Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are in high demand, particularly in underserved rural areas, as they are critical to lessening healthcare shortages. Employment options are rapidly changing with more telehealth appointments, virtual visits, phone calls and patient portal communications. Luckily, many employers offer tuition reimbursement to employees pursuing healthcare higher education, and some government programs offer loan repayment programs.
Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurses who choose to become FNPs truly care about helping others. They want to make a difference in healthcare, stretch their abilities and have more autonomy, independence and leadership.
Practice and prescriptive authority for FNPs varies by state. Practice authority is the FNPs ability to practice without physician oversight, whereas prescriptive authority is the ability to prescribe medicine. Typically, nurse practitioners (NPs) can evaluate, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests and initiate and manage treatments, including prescribe medications, some with controlled substances.
But unlike physicians, NPs are required by some states to enter into a business contract with physicians, called collaborative agreements. This can be a temporary (up to five years) or permanent restriction. NP practice autonomy is evolving as more states move toward full practice authority.
Improve Care Access
The United States is facing a major healthcare provider shortage, particularly outside of metropolitan areas. Contributing factors to this lack of access to primary care are numerous, including: uneven distribution of providers throughout the country; lack of evening, night or weekend hours for working adults; a retiring healthcare workforce; and problems with the system such as inflexible care modules and payer issues. FNPs are vital to improving access to healthcare and its delivery too.
FNPs are often clinical leaders who advocate for their clients and profession by improving patient education, care delivery and policymaking. They are essential to promoting patient-centric, evidence-based healthcare. Many experienced NPs serve on advanced practice provider councils, making system-wide changes to better patient care. They may be involved in onboarding new NPs and providing continuing education.
Is It Worth the Money?
The cost of FNP education is twofold, requiring hard work and monetary investment. Because many nurses often work while pursuing their NP degree, many schools offer flexible options. Students in online programs can tailor the duration and pace to their schedule, with full-time study taking as few as 20 months and part-time study taking between two and four years.
Katie Bukolt, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, AOCNP speaks to the value of becoming an advanced practice provider, especially for nurses already taking on some of those responsibilities.
“After about seven years as a nurse, I was continually landing in positions where I was performing the APP (advanced practice provider) role anyway. I was either running or charging the labor room or organizing shared governance. I decided the role I was playing at the bedside was an APP and I should get credit and pay that matched that,” she said.
Some employers offer tuition reimbursement plans for healthcare professionals. Positions with the federal, state, local or tribal government or not-for-profit organizations often qualify as public service jobs, meeting the eligibility requirements for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Many federal and state initiatives offer loan repayment programs for practice in certain geographical areas or with certain patient populations. For example, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) offers loan repayment programs for those working to combat the opioid epidemic in rural areas.
The average NP salary varies drastically by employer, role, experience and state. California offers some of the highest salaries, with the state average at $109,082 annually. The national average salary for an FNP is $105,898 annually.
Public health service positions often pay FNPs more and accept new NP graduates. Plus, these jobs may qualify for loan forgiveness.
What Preparation Is Needed?
Both coursework and clinical/fieldwork is required to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Family Nurse Practitioner degree. However, a master’s in nursing expands your professional knowledge and skills to a higher level.
Coursework often includes advanced courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology and health assessment with integration of evidence-based practice and emphasis on nursing research. Each course and clinical will prepare you for diagnosing and treating conditions, but you will also be prepared for either of the two FNP exams: the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners exam or the American Nurses Credentialing Center exam.
Katie Bukolt, Interview (July 2020)