MEET THE EXPERT
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 (2020): 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.
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
Family NP Degrees Options
Here are a few additional factors to consider when choosing among nurse practitioner programs:
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.
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.
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:
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 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: