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How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) is a registered nurse who works collaboratively with primary care physicians and other health care providers to offer health assessments, direct patient care and health care guidance. They may hold a position that involves diagnosing patients and determining treatment plans, requiring them to be familiar with a wide variety of medical conditions. They are members of the professional category of nurse practitioners that includes nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists.

In addition to providing treatment and care, family nurse practitioners educate patients and their families on a wide range of topics that span medical issues at every stage of life, from child birth and child care to geriatric issues associated with aging. Education is a key tool in the family nurse practitioner's battle against preventable health care problems.

Before becoming licensed, family nurse practitioners must attain a high level of education and expertise. Nurse practitioner candidates must first complete the educational and clinical requirements for registered nursing. This begins with an associate, bachelor's or master's of science in nursing. Graduates of nursing programs must then become registered by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

The next step in the FNP education process is completion of a graduate-level nurse practitioner program (either master's or doctoral). This program must include at least 500 clinical hours and be approved by one of the two main accrediting bodies: the CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education) or the NLNAC (National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission). Program graduates must then pass a certification exam administered via computer by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to attain FNP-BC certification (Family Nurse Practitioner - Board Certified). Certification renewal is required every five years.

Another certification, the NP-C (Nurse Practitioner - Certified), is offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Requirements for this certification include a master's degree or higher from an approved nurse practitioner program and completion of a computer-base examination. This certification also must be renewed every five years.

Family nurse practitioners work with patients of all ages and entire families in doctors' offices, health clinics, nursing homes, ambulatory care centers and hospitals. They often provide care for under-served multi-cultural populations. They work closely with doctors and may assume many of a doctor's responsibilities and duties, including the ability to order tests and to write prescriptions in some states. They may also administer injections and perform minor surgical procedures, such as placing stitches. At the same time, they must offer the patient and their families the high level of support and care that fundamental to the nursing profession.

In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, family nurse practitioners work to advance health care awareness, promote healthy lifestyles, prevent disease and provide support for the management of chronic and acute illnesses. They use their clinical expertise to implement holistic approaches for family health care, using advanced medical knowledge and clinical skills to prevent, assess, treat and manage common illnesses. Many family nurse practitioners serve as agents of change in the field of primary health care for families. They are also members of collaborative teams that determine best practices and discuss the results and outcomes of treatments.

Certified family nurse practitioners are playing an increasing important role in the health care system, especially with the growing need to serve more people at a lower cost. Registered nurses who have ambitions to further their career and provide a high level of care to all age groups will find myriad important roles and rewarding challenges available as family nurse practitioners.

Source: Nursing@Georgetown, family nurse practitioner programs

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