Family nurse practitioners: What they do and why you should care

Health care can seem confusing and scary, especially when you’re having problems with the people in your family and not sure where to go for help.

A family nurse practitioner can provide assistance, or at least point you in the right direction, by providing health care services. These services may range from diagnosing an illness to helping with your child’s asthma treatment or ensuring your immunizations are up to date.

If you want to know what it’s like to work with a family nurse practitioner, here’s some information about this type of healthcare provider and what makes them great.

An overview of a family nurse practitioner

As a result of the ever-growing demand for healthcare professionals, the nursing role has gained autonomy in recent years. With that, nursing roles have expanded to include more clinical responsibility and may also include supervising care provision provided by other nurses.

One such type of nurse is a family nurse practitioner (FNP). These nurses learn how to provide medical care in the home and other community settings, including schools and workplaces.

FNPs can diagnose diseases, order tests and x-rays, prescribe medications, provide treatment plans, teach people about wellness habits and make referrals when necessary.

If you aspire to become a family nurse practitioner, you will need to complete an undergraduate degree in nursing before continuing to earn either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from an accredited school.

For example, Spring Arbor University offers a BSN to MSN-FNP Program. Students study the theory and skills needed to become nurse practitioners here, preparing them to treat patients of all ages through a learning experience centered on hands-on practice.

The program enables students to build strong mindsets, gain advanced nursing competencies, understand population-specific care and grow a spirit of service as they earn their degrees.

What does a family nurse practitioner do?

A family nurse practitioner can fill an essential role in any healthcare team. As you might expect, not all nurse practitioners perform the same work nor do they all serve the same functions within their teams. Here are the most common roles for an FNP:

Recording and maintaining patients’ medical histories

The first responsibility of the family nurse practitioner is to maintain accurate medical histories for all patients. This includes recording all information about their health, such as past illnesses, medications and reactions, vaccinations and hospital visits.

FNPs also need to document any lab work or diagnostic tests done in the office or at a different facility, such as blood work or X-rays. They must know what prescription drugs their patients are taking and if they are using any over-the-counter medications.

The FNP should note if there has been a change in the patient’s condition since their last visit. By recording and maintaining patients’ medical histories, the FNP can find patterns in their illnesses and make better decisions regarding how to treat them.

Performing routine physical examinations

Family nurse practitioners examine patients, from infants to the elderly, to assess their health and provide diagnoses. They may do so by taking a patient’s medical history and performing routine physical examinations.

These examinations often include assessments such as taking vital signs and checking for skin infections or rashes. Family nurse practitioners may perform tests that detect conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes during these procedures.

They also teach people how to care for themselves and identify issues before they become serious problems. The family nurse practitioner may also order imaging tests or refer patients to other medical care specialists for treatment.

They may also help with follow-up care, teach patients how to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and administer vaccinations.

Ordering diagnostic tests and evaluating their results

Diagnostic tests are an essential part of the assessment process. These tests help identify, diagnose and manage a patient’s health conditions.

Some standard diagnostic test types include blood, urine, stool analysis, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cultures for infectious diseases. A family nurse practitioner can order diagnostic tests and evaluate their results.

For example, an FNP might need a CBC count and differential to assess if the cause of a fever is due to infection. They might order laboratory tests to rule out other possible diagnoses if it is.

These tests provide information on whether there may be abnormalities in specific organ functions or structures.

Making referrals to physicians or other departments

Nurse practitioners can see patients for various ailments and educate patients about their health conditions. They can also provide health promotion services such as immunizations and screenings.

FNPs often need to refer patients to other medical professionals when a situation is more complex. For instance, if you have chronic back pain but don’t know why or what is causing the problem.

You would make an appointment with your family nurse practitioner to see if they could diagnose the cause of your pain. The family nurse practitioner would talk to you about your medical history and perform a physical exam.

If the FNP finds something wrong, they will refer you to another specialist for treatment, such as an orthopedic surgeon or neurologist.

Performing or assisting in minor invasive procedures

A family nurse practitioner is often the first point-of-care provider for patients in their homes, as they visit them to provide necessary healthcare. Sometimes, patients need assistance with more invasive procedures, such as injections and suturing.

These tasks are usually performed by a physician or another medical staff member but may be overseen by a qualified family nurse practitioner if needed. The role of the FNP is not limited to assisting during these times, though.

These professionals also have an essential role in planning and coordination before surgical procedures. They will work closely with surgeons and other healthcare professionals involved in the patient’s care, ensuring that all the proper steps have been taken beforehand.

For example, they’ll make sure that any laboratory tests have normal results, prescribe antibiotics before surgery where appropriate, and inform the hospital ahead of time so it can prepare to accommodate the patient on arrival.

Provide education to patients

To provide efficient, quality patient care, the FNP will educate their patients on the goals of their treatment plans. In addition to educating patients, they are also responsible for teaching them how to self-manage chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

FNPs may advise patients on diet changes or possible weight loss that can help manage chronic illnesses. They also educate them on what types of physical activity would benefit their overall health.

This information is vital in helping individuals understand their condition and know how to best care for themselves. FNPs must provide this type of education with empathy and understanding in order to avoid overwhelming the patient with too much information.

Skills for family nurse practitioners

To provide the best possible care, FNPs must have exceptional skills that only experience can provide. Some of these skills include:

The ability to communicate effectively

It’s crucial that an FNP is able to communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals about their needs and concerns and educate them on how to maintain their health.

Communication is a critical skill, especially when working in a large group practice setting or as part of a team of providers.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s helpful for nurses to understand cultural norms and to be sensitive when interacting with families from varying backgrounds.

The ability to think critically and solve problems

Critical thinking and problem-solving are at the core of all nursing practice. Nurses who think critically and solve problems care for their patients more effectively and adapt when things don’t go as planned.

Nurses must develop solutions on the fly, even if those solutions might not be ideal. They must know how best to use their resources to get the most out of them.

Analytical skills

To be an effective FNP, you must have excellent analytical skills to evaluate a patient’s current condition and ensure that the course of treatment is appropriate.

It is helpful if you also have good judgment in recognizing potential problems, assessing their seriousness and managing crises.


Being empathetic and compassionate is key for a successful family NP. You should be able to listen to your patient’s needs and strive to make them feel better about themselves.

The importance of listening cannot be overstated, as it is the crucial way in which you will learn about the patient’s condition and how best to care for them.

Final thoughts

The role of the family nurse practitioner is an evolving one. Nurses continually look for ways to improve the quality of care and outcomes for patients and families. As a result, the roles of family nurse practitioners are constantly changing to meet these needs.

In some cases, FNPs may serve as primary healthcare providers, while others may work with other healthcare providers, such as physicians or social workers.

Regardless of their specific role, family nurse practitioners provide unique benefits that set them apart from other healthcare professionals.

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