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What Exactly Is a Nurse Practitioner/FNP and What Do They Do? – Online FNP
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What Exactly Is a Nurse Practitioner/FNP and What Do They Do?

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Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is a great career move for registered nurses who want more responsibility and specialized nursing skills. NPs are a type of advanced practice nurse (APN) that can provide primary or specialized care, and have the privilege of prescribing medication and working as an independent care provider, although in some states NPs must collaborate with a physician.

The nurse practitioner role gained popularity in the mid-1960s due to the nationwide shortage of physicians. APNs specialize in diverse fields such as family practice, clinical specialty, anesthesiology, midwifery, pediatrics, geriatric care, and women’s health. In many hospitals and other facilities, nurse practitioners are taking over responsibility from doctors for treatment of non-life-threatening illnesses and medical conditions.

Degrees and Certification

To become a certified NP you must complete a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) from an accredited college or university. These programs typically range in length from two to three years, depending on the pace of the curriculum. After finishing an MSN you can further your education by pursuing a doctor of ccience in nursing or a PhD, which opens the door to more advanced careers in clinical research, nursing practice, or academia.

Most advanced practice nurses specialize in family practice, but there are other niches that can be equally rewarding and lucrative. The chart below breaks down the number of RNs who have advanced preparation for various specialties.
Licensing and certification for NPs is governed state-by-state, so it is important to know the regulations in your chosen state before deciding how to pursue your education. For example, to be a licensed nurse practitioner in Illinois, you must be approved by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, have a current RN’s license, approved national certification in your area of specialty, and have successfully completed an accredited master’s program. Since you may not complete every level of your nursing education in the same state, you should carefully research the regulations in the state you plan to work in after graduating. As an NP you will specialize and be certified in one of the following specific fields of nursing:

  • Acute care
  • Adult health
  • College health
  • Community health
  • Family health
  • Gerontology
  • Holistic nursing
  • Neonatology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Oncology
  • Palliative care
  • Pediatrics
  • Perinatology
  • Psychiatry
  • School health
  • Women’s health

Many nurse practitioners choose to become family nurse practitioners (FNPs) who treat patients ranging from infants and children to adults and the elderly. FNPs work with the same patients for many years, often providing medical care to a patient from childhood well into adulthood. More NPs obtain a family practice license than go into any other specialty. For most NPs, their specialty dictates their daily routine and the age and type of patients they see.

Nurse Practitioner Duties and Responsibilities

As a certified and licensed nurse practitioner, some of your duties will be similar to those of an RN without a master’s or doctoral degree, but you will have more input and responsibility in matters relating to your specialty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor defines the primary roles of an NP as being to, “[D]iagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness, independently, or as part of a healthcare team.” NPs are independent and do not practice under the supervision of a general physician but rather alongside one. It is this autonomy that many find so enticing about becoming a nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioners have some privileges that RNs do not, including prescribing medication, but the extent of the procedures and tests you are allowed to perform depends on the state where you practice. Some NP duties include: diagnosing and treating lacerations and fractures, writing prescriptions, ordering therapy and other treatments, providing annual physicals, and administering immunizations. With advanced training, NPs may also assist surgeons during common procedures such as biopsies. Some nurse practitioners also run their own primary care practices without a physician, but this is only allowed in some states.

As a nurse practitioner, you will also have the option of going into the education field, teaching what you know to other budding nurses looking to advance their careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor notes that “[s]ome nurses move into the business side of healthcare. Their nursing expertise and experience on a healthcare team equip them to manage ambulatory, acute, home-based, and chronic care businesses. Employers—including hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and managed care organizations, among others—need RNs for health planning and development, marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance.”

Where You’ll Work

Hospitals and private practices are the largest employers of nurse practitioners nationwide, but you may also find lucrative and engaging employment opportunities working in nursing homes, hospice facilities, health management organizations, government health departments, schools, and clinics. As a nurse practitioner, you can also choose to start your own practice, although some states mandate that NPs work in collaboration with a doctor or hospital. The graph below highlights the five states with the highest employment rate for RNs and their corresponding wages.


No matter where you work, as a certified NP you will be prepared for a fulfilling job with higher levels of responsibility and wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor cites that registered nurses, including all advanced practice nurses, account for over 2.5 million jobs, primarily at general medical and surgical hospitals. The mean hourly wage for RNs is $32.56 and the top 90th percentile earns an impressive $45.74 per hour. Specialty, location, and prior experience all influence how much you earn as an NP.

The thought of going back to school and incurring student debt deters many from pursuing an advanced degree, but if you are currently working as an RN, many hospitals and private medical practices will help pay for your tuition towards a master’s or doctoral degree. There are also countless nursing scholarships and grants available to those who qualify. Funding for continued higher education shouldn’t be a roadblock to advancement in your career.

Job Growth for NPs

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that, “The number of RNs with master’s or doctorate degrees rose to 404,163 in 2008, an increase of 46.9 percent from 2000.” Furthermore, given the government’s prediction that there will be a deficit of 800,000 RNs by 2020, becoming a nurse practitioner will only make you more desirable to potential employers and will allow you more choice as to which field of medicine you work in.
Going back to school takes an immense level of dedication. It requires long hours of studying and finding a feasible balance between school and other responsibilities. But, for many RNs, the exceptional wages, feeling of achievement, and the knowledge that every day they are serving those in need makes obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing worthwhile.

It was not always possible to earn a family nurse practitioner degree online, but shifts in education have allowed more accredited schools these programs entirely online. While online FNP programs are still relatively new, dozens of master and doctoral nurse programs are available. To see if a school offers the right program for you, use the links below to contact a school to learn more.

Georgetown University
MSN in FNP Specialization
Georgetown University — Georgetown University is one of the few schools offering an online program for student pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner. Established in 1789, Georgetown is one of America's oldest institutions for higher education and now offers over 100 programs through its eight schools from business to medicine and healthcare.
Kaplan University
MSN to DNP in Family Nurse Practitioner
Kaplan University — In addition to its several online nursing programs, Kaplan University has a MSN to DNP in Family Nurse Practitioner. Originally the American Institute of Commerce founded in 1937, Kaplan is one of the largest online schools with 70 campuses across the country and offers almost 200 online programs at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral levels.
University of Cincinnati
MSN in Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
MSN in Nurse Midwifery
University of Cincinnati — If you want to advance your career in nursing, the University of Cincinnati offers online degrees for nursing professionals including an MSN in Women's Health or Nursing Midwifery. UC was founded in 1819 and while the school now has over 42,000 students, the student to faculty ratio is only 15 to one, so you get the support and attention you need as you pursue your degree.
South University
MSN in Nurse Practitioner
South University — South University has an impressive online division that is convenient for working professionals trying to earn their MSN. A Georgia-based school, South U was founded in 1889 and now offers almost 30 online programs and has schools in eight states.

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