FNP Degree Programs by Program Level

Apr 23, 2020

Essential Information

Family nurse practitioners are registered nurses who are trained to provide comprehensive care to people of all ages. In order to become a family nurse practitioner, or FNP, students must complete a graduate degree program at either the master's or doctoral degree level. Post-graduate certificates are available for nurses who already are nurse practitioners.

Doctoral programs call for more practicum hours and often require a full-time commitment, while master's-level students can often enroll on a part-time basis, with all programs requiring clinicals in order to graduate.

Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner

Colleges offering master's degree programs for family nurse practitioners are sparse but growing across the country. Those colleges that do offer a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a concentration for family nurse practitioners (MSN-FNP) aim to educate their students to work with under-served populations, often as the primary healthcare provider. Some degree programs are designed to be second master's degree programs, but nearly all require that students be registered nurses with several years in professional practice.

Colleges vary on the specific degree prerequisites for admission; some require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and others allow for any bachelor's degree so long as the student is a current registered nurse with one or two years of professional practice. In addition, these programs require applicants to have satisfactory standardized test scores, a writing sample, a personal interview and letters of recommendation for admittance.

FNP programs can be completed in two years on a full-time basis or three years on a part-time basis. Most programs, regardless of full- or part-time status, also include summer semesters. Common coursework in the program includes:

  • Human pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health assessment
  • Family health care management
  • Residency and practicum
  • Health care policy and management

Postgraduate Certificate for Family Nurse Practitioners

Postgraduate certificates for a family practice specialty are available for existing nurse practitioners who hold either an MSN or DNP degree. These programs hone the skills of general nurse practitioners, enabling them to work as first-line health providers for individuals and their families. Many programs focus on training nurses to educate their target populations in health management, nutrition and disease prevention and to adjust health care goals depending on the particular demographics of their patient populations.

Standard university or college admission requirements usually include an application, essay, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores and official transcripts showing prior college work. Additionally, most advanced nursing programs require candidates to schedule an interview, have a certain number of hours in professional practice and possess an active nursing license.

Many certificate programs consist of between 30 and 40 credit hours of coursework, and are designed to be completed in 1-2 years. Coursework builds on a student's prior professional experience and education, and students are expected to have an advanced level of understanding of primary patient care.

  • Psychiatric management
  • Family nursing
  • Pediatric management
  • Adult health assessment
  • Advanced clinical skills
  • Practicum and internship

Doctor of Nursing Practice: Family Nurse Practitioner

The degree of Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, with a specialty for family nurse practitioners differs from master's degree programs in its admission requirements, intensity of coursework and number of practicum hours required in order to graduate. DNP candidates develop advanced skills in diagnosing and interpreting patients' symptoms, promoting general health and wellness and managing patients and other health care providers in a clinical setting. Research is another area emphasized by many DNP programs.

The vast majority of colleges that offer DNP degrees in family practice require candidates to hold a BSN degree to be considered for admission. Some colleges require students hold a graduate certificate for nurse practitioners in order to apply. Other requirements include an essay or statement of professional interest, resume, research interests, standardized test scores, college transcripts and current immunizations.

Many DNP programs consist of between 70 and 80 credit hours, which can take 5-7 semesters to complete, including summers; students are often required to attend full-time. Many programs require students to complete 1,000 or more hours of supervised clinical practice. Course topics discussed may include:

  • Women's health issues
  • Pediatric practice
  • Advanced physiology and pharmacotherapeutics
  • Geriatrics
  • Rural health nursing
  • Research in clinical practice

Popular Career Options

With a postgraduate certificate in family practice, family nurse practitioners can work with a variety of health care providers. Some FNPs may also work within the criminal justice system or other social health organizations.

  • Acute and emergency care nurse
  • Diabetes or oncology clinic nurse
  • Rural health specialist
  • College clinic nurse
  • Alternative health care provider

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated that the nurse practitioner field would grow by 28% in the period between 2018 and 2028 to include nearly 189,100 nurses. This projected job growth is much faster than the average for all occupations. Depending on the applicant's experience, education and the region of the country, May 2019 government figures set the median national salary for nurse practitioners in all specialties at $109,820.

At all levels, family nurse practitioner programs combine coursework in topics such as nursing theory, primary healthcare concepts and management of illness with clinical practicums. These programs prepare you for a number of healthcare-related careers.

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