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Family Nurse Practitioner Career Guide

How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

Are you interested in a hands-on nursing career? Do you want to work with a diverse range of patients? Does health education appeal to you? If you answered yes, then becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) might be a career match for you.

A family nurse practitioner is just one of dozens of high-paying specialities that current or aspiring nurses can choose from. To help you better understand your options, this guide will explore what family nurse practitioners do, their responsibilities, and how you can become one.

nurse practitioner with a stethoscope and a clipboard

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Family nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses (APRNs) that are qualified to provide a wide range of healthcare services to individuals and families of all ages—from infants to the elderly. They’re trained to treat illness and injuries, as well as teach people about disease prevention and healthy lifestyle habits. Family nurse practitioners need an Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and nurse practitioner (NP) license in order to practice.

Family nurse practitioners differ from other types of nurse practitioners because of their more generalized role. Most nurse practitioners specialize in younger or older patients, mental health, or acute care. Family nurse practitioners have a more general specialization and are able to work with patients of all ages

What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

The role of a family nurse practitioners is similar to a primary care physician in that they have many important responsibilities in a healthcare setting, including:

  • Creating health plans and collaborating with teams
  • Diagnosing patients and communicating health information
  • Ordering and interpreting lab diagnostics and tests
  • Prioritizing preventative care and treating serious illness
  • Performing exams and checkups for various health problems
  • Prescribing medications and consulting with doctors
  • Assisting with minor procedures and overseeing care
  • Maintaining patient records and making referrals
  • Educating patients on health and wellness

How Do I Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

There are several education and certification steps you’ll need to take to become a family nurse practitioner.

#1 Become a registered nurse.

You can do this by attending a nursing diploma program, an associate degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program. This schooling will give you all the critical knowledge and skills you’ll need on the job. After finishing your education, you’ll need to accrue clinical hours and take the NCLEX-RN. If you pass the exam, you’ll be able to become licensed. 

If you’re currently an RN, you’ll need to earn a BSN to move toward the next step in becoming a family nurse practitioner. You can pursue an RN-to-BSN program that will allow you to use your experience and knowledge as a nurse to accelerate through your degree program, while also giving you valuable insight and knowledge you’ll need.  

#2 Enroll in a master's nursing program.

If you already have your BSN, you can move directly to your MSN program. WGU offers an MSN family nurse practitioner program that allows you to earn your degree as well as an FNP specialization that prepares you to sit for a certification exam. FNP programs are typically quite rigorous, and involve coursework in both advanced nursing topics and family medical care.

Whatever MSN program you choose, you’ll need to make sure it’s accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

#3 Complete clinicals.

Whether you earn your degree on-campus or online, all accredited FNP programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours.

#4 Pass the certification exam.

There are certification exams available from the American Nurses' Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. There are fees and an exam associated with either credentialing body. Passing your FNP certification exam and then obtaining your state-based license is the final step for becoming a nurse practitioner.

#5 Keep learning.

Because nurses work at the forefront of the medical field, it’s crucial to stay current on matters of healthcare—from the latest technology to newly published medical trials to breakthroughs in drugs and treatments. Participating in continuing education throughout your career makes this happen.

Best Degrees for a Family Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioner (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S. Nursing

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN...

This program for BSNs who have an active,...

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN license prepares you to become a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

  • Locations: This degree program is not available in the following states: California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Time: 2½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,250 plus $1,395 in fees, per six-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,575 per 6-month term.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,795 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

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family nurse practitioner checking up on a child

What Skills Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Need?

There are many characteristics and traits that can make a registered nurse a great family nurse practitioner. Some of those skills include:
  • Strong organization
  • Compassionate communication
  • Ethical decision-making
  • High capacity for empathy
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Ability to work with all ages
  • Calm demeanor under pressure
  • Skill with diagnostics and tests
  • Attention to detail

How Much Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Make?


The average salary for family nurse practitioners is about $114,000 per year, but can range between $106,000 and $124,000. This can vary based on several factors, including the location where you work, education, certifications, additional skills, and your experience level. There’s a higher salary expectation for family nurse practitioners because of the additional schooling and certification needed for this role.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45% from now until 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. The highest growth rates are in Arizona, Georgia, and Colorado.

Where Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Work?


Family nurse practitioners work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, community health centers, private practices, schools, and emergency rooms to treat patients with a range of illnesses and life-threatening conditions. 

Family Nurse Practitioner FAQs

Yes. In order to become a certified family nurse practitioner, you need to become a state-certified FNP by earning either your FNP Credential from the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Both organizations are widely recognized certifying boards and passing either exam makes you a certified FNP.

Yes. An associate or bachelor’s degree is required before other learning requirements, including passing the NCLEX-RN, earning a specialization, and getting an MSN.

Depending on the degree, time to certification, and advanced MSN completion, becoming an FNP can take two to five years. Many nurses work in the field before becoming a practitioner.

Nurse practitioners are among the fastest growing healthcare occupations. In fact, hundreds of thousands of NP roles are projected to open by 2029. This increase is largely due to the increased importance of preventive care and demand for health care services from an aging population.

In regards to salary, in general, APRNs earn higher salaries than RNs, and this is also true with family nurse practitioners. You can increase your salary by continuing your education and focusing on different specialties or work settings. 

Interested in Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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