Top Online Family Nurse Practitioner Programs

Learn about online family nurse practitioner (FNP) program enrollment, timeline, and what you need to succeed. Find the training you need to advance your nursing career and salary potential.

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Chalice Blinick
Chalice Blinick

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Chalice Blinick is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with 12 years of experience in hospital and outpatient settings including renal care, ortho-neuro-trauma, medical-surgical, family medicine, and urgent care. She also runs a blog nursechalice.com

Due to the rising need for primary healthcare to support an aging population, family nurse practitioners are among the most in demand medical professionals in the U.S. For RNs who want to improve their career prospects, increase their salary potential, and have more autonomy in the workplace, becoming a family nurse practitioner can help in achieving those goals. In most cases, a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is necessary to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP). These programs can be taken partially and sometimes fully online, and take between two and three years to complete. Learn how you can go from RN to FNP today.

Best in Class (2019): Online Family Nurse Practitioner Programs

Because many prospective FNPs are current RNs, schools have developed online family nurse practitioner programs that provide the maximum amount of flexibility for working nurses. But choosing the right online program can be tough. We’ve identified the common traits among high quality FNP programs, such as affordability and accreditation, to help you find a top degree program. We’ve also identified three notable programs to help begin your search.

Georgetown University

Georgetown-University

Georgetown University is a world-renowned school with more than 200 years of experience delivering high quality education.  Georgetown’s online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program is available in both part-time and full-time hybrid formats for students who have already earned a BSN. The program consists of 44 credit hours at a cost of around $2,065 per credit hour.

While most classes can be taken online, students also attend two on-campus intensives and complete 650 clinical hours. The part-time format is specifically made for working students or for those with personal obligations that would interfere with a full-time program. With this lighter course load, most part-time students can finish their MSN degree in 27 months. Georgetown also offers a full-time track, which shaves eight months off the time to graduate, thanks to an accelerated curriculum.

Regardless of which path a student takes, they will be well-prepared to practice as a family nurse practitioner. Georgetown’s FNP graduates consistently boast NP certification exam first time passage rates that range between 95 and 100%.

Chamberlain University

Maryville University

Does an Online Family NP Program Work for You?

Distance learning has revolutionized higher education. Though online programs are consistently rising in popularity, not all of them are designed the same way. Depending on your academic, professional, and personal needs, one program might be better suited for you than another. For example, if you want to work full-time while in school, a part-time program with more flexible learning options may be the right choice. You might also want the ability to focus on a particular FNP specialization, which may not be available at all schools. When figuring out if an online FNP program is right for you, let’s first look at the two primary online learning formats.

Flexibility in Online Learning

  • Fully Online:
    In fully online FNP programs, all coursework may be completed virtually. However, students should keep in mind that in-person practicums may be required. Clinicals also need to be completed in person; however, fully online FNP programs may offer greater flexibility in completing them. For example, some programs allow practicing RNs to complete their clinical requirements at their current place of employment.
  • Hybrid:
    The format of hybrid online family NP programs may differ based on the school, but most require students to spend at least some time on campus completing the non-clinical curriculum requirements. Depending on the program, these may be referred to as intensives, immersions, or labs. Despite the need for on-campus study, these programs still offer a lot of  flexibility for FNP students.

Family NP Degrees Options

1. Masters of Science in Nursing
The Master of Science in nursing (MSN) track is the most popular degree route for aspiring family nurse practitioners. Full-time students with a bachelor of science in nursing degree can expect to complete their MSN program in about two years, sometimes less. For those wishing to continue working full-time as RNs, it can take about two-and-a-half years to complete their MSN. Some MSN programs can even be taken online.

Some programs offer opportunities to specialize in particular areas. In addition to training for skills needed to treat a wider range of patients, MSN curriculums also prepare students to sit and pass national licensing exams so they can become certified nurse practitioners in their respective states. Students can expect to complete about 650 hours of clinical training before graduation.

2. Doctor of Nursing Practice
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree includes additional coursework in emerging and more advanced fields that relate to the non-clinical practice of medicine such as leadership, policy, evidence based practice, research, and information systems technology. Nursing leaders and policymakers anticipate that future changes in the healthcare setting will make these skills important for nurse practitioners who want to provide the best patient care possible.

With these additional classes, students with a BSN can expect to add about one more year of full-time study, for a total of three years. For those who already have an MSN degree, they can expect to take one year to complete their DNP degree.

Here are a few additional factors to consider when choosing among nurse practitioner programs:

Class Size: As a general rule, smaller classes can lead to more interaction with your teachers and peers. This, in turn, can lead to greater opportunities to learn and get any extra help you might need.

Faculty: The faculty’s experience, skills, and knowledge is directly related to the quality of education you’ll receive. Before committing to a program, take a look at the faculty’s degree levels, published work, and years of clinical practice.

Cost of attendance: In addition to tuition, fees and travel expenses can add significant cost. On the other hand,  financial aid, such as scholarships, can cut down the cost of more expensive programs. Make sure to look at all the full financial picture for each program you’re considering.

Program length: While a shorter program may be ideal for some students, those working full-time may need to take more time to complete their degree. Future nursing students need to find the right program length that will fit their professional and personal needs.

Certification exam passage rate: A sign of a good program is a high certification exam passage rate, such as on the AANC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) exam. While a high or perfect passage rate doesn’t guarantee all students can expect the same results, it does make it more likely that you’ll be fully prepared to practice as a family nurse practitioner.

Admissions Requirements

Every school will have its own specific admissions requirements, but most MSN and DNP nurse practitioner programs require the following:

  • Possession of an active and unrestricted registered nurse license
  • Completion of the application
  • BSN degree from an accredited program. Some DNP programs may require an MSN degree.
  • Completion of a statistics course
  • Curriculum vitae or resume (providing evidence of clinical work experience)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay

Some programs may have additional admissions requirements, including GRE scores, a personal interview, and at least one year of clinical experience.

Curriculum Breakdown: Online Family NP Programs

Coursework in an FNP program consists of theory and clinical practice courses designed to prepare graduates to meet the healthcare needs of children and adults of all ages. Program courses meet the criteria set by the state as well as the national accreditation bodies.

The first year of the program typically focuses on broad nurse practitioner education, with themes you may have encountered in clinical experience if you’re a working RN. The second year of study will concentrate on the family specialty and any further specializations you choose, if specializations are available in your program.

The following are common course offerings in FNP programs:

Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care of the Adult:

How to identify, manage, diagnose, and treat adult patients. Topics include socioeconomic and cultural considerations during treatment.

Advanced Primary Nursing in Primary Care of the Child:

How to provide primary care to children, with an emphasis on building good health habits, prevention, and common health issues in younger patients.

Clinical Decision Making for the Family Nurse Practitioner:

Building from prior training and experience, how to apply evidence-based practice knowledge to effectively treat and manage patients with serious or long-term health issues.

Research Methods:

The research process within healthcare, with a special emphasis on the scientific method for the observation and investigation of problems found in the clinical setting.

Advanced Pathophysiology:

How to apply current scientific understanding of pathophysiology to primary care practice. This course builds on priod knowledge of pathophysiology.

Theoretical Foundations for Advanced-Practice Nursing:

How to apply ethical, scientific, and legal principles to the modern clinical practice.

Pharmacology for Advanced Practice Across the Lifespan:

How complex pharmacological principles, such as anesthetic administration and pharmacokinetics, apply to a wide array of patients.

Family Nurse Practitioner Clinical I:

This introduction to clinical experiences covers the basic diagnostic challenges encountered in a primary-care setting.

Advanced Health Assessment:

Advanced diagnostic and treatment skills and strategies to effectively treat patients commonly seen in primary care.

Common Online Family NP Subspecialties

While the family nurse practitioner track is a specialty for the MSN or DNP degree, many programs also offer subspecialties for those who wish to work in a particular area. If you’re considering a subspecialty, make sure the program you choose to attend offers specific courses in that area. It can be more difficult to gain the necessary knowledge and skills through employer training.

Pediatrics is one of the most common, but there are a variety of other subspecialties to suit your interests. The following are some of the most popular choices:

  • Dermatology:
    Given their role as a primary care provider, FNPs are likely to encounter patients with skin problems. Dermatological issues can affect all ages, from adolescents dealing with acne to geriatric patients with possible skin cancer. By choosing the Dermatology-Certified Nurse Practitioner subspecialty, future family nurse practitioners can obtain additional knowledge concerning issues with skin, hair, and nails.
  • Emergency medicine:
    Family nurse practitioners often treat patients in a non-emergency setting by providing preventative care as well as treatments for acute and chronic health issues. However, some nurse practitioners may wish to practice in the emergency setting while still gaining the necessary training to provide primary care to a range of patients. Students can work toward the Emergency Nurse Practitioner Specialty Certification available from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).
  • Nephrology:
    Nephrology is the study of kidneys and their function within the human body. A common health problem primary care medical providers encounter is chronic kidney disease. Given how often a FNP may treat these types of patients and those at risk for kidney problems, obtaining additional training in this subspecialty can be quite useful. To better serve patients, nephrology certification is available for FNPs that want to become Certified Nephrology Nurse Practitioners.

Obtain Your National FNP Certification

Graduation from an accredited family nurse practitioner program isn’t enough to start practicing as an FNP. In most cases, individuals must become licensed in the state they intend to practice in. In addition to completing a graduate level program, nurses must also sit for and pass a national certification exam.

There are a number of nurse practitioner certification exams available, although the two primary certifications for family nurse practitioner are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

    The ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner board certification (FNP-BC) is an entry-level credential. The primary component of this certification is passage of a 200-question multiple choice computer exam over the course of three-and-a-half hours.

    Eligibility requirements include:

    • Current and active RN license
    • A master’s or doctoral level degree from an accredited FNP program
    • Completion of coursework in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology, health maintenance/promotion, and differential diagnosis and disease management

    The exam costs between $290 and $395, depending on whether the applicant is a student or member of the ANA or AANP. The initial certification lasts five years and can be renewed by paying the renewal fee and completing continuing education coursework.

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)

    The AANPCB FNP certification is the second major entry-level national certification for family nurse practitioners. It ensures that they possess the requisite level of knowledge necessary to treat patients across their lifespans within a primary care setting. The certification exam consists of 150 questions and must be completed in three hours.

    Eligibility requirements include:

    • Current and active RN license
    • A graduate-level family nurse practitioner degree from an accredited program
    • Completion of APRN core courses, which include advanced physical assessment, advanced pharmacology, and advanced pathophysiology
    • At least 500 clinical hours of providing direct patient care under faculty-supervision

    As a part of the application process, non-AANP member applicants must pay $365 while AANP members only pay a $290 certification fee. The AANPCB certification can be renewed every five years. There are two avenues for renewal, both of which require payment of a renewal fee. The first option requires maintaining an active RN license, presenting evidence that the applicant has obtained at least 1,000 clinical hours practicing as a FNP, and completion of 100 contact hours of advanced continuing education. The second option requires taking the FNP certification exam again.

Pricing Your Online Family Nurse Practitioner Program

Since there are many factors that can affect the cost of education, the cost of becoming a family nurse practitioner can vary dramatically. For example, tuition costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per credit hour. To see examples of the wide range, take a look at the spotlight schools we profiled above.

The number of courses also makes a difference in your bottom line. There are two degrees that can lead to a FNP: the MSN and the DNP, with the latter adding about one year to the education timeline. Students with an MSN degree may also need less time to earn a DNP than someone with a BSN degree. Other factors might include potential travel costs for required on-campus visits and the availability of financial aid.

Here are a few other considerations to keep in mind:

  • Financial aid: 
    Government-sponsored loans are one of the most common sources of financial aid for nursing school. Completion of the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is required to apply for these. Completing the FAFSA is also neeeded for requesting other forms of financial aid, including scholarships and grants from private and public sources. To learn more, see our guide to financial aid.
  • Scholarships: 
    Scholarships are usually awarded based on the student’s personal achievement or other traits, such as belonging to a particular group (such as veteran status) or maintaining academic excellence. Luckily, there are many scholarships available to FNP students, such as Tylenol’s Future Care Scholarship or the AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund.
  • Private loans: 
    Assuming scholarships and government student loans aren’t enough to pay for the cost of attendance, nursing students have the option of going to private banks or credit unions for school loans. While these often have less generous terms than other forms of financial aid, they’re an option to consider.
  • Career ladder programs: 
    Career ladder programs are run by healthcare employers to promote the professional advancement of healthcare workers. Each program is different, but many offer benefits similar to tuition reimbursement plans. Specifically, some employers provide a scholarship or other form of financial support to employees who seek out additional schooling. In return, the employee comes back to work with the same employer for higher pay or a new position.