowledge is up to date by completing clinical practice and continuing education hours or by retaking the certification exam. FNPs also must continue to hold a current, active RN license to qualify for recertification.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Becoming an FNP

What is the difference between an FNP and an NP?

(Video) How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP) in 2022 | Everything you need to know - Salary, Scope, Job

FNPs and NPs are both advanced practice registered nurses. A family nurse practitioner is one type of nurse practitioner specializing in family medicine and primary care across the lifespan.

Other NP specialties include neonatal nurse practitioners, women’s health nurse practitioners, and adult-gerontology nurse practitioners. NPs can also work as pediatric nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Is an FNP the same as a doctor?

A family nurse practitioner can provide high-level primary care to patients. They perform many of the same tasks as a family doctor, but they do not have the same training and education and cannot do everything a doctor can.

What an FNP can do and their scope of practice varies depending on where they live. Some states give nurse practitioners “full practice” authority, letting them work independently without physician supervision.

Is FNP higher than RN?

Yes. An RN license is a prerequisite to becoming an FNP. While RNs need only an ADN or a BSN to practice, an FNP is a type of advanced practice registered nurse who needs a graduate degree in nursing and additional clinical training. FNPs can perform more advanced tasks and require less supervision than RNs.



How To Become A Family Nurse Practitioner: A Step-By-Step Guide? ›

Plan to start studying for the FNP exam about six months prior to taking your exam. Starting 6 months in advance will allow you to make sure that you're completely prepared for the exam. Sit down with your calendar and develop a study schedule. Try to plan to study 2 to 3 hours a day 5 to 6 days a week.

How do I prepare for FNP? ›

How to Prepare for the Nurse Practitioner Board-Certification Exam
  1. Gather Study Resources and Review Materials. ...
  2. Create a Study Plan. ...
  3. Join a Study Group. ...
  4. Complete Online Practice Tests. ...
  5. Identify gaps in knowledge. ...
  6. Track study strategies. ...
  7. Reduce anxiety. ...
  8. Apply Knowledge.

How many hours to study for FNP exam? ›

Plan to start studying for the FNP exam about six months prior to taking your exam. Starting 6 months in advance will allow you to make sure that you're completely prepared for the exam. Sit down with your calendar and develop a study schedule. Try to plan to study 2 to 3 hours a day 5 to 6 days a week.

How do I start an NP? ›

First steps to take
  1. Gather information on the required licensing and permits. Some people leave this one for later, so we're giving it first place. ...
  2. Apply for a National Provider Identifier (NPI) ...
  3. Determine which supplies you will need. ...
  4. Start leveraging social media today. ...
  5. Get malpractice insurance.
Aug 28, 2020

What is the difference between a DNP and a FNP? ›

FNPs perform the duties of a primary care provider, either independently or under the supervision of a doctor for patients at all life stages. A DNP, on the other hand, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, which is the practitioner-focused terminal degree in nursing and is awarded by a higher education institution.

What is the pass rate for FNP exam? ›

Each exam also has a different pass rate, which may vary based on specialization. AANP Pass Rates: In 2020, 85% of first-time test takers passed the FNP exam, 86% passed the AGPCNP exam and 89% passed the ENP exam. ANCC Pass Rates: In comparison, 86.6% of test takers passed the ANCC exam on their first try in 2021.

How hard is the AANP FNP exam? ›

AANP FNP Board Review Tips

The AANP exam is a relatively tough exam with a 2021 FNP pass rate of 84%. After several years of study, to have approximately 19% of test takers fail is a fairly high hurdle. Taking AANP specific practice questions is the single best method of preparing for the exam.

Which FNP exam is easier? ›

The AANP is rumored to be the easier of the two exams, specifically for those seeking their FNP certification as it historically had a higher pass rate than that of the ANCC FNP exam.

How many clinical hours do you need to sit for AANP? ›

Both the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) require family nurse practitioners and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners to complete 500 hours of supervised clinical practice in order to qualify for their national ...

When should I start studying for FNP exam? ›

Plan to start studying about six months before your FNP exam. This gives you time to plot a timeframe for different areas of the ANCC FNP Exam or the AANP FNP Exam, and also allows you to schedule time for the areas in which you need additional review.

How long does it take to study for FNP boards? ›

Allow a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks of planned study after you complete the review course to maximize your likelihood of success on this important high-stakes exam.

How many questions are on the FNP? ›

Apply for Certification

The exam allows 3.5 hours to answer 175 questions (150 scored plus 25 pretest questions that are not scored). For exam prep resources, scroll down to view Study Aids. If you do not pass a certification exam, learn about retesting.


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