Many registered nurses who are eager to advance their careers consider becoming family nurse practitioners. Family nurse practitioners provide primary healthcare services across the population, from infants to the elderly, from all backgrounds. It is a position many nurses find rewarding as they operate with autonomy and work with the same patients over time, building up long-term relationships.
Additionally, as advanced practice nurses, family nurse practitioners earn a significantly higher salary than registered nurses. If this is a career path that appeals to you, it is worth considering the skills and qualifications you need to take on this valuable and rewarding role.
To become a family nurse practitioner, you will need some additional qualifications. Assuming you already have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and have worked as a registered nurse for at least two to three years, your next step is to earn either a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) through an accredited family nurse practitioner program.
After this, if you wish to become certified as a family nurse practitioner, you will need to pass the certification exam from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) receiving the FNP-BC or FNP-C certification.
If you are busy with your work as a registered nurse and perhaps also maintaining a family life, the thought of returning to study may seem daunting, especially if you will need to keep working while you study. If this is the case, do not think you have to put off your ambition until your family has grown or you have saved enough money to stop working for a while.
Instead, the answer could be a flexible online program that has been designed with the busy life of a working nurse in mind. One such course is the online RN to BSN Family Nurse Practitioner program at Spring Arbor. Highly ranked and CCNE accredited, it uses features such as a 7-1-7 schedule that gives a week off between courses and a Student Success Coach to provide support in gaining a good home, work, and study balance so you can earn your degree without sacrificing the quality of your work or family life.
Good communication skills are important for any nurse, but for a family nurse practitioner, they are particularly useful. You will need to be able to communicate effectively with people from all backgrounds and all ages. You might be talking to an elderly person, and the next patient might be a teenager. Being able to use the right communication techniques and listen just as effectively is vital for good patient care.
Although it’s not an essential skill, if you do have the ability to speak any additional languages, this is something you should certainly highlight on a resume or in an interview as not all patients speak English as their first language and may find communication easier in their native language.
Knowledge of the core competencies
A family nurse practitioner needs to be completely secure in the core competencies, with a firm understanding of clinical skills, a robust scientific foundation, and high ethical standards. Building up your core competencies is something you should do as a registered nurse so you have a thorough understanding before becoming a family nurse practitioner.
Many family nurse practitioners take on leadership roles within a clinical setting. As a family nurse practitioner, you may need to manage a team and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. You will need to be confident in delegating tasks while also completing your own duties to a high standard. If stress or conflict arises, you may need to diffuse a situation and find a resolution while making sure all of your team feels valued.
As a leader, you will also be responsible for identifying areas of improvement and implementing the changes needed to improve patient care, keeping all your team informed about what will change and the parts they need to play.
Organization and time management
On top of managing others, a family nurse practitioner will need to be able to effectively manage their own workload. The life of a family nurse practitioner is a busy one with a heavy workload. In addition to seeing patients, you will also manage staff and need to stay on top of paperwork and record keeping, making your own judgments about how much time to spend on each task. Poor organization and time management will lead to increased stress and mistakes and could eventually cause burnout, so honing your organizational skills before you start will help you stay on top of your work from day one.
As a registered nurse, flexibility should be a skill that you already possess. As a family nurse practitioner, as elsewhere in healthcare, flexibility is the key to flourishing in your role. Depending on the healthcare setting in which you work, you may have to be ready to take on different shifts, working at different times throughout the day and night.
You will also need to be prepared to adapt throughout the day. In healthcare, situations can change quickly. As a family nurse practitioner, you will need to be ready to adapt both on your own and on behalf of your team.
Flexibility will also be needed in the long term. Nursing is an area of continual development, with new treatments and practices regularly coming forward. As a family nurse practitioner, you will need to decide if, when and how new practices and treatments will be implemented for your team. Above all, you must always be willing to learn something new. These new developments are one of the factors that make nursing such an exciting career, and there will always be more to learn.
A family nurse practitioner should always be on the lookout for ways to improve patient care. This means being able to analyze scientific data to learn what works and what needs improvement. After analyzing data, a family nurse practitioner will need to apply it to their setting to decide what improvements are needed.
In addition to analyzing scientific data, as a front-line practitioner, a family nurse practitioner will need to be able to analyze situations as they happen to make the best decisions for their patients. Quick thinking is often essential, as is the ability to think outside the box because each situation will be different and call for different solutions.
Diagnostics is central to the work of a family nurse practitioner; it is quite literally what they do. There are many strands to good diagnostics practice. You will need to know past medical history and possible family history, and you will need to assess symptoms to determine whether a condition is acute or chronic. You will need to know whether to order diagnostics tests or whether the symptoms already give a clear indication of a condition. Having analyzed all factors, a family nurse practitioner must then consider a treatment plan and decide if the patient needs to be referred for specialized care.
There are times when a family nurse practitioner must act as a teacher. They will likely be working with less experienced nurses who will need guidance as they become more accustomed to their new role. They may also sometimes have student nurses working under them, taking on the great privilege of guiding the next generation. Providing this guidance will require being secure in your own knowledge and knowing how to effectively impart it to others. You will need to be encouraging and give praise when it is deserved. You will also need to be able to offer constructive feedback, helping the student or new nurse through any areas of weakness and finding ways for them to improve without denting their confidence.
Like other medical professionals, family nurse practitioners will need to teach their patients. They may need guidance in managing a condition such as diabetes, asthma, or epilepsy, or they could benefit from general health advice to improve their lifestyles, such as guidance on exercise or diet. Ultimately, you cannot force patients to make healthier decisions, but you can empower them with the knowledge of how to make the changes themselves.
Are you ready?
This may seem like a daunting list of skills that a family nurse practitioner needs. However, you should not be disheartened. As a registered nurse, you likely already possess many of these skills and are improving all the time. If there are areas in which you feel less proficient, look for ways to practice them, gaining confidence in your new abilities. You should also look carefully at the course content when studying for your MSN or DNP to make sure they will give you a comprehensive grounding in all the areas you need, enabling you to further hone your skills. A family nurse practitioner is a demanding position that will constantly challenge you, but it is also a very rewarding career where you can make a difference every day.