The role of family nurse practitioners in delivering primary care

The role of family nurse practitioners in delivering primary care


Primary healthcare services cover a range of preventions, examinations and treatments for common illnesses.Providers include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and these also co-ordinate patient care with specialists.

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have gained specialized graduate education and provide primary healthcare services to individuals and families with diverse backgrounds throughout their life. They have a focus on health promotion and education.

They practice in a variety of healthcare settings, including community health centers, private practice, universities and hospitals.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, FNPs make up the majority of nurse practitioners in the country and often their role is similar to that of a primary care physician. Their typical responsibilities can include:

  • Performing physical exams and health screenings
  • Developing and adjusting treatment plans for non-acute issues
  • Monitoring patient updates and maintainingrecords
  • Providing continuing education and support for patients

Often, FNPs are the liaison between patients and their primary physicians, meaning they are the central point of communication around the patient’s health needs. In some states, FNPS are able to operate their own practice and work independently, while others work under the supervision of a doctor. State practice and licensure laws affect the tasks they are legally able to do.


According to data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2021, the United States is expected to experience a shortfall of physicians over the next few years, including shortages in both primary and specialty care. In addition, there is an increasing demand for healthcare due to the aging population. Between 2019 and 2034, the US population is expected to grow by 10.6% from approximately 328 million to 363 million with an estimated increase of 42% of people over 65.

FNPs have always been in demand, but where there is a lack of family practice doctors, FNPs have begun to take on more primary care positions, especially in underserved communities. Their broad understanding of care across all ages means they have a wide understanding of the overall health of the communities in which they work, which is invaluable to healthcare providers.

How to become a family nurse practitioner

While it is possible to become an RN with an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) is required for admission to most NP graduate programs. Aspiring FNPs are required to complete either a master’s in nursing or a doctorate in nursing program prior to successfully acquiring state licensure. The requirements vary between states, so it is important to research what is required before embarking on any course or work experience.

An online post master’s FNP certificate program obtained through a reputable institution such as American International College (AIC) is one pathway to preparing nurses for practice in the field of primarycare. With 100% online coursework, the program is designed for working nurses, and explores topics such as nursing research, policy and politics of healthcare and advanced concepts of health assessment. It also includes coursework in research, assessment and advanced concepts of pathophysiology and pharmacology. It is designed to meet the educational requirements to become a licensed family nurse practitioner in Massachusetts and similar professional designations in other states.

AIC offers dedicated student support, and the enrolment advisors are available to answer candidates’ questions and guide them through the application process to help them advance their career within healthcare.

A typical working day

Despite the day-to-day challenges of being a FNP against the backdrop of the issues within the wider healthcare system, working as a family nurse practitioner is a rewarding career for the right person.

A typical day will differ depending on the FNP’s work setting; however,they could be diagnosing a variety of medical conditions for patients.They may arrive at a clinic without knowing what their patient’s caseload will be on any given day, but guide people through the process with kindness, knowledge and care.

They will be using a variety of tools to determine diagnoses, including blood work, imaging tests and cultures. They will work with each patient to create a treatment plan, whether it be a referral to a specialist, a new medicine or adjustment to existing medications, or guidance on modifications to someone’s lifestyle. FNPs are able to follow patients throughout their lifespan, which enables them to anticipate and address conditions across many years, as well as provide on going patient education.

At the end of a working day, an FNP might review messages in an electronic medical record inbox and return calls from patients, pharmacies or other health departments and professionals. They would also deal with documentation, patient charts, and communicate with other staff members to ensure that everyone on a particular patient’s team is receiving their assessments so the patient receives the care they require.

Useful skills

Family nurse practitioners need to develop both hard and soft skills in order to work efficiently, provide high-quality patient care, keep patients safe and stay up to date with changing clinical practices. In addition to keeping on top of the relevant skill set, they need to build trusting relationships, advocate for and empower patients and work effectively as part of a team.

Hard skills include clinical skills such asgiving injections, performing procedures and conducting physical exams, which require specific training.

Soft skills include interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and creating a calm environment. These can be learned through training but are not specific to being an FNP and can be gained through previous work experience. The hard and soft skills often intersect, such as when a procedure such as a biopsy is required and a nervous patient needs to be kept calm, informed and confident in what is about to happen.

It is also important to commit to lifelong learning, whether this is through studying for additional qualifications, attending training courses or being aware of new developments and trends that affect the wider population.

Final thoughts

While the road to becoming a family nurse practitioner can be a long one, the career is a rewarding one. With the increasing need for primary care providers, there has never been a better time to take the next step in your nursing career.