Family Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice

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Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are advanced practice nurses who specialize in family care. They treat patients of all ages and provide a wide variety of health care services that include primary care and treating illnesses and injuries. FNPs are known for having one of the broadest scopes of practice in the medical community, making them a go-to resource for those looking for a family doctor.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that more than 325,000 licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) are working today. Of those, FNPs make up close to 70% of all specialties, easily making them the most common of the NPs. The family nurse practitioner scope of practice, combined with the ability to treat a wide range of patients, makes being an FNP one of the most vital and valued professions in the health care industry. An advanced education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, can help nursing students hone the skills and experience to provide optimal care for a wide variety of patients as FNPs.

What Are Family Nurse Practitioners, and What Do They Do?

FNPs provide comprehensive family care: They treat infants, children, adolescents, and adults. As primary caregivers, they can perform physical examinations, order diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, prescribe medications and nonpharmaceutical treatments, treat chronic and acute illnesses, develop treatment plans, and educate family and community members.

In addition to providing a wide variety of health care services, FNPs can be found in many different health care settings. Most FNPs work in hospitals, but they also practice in community health centers, schools, universities, private practices, outpatient clinics, retail clinics, public health departments, homeless clinics, nurse-managed clinics, nursing homes, and hospice care facilities.

What Is the Family Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice?

Considering that FNPs work with patients of all ages in many settings, the family nurse practitioner’s scope of practice is one of the broadest in the medical field. Their patient base is much larger and far more diverse than those of other NP specialties such as adult-gerontology nurse practitioner and pediatric nurse practitioner. Most other NPs either work with a certain type of patient or address a specific medical need or area of the body, such as cardiology nurse practitioner or oncology nurse practitioner.

What further distinguishes FNPs from others in the medical field is how their scope of practice varies by state. The state practice for FNPs is divided into three categories: full practice, reduced practice, and restricted practice.

  • Full practice. In full-practice states, NPs have full authority to evaluate patients; issue diagnoses; order diagnostic tests and offer interpretation; provide treatment plans; and perhaps most important, prescribe medication. The U.S. has 24 full-practice states including the District of Columbia.
  • Reduced practice. In reduced-practice states, state practice and licensure laws restrict one or more elements of an NP’s authority. NPs can diagnose and treat patients just as they normally would, but they need physician oversight to prescribe medication. The U.S. has 16 reduced-practice states.
  • Restricted practice. In restricted-practice states, NPs can’t prescribe medication, diagnose patients, or treat patients without physician oversight. The U.S. has 11 restricted-practice states.

Family nurse practitioner smiling and talking with an adult and child.

How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

For those wondering how to become an FNP, the answer lies in higher education. Since every FNP starts off as a registered nurse, the first step is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) , obtain licensure from the state, and accumulate at least one year of on-the-job experience as a registered nurse.

The next step is to complete an MSN program; however, for those who wish to pursue the FNP role, the MSN-FNP program is the ideal degree type. Other examples of master’s-level NP programs are MSN-Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (MSN-PMHNP) and MSN-Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (MSN-AGACNP).

Once the MSN-FNP program has been successfully completed, the final step is to pass the FNP board certification examination, which the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offer. The examination tests all the knowledge and skills an FNP should possess to be effective. It comprises two parts and 300 questions; 30 of which are pretest questions. Since the test is standardized, it remains consistent, even in states where the family nurse practitioner’s scope of practice is reduced or restricted.

Take the First Step Toward Becoming an FNP Today

FNPs are among the most valuable members of the health care industry. Their ability to treat patients of any age, combined with the wide array of medical services they provide, makes the FNP scope of practice one of the broadest of any health care provider. FNPs also do quite well from a salary perspective. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that NPs earned a median annual salary of $111,680 in 2020. These roles are projected to grow by 52% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the national average.

The generous compensation, job stability, and ability to make a wide-reaching positive impact with families make becoming an FNP one of the most solid career choices available. Those interested in pursuing the FNP path should explore Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online MSN program. It features a curriculum that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has approved, ensuring students gain the skills and knowledge they need to deliver high-quality family care.

Explore Hawai‘i Pacific University's program today, so you can begin your journey to becoming an FNP.

Recommended Reading:

How to Get Your Hawai‘i Nurse License

How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Major Role in Addressing the Growing Physician Shortage in the U.S.

What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing?


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?"

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Scope of Practice for Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

American Nurses Association, Scope of Practice

Indeed, What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner? Definition, Salary, Sub-Specialties and Career Guide

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners