A lot has changed in healthcare over the years. From robots to lasers and everything in between, today’s patients have a much different experience than patients from even a few decades ago. One thing that has remained the same, however, is the importance of the nurse practitioner in the healthcare industry. Nurse practitioners are an important part of the patient experience, often having more time to spend with patients than doctors while being just as knowledgeable in some areas. And with so many fields available in which to specialize, nurse practitioners have the ability to pursue the work that motivates them the most. Passionate healthcare personnel means better care, and nurse practitioners have some of the best outcomes in the industry.
With that said, what are family nurse practitioners, and what is their role in the healthcare industry? This article will explore how family nurse practitioners keep people healthy as well as some of the skills you should focus on if you’re interested in becoming one.
What are nurse practitioners?
Healthcare systems around the globe are dealing with populations with multimorbid health issues as well as increasing numbers of the elderly. This, in turn, leads to communities where many people need help. The problem is that the number of healthcare professionals available to provide primary and acute care is limited. Luckily, nurse practitioners are available to help fill this need. They are often the first line of defense against routine issues and are trained to care for chronic problems, too. Nurse practitioners can choose to specialize in an area of their choice. Family nurse practitioners, for example, work with people in all stages of life and provide primary care.
What are family nurse practitioners?
A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is an NP that emphasizes family care. They tend to offer primary care to people of all ages. They can offer pediatric care just as they care for the chronic conditions typically seen in older patients. Note that there are also NPs who specialize in each of these areas and work with only those kinds of patients. Family NPs see many patients a day with a wide variety of concerns and needs.
Some of the tasks that FNPs complete include:
- Maintaining patient records
- Performing or ordering diagnostic tests
- Performing physical exams
- Prescribing medications
- Treating chronic and acute illnesses
- Treating other conditions and injuries falling under “primary care”
- Developing and implement treatment plans
Given the wide scope of responsibilities, FNPs often spend more time with patients than physicians do. They have a better opportunity to discuss health concerns with their patients as a result and are trained to work in a variety of healthcare settings. From community health centers to healthcare systems and even universities, FNPs are able to work wherever their interest takes them.
FNPs not only treat more general issues falling under the scope of primary care, but they can also pursue additional certifications in more specialized areas such as obesity management, pain, neonatal care, or diabetes. This kind of specialized education is not typically a requirement of becoming an FNP, to be clear, but it is an option available to FNPs who wish to learn more about specific health conditions or injuries.
Family nurse practitioners are important because they give patients the time they deserve while allowing doctors to see the patients who need more acute care. They also serve as an important source of healthcare education. From one-on-one discussions to the distribution of educational pamphlets, NPs are very effective at communicating with patients and giving them the opportunity to take good care of their health.
How do you become a nurse practitioner?
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are sometimes also known as “advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)”. They are one of the four main roles that comprise advanced practicing nursing:
- Clinical nurse specialists
- Nurse practitioners
- Nurse anesthetists
- Nurse midwives
All four of these roles require advanced degrees, if you’re wondering how to become family nurse practitioner. Whether you finish your degree online or decide to attend classes in person, you will likely need a master’s degree as a minimum when becoming a nurse practitioner. Your education is not over when you are licensed, either, as nurse practitioners are required to stay up-to-date with developments in their field of interest.
In most states, there are three main qualifications aspiring NPs must meet. First, they must be registered nurses. They must also have graduated from an accredited institution, have completed a degree in an accredited graduate program, and hold a certification reflecting the specialization of the graduate program in question. Family nurse practitioners, for example, might require a primary care certification. It is important to do some research into these requirements for yourself, however, as they evolve over time. This is especially likely to be the case given how the scope of NP’s work is rapidly expanding. In the future, there might be additional steps to complete.
Note that the requirements to become a nurse practitioner vary from state to state, although they typically include the three qualifications we discuss above. Nurse practitioner groups are currently working to implement national criteria instead, however, and future NPs might be lucky enough to have clear-cut standards to meet. This would have the added benefit of making it easy for NPs to move around the country with a valid license without worrying about state-specific requirements.
Top skills needed to become a family nurse practitioner
Working as a family nurse practitioner is rewarding, but not necessarily easy. With such a wide range of potential health issues to treat and the sheer number of patients to be seen, FNPs often face busy schedules. Luckily, between formal education and experience acquired through work, there are a number of skills that can help FNPs excel even in high-pressure environments. Below are some of the most important skills needed to become a family nurse practitioner.
- Communication skills
The first skill that FNPs should master is communication. You must be able to speak clearly, concisely, and, perhaps most importantly, with empathy. Delivering the results of a lab test or a medical diagnosis can be tricky, especially when the health condition in question is a serious one. Family nurse practitioners must be able to interact with both their patients and their loved ones to clearly communicate the state of their health and what they can do to either make things better or, conversely, to keep things in good shape.
Note that the kind of communication skills FNPs need isn’t only speaking clearly or adopting a friendly bedside manner. In many communities around the country, they must also be adept at navigating language barriers as well. This can be tricky in any circumstance, but it is especially difficult when complex medical information is involved. The good news is that there are a variety of tools FNPs can use to successfully communicate with their patients, often including a dedicated interpreter.
Successful family nurse practitioners are also able to break complex medical terms down into everyday language. Remember that not everyone has a background in medicine. Sometimes your patients will have no understanding of the system at all, and it is up to you to ensure that they are able to make informed choices about their care.
Finally, remember that communication isn’t just about speaking. Effective FNPs are able to listen to their patients and address their concerns. This encourages patients to seek further medical care, and it is hard to overstate the value that building good relationships with patients can bring.
- Leadership abilities
Next up are leadership abilities. Earlier we saw how FNPs interact with not just patients but also their families and loved ones. As an FNP, you also need to interact with colleagues. All of this combined means that family nurse practitioners must be solid in their own ability and skill level. They must also be confident enough to speak up and stand their ground when they believe the wrong care choice is being made.
As a family nurse practitioner, you will likely be privy to difficult situations. Health diagnoses can be hard on everyone, and sometimes you might even find yourself dealing with a medical emergency. You must be able to make good decisions in these tough times. Additionally, effective FNPs also understand that trying to do it all themselves will likely lead to subpar care over time. Instead, they must be able to delegate. Know your staff and your responsibilities, and make smart choices about who can help you with what.
Nurses and nurse practitioners have always been part of a group environment. You work in teams, not solely independently, and you must be able to navigate these relationships without too much conflict, confusion, or loss of confidence. The ability to lead yourself and others effectively is invaluable to FNPs.
- Analytical skills
The third skill potential FNPs should master is their analytical ability. Family nurse practitioners are responsible for a lot of information. Remember just how many responsibilities they typically take on? It is critical that you be able to analyze information and adapt accordingly. This is true on a few different levels. First, not all patients are the same. You have to be able to analyze not only their charts and histories but also their reactions in the moment. If they are not responding well to your care style, you have to be able to switch things up and try to communicate in a way they understand.
As critical thinkers, FNPs must also be able to think on their feet. You won’t always have time to sit down and puzzle over things – often, decisions must be made in the exam room. If something doesn’t work for one patient, despite its working for many other patients, you have to be able to adapt and try something new. Your approach might work 95 out of 100 times, but effective FNPs are ready for the five times it doesn’t.
- Mastery of core competencies
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) works to identify core competencies nurse practitioners must master in order to do their jobs as well as possible. These have undergone revision over time but have largely remained the same. They include the following:
- Scientific foundations
- Practice inquiry
- Information and technology literacy
- Health delivery systems
- Independent practice
The goal here is to ensure that students (and, therefore, professionals) have the knowledge they need to safely and effectively practice. While we have already described a nurse practitioner above, NONPF defines them as a nurse that integrates, applies, and translates both evolving and established scientific knowledge from a multitude of sources and uses them as the basis for their own ethical clinical judgment, diagnostic reasoning, and innovation.
If you want to become an effective FNP, you must understand the core competencies and excel at them. Be ready to integrate a foundation of knowledge, both historical and modern, into your practice and remain up to date with new and emerging standards and tools. In addition, understanding ethical standards and being able to make ethical judgments is critical. And while the requirements for FNPs vary from state to state, the same cannot be said of these core competencies. They are necessary anywhere you want to practice.
- The ability to function under pressure
This is a particularly-important skill. As an FNP, you must be able to answer difficult questions. They might not be pleasant, and your patients might not want to hear them, but you must be able to communicate the answers effectively regardless of how stressful the situation is. The ability to remain calm even in this kind of high-pressure situation is what separates good FNPs from excellent FNPs.
Part of being able to remain calm in such cases is acquiring the ability not to take things personally. People who are frustrated and are experiencing stress are prone to lash out. They might say something hurtful or react strongly to their provider, but FNPs understand that this is rarely a response to the practitioner. Instead, it is a response to the situation. As a skilled provider, you must be able to answer their stress with precision and calmness. You might even consider learning more about de-escalation techniques, too, as they can prove invaluable in these circumstances.
Benefits of becoming a family nurse practitioner
There are a few reasons becoming a family nurse practitioner is such a popular choice for NPs. From the compensation to the valuable interactions with patients, here are a few of the reasons FNPs are generally happy with their choice to serve as primary care providers.
- Generous salary
Once you have the professional and educational experience you need to succeed, money will follow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for nurse practitioners is around $120,000 per year, and this can rise sharply for NPs with specialized skills and expertise. The field is growing quickly, too, with BLS noting that it is expanding at 40%, which is much faster than most other fields.
Another reason FNPs are so happy with their careers is their independence. While they interact with physicians in certain situations and may need to defer patients to them on occasion, family nurse practitioners generally serve as a liaison between patients and primary care physicians. This makes them the central point of contact surrounding their health needs. In some states, FNPs can even open their own practices. Do note, however, that you will be responsible for taking the necessary safety and legal precautions if you choose to do so. Check with your state for more detailed information about how FNP practices are handled.
One of the main reasons people become dissatisfied with their career is boredom. When you do the same thing day in and day out, the monotony can begin to wear away at your contentment with the work. This, in turn, can lead to poor focus and a lower quality of work, which only serves to cause further dissatisfaction. The good news is that FNPs don’t have this problem.
Family nurse practitioners have a lot of variety in their days. Because their scope of practice is expanded when compared with registered nurses, they stand to interact with patients with very different issues from each other. One patient might need help with a cold, for example, while another could need help with a chronic illness. From babies to the elderly and everything in between, FNPs typically have rather exciting days with all manner of patients and ailments to address.
Are you interested in learning more about family nurse practitioners and what your day would look like working as one? The first step is to find the best educational program you can find. Keep our information about FNPs in mind as you look. You’ll be ready to start work in no time.