If you are currently working as a nurse and want to further your career and education, then you may want to investigate becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP). FNPs enjoy a higher level of autonomy and career advancement than registered nurses. They are given more responsibility and tend to be in leadership roles such as mentors and administrators. There are many areas in which family nurse practitioners can work, such as in private practice, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Nurse practitioners provide primary and acute care to different patients. They assess, diagnose and treat illnesses as well as provide education to their communities and their teams.
Roles of FNPs
Primary care providers
With the shortage of doctors and nurses in the United States, more people are choosing to visit nurse practitioners for their primary care. These dedicated individuals are highly educated and able to provide primary, acute, specialty and chronic care to a wide range of patients. Family nurse practitioners are trained at the doctoral or master’s level to diagnose and treat conditions while emphasizing disease prevention and management of symptoms. There is a push to use FNPs to their maximum potential as they have a high degree of knowledge and personal touch that makes them a unique member of the medical team. These individuals are critical in filling the void left by the shortage of doctors and rising healthcare costs.
Primary care and scope of practice
Family nurse practitioners treat patients in need of acute care with chronic diseases. They also promote good health habits and prevention of disease. In a primary care setting, FNPs can work in clinics and hospitals, as well as open their own practices. Nurse practitioners have enough credentials to be able to see and treat patients without a physician’s supervision as well as diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication.
The role of the nurse practitioner in primary includes:
- Assessing patients
- All areas of diagnostic and laboratory testing
- Creating a treatment plan and managing it
- Collaborating with other medical professionals to coordinate care
- Providing counseling and suggesting resources
- Educating patients, their families and their communities
The role of nurse practitioner is a highly respected one that requires much planning, education and responsibility. For those who are wondering “is becoming a family nurse practitioner worth it?”, the answer is most definitely yes. When you become a primary care nurse practitioner, you are autonomous and can provide the kind of care you can be proud of. Earning your degree with an accredited online school such as Marymount University allows working nurses the flexibility of furthering their education while still working. The curriculum also provides a solid foundation to move up in your career and increase your personal satisfaction and earning potential.
Once you have some experience and knowledge in working as a family nurse practitioner, it is then time to impart your wisdom to the next generation of nurses. There are different levels of expertise that are described in Benner’s Nursing Theory “From Novice to Expert.” Most nurses are familiar with this theory, and it guides them in their journey through the various levels of experience. When you first start out as a novice, you may be paired with a mentor to help ease your transition from registered nurse to autonomous nurse practitioner. As you move through the steps, you will find yourself in a position to mentor others.
Benner’s nursing theory describes the five levels of experience:
- Novice – A novice nurse practitioner has some practical experience from clinical placements done while working toward their degree, but they are new to their role within their organization.
- Advanced beginner – This FNP has developed some experience on the job and is feeling more comfortable within the role but may still require regular help and guidance from a mentor.
- Competent nurse – This phase comes with at least two years of experience in the role of FNP, and the competent nurse may start to mentor junior nurses.
- Proficient nurse – This nurse has a deeper understanding of the nursing position and can make decisions with ease and confidence.
- Expert nurse – FNPs who have reached this level are often promoted into leadership roles and act as mentors to all levels of nurses.
Three-phase theory of mentoring
A study titled “Mentoring Nurse Practitioners in a Hospital Setting” found that mentoring comes in three phases. Once these phases are completed, the mentor and mentee should experience growth personally and professionally. These phases aid in helping both become more knowledgeable and confident in their roles.
Phase I – Forming a relationship
This phase acts as an introduction where the two individuals involved get to know each other personally and professionally. The mentor and mentee define themselves as individuals and as valued members of a team. The mentor can define themselves as a member of a medical team and as an educator. As the relationship develops, each party will identify what they need from it.
Phase II – Developing the relationship
The second phase is developing the relationship. Mentor and mentee should spend a portion of time every day speaking, and the mentor should offer guidance and support. The mentee should be able to contact the mentor when they need a sounding board. This is the time when the mentor should be the most approachable and expect to receive a lot of questions from the mentee. The mentor needs to be non-judgmental, communicative and approachable. This will build trust between the two parties and will also help the mentee develop professionally and personally so that they can also become an effective mentor.
Phase III – Mentoring outcomes
This phase involves the shift from novice mentee to an expert in the field and the ability to practice autonomously with confidence. This phase should be a cause for celebration as it is a graduation of sorts for the nurse practitioner. This phase could also involve the mentee taking on a mentorship role themselves.
An essential part of providing primary care is educating patients and their families. As FNPs are responsible for a holistic approach to patient care, they can educate patients on health and wellness from an early age. This allows the FNP to teach patients about developing healthy habits early on. In some cases, there may be a family history of a certain disease, and a family nurse practitioner is in a unique position to treat and educate different generations on these diseases.
When FNPs provide care for patients, it usually involves treating patients of all ages and medical histories. The focus on disease prevention and education on health and wellness are among just some of the practices.
Other ways FNPs practice primary care is:
- Assessing patients by performing physical exams
- Treating illnesses, conditions and injuries
- Diagnosing and prescribing appropriate medications
- Managing the records of patients
- Ordering, conducting, investigating and interpreting diagnostic and clinical tests
- Educating patients, families and communities on health issues that are relevant to them
- Providing counseling for patients and offering guidance and resources
The term holistic nursing means that family nurse practitioners practice a comprehensive form of healthcare that includes internal and external influences of mind, body, spirituality, emotions, relationships and environment. The holistic approach allows the FNP to take all factors into consideration when educating their patients on health and wellness. Social determinants are a big part of the holistic approach and include:
- Education and job opportunities, living wages, healthy foods and the availability of other resources needed daily
- Social attitudes, discrimination and social norms
- Exposure to violence and crime
- Exposure to social disorder
- Family support and social interactions
- Exposure to the internet, cell phones or other technologies
- Socioeconomic conditions
- School districts and quality of education
- Public safety
The holistic care given by FNPs work in tandem with patient education. Both are entrenched in collaboration, compassion and attention. When this kind of care is implemented in a hands-on way, it fosters trust and emotional well-being on behalf of the patient. Instead of the old model of seeing as many patients as you can in one hour, FNPs have shifted to a more personal patient experience built on client satisfaction. Their education and experience give them a unique perspective on patient care, and their collaborative approach puts a much-needed emphasis on patient education. The quantity of patients is not their focus; rather, it is the quality of care. FNPs take their time at each appointment and ensure that patients are educated in areas that promote good health.
Patient education includes:
- Preventing disease and promoting wellness
- The process of the disease
- How to monitor symptoms
- Treatments for use at home
- Immunizations and vaccines
- Monitoring growth of children
- The importance of vitamins and medications
- The importance of examinations
Nurse practitioners are often engaged in nursing-specific research to benefit the profession and move it forward. Whether they are designing a research study or participating in one, FNPs are integral in advancing the profession.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners Network for Research (AANPNR) offers nurses a free platform to interact with other researchers and share resources. Collecting data is an important part of the research process, and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners offers members a way to collect data through surveys and offers points for participation.
Acting as an advocate for patients, communities, the profession of nursing and for changes in policy is at the cornerstone of the nursing profession.
Advocate for patients
The healthcare system is complicated, and oftentimes patients are overwhelmed and concerned with how to get the information that is essential to their well-being. Patient advocacy is viewed as one of the most important areas of nursing, but there can be a question as to how it should be performed. Recent articles suggest that there are several factors that affect the effectiveness of advocacy within the healthcare system. Nurses can advocate for their patients directly in the following ways:
- Advocate to protect their patients from harm
- Communicate on behalf of a patient’s preferences
- Encourage a collaborative relationship with patients
- Provide essential information to inform decision-making
- Support the voice of the patient regarding choices and care
Advocate for policy change
It can be intimidating to take on policy advocacy if you are unsure of how to get involved and who to contact. Some nurses think they may not be able to bring about change in policy, but their opinion is highly valued. The American Nurses Association (ANA) maintains that nurses make up the largest group of health professionals at 4.2 million strong. That is a large group of people with the potential to influence government change.
The ANA offers tools to help with advocacy in the form of books and articles that can help a nurse who is looking to affect change in a meaningful way. These publications offer examples of nurses who have effectively advocated for change. Some of the steps they took include:
- Learning about the legislative process
- Participating in legislative action alerts
- Participating in coalitions
- Contacting elected officials
- Providing expert opinions to help make policy decisions
Advocate for communities
FNPs advocate for patients and families in their community by using their expertise and valuable knowledge to persuade the policy makers in socioeconomic matters. They also effect change when it comes to education and healthcare needs for a particular area of the community. If a need is obvious, such as the lack of a family planning clinic, an FNP can advocate for one to be opened in an area where it is most needed. Other examples of ways NPs can advocate for communities include:
- Relating personal experiences to community leaders and other officials regarding healthcare costs
- Providing information and education to members of the community on resources and programs
- Advocating for improvements in healthcare access within the school system
- Providing expert advice on how to expand the community’s healthcare infrastructure in public forums and with community leaders
Advocate for nursing profession
Nurses can advocate for their profession formally and informally to effect change. By acting as a large group with the same goal, they can work towards better working environments, more career advancements and improvements in nursing in general. Other examples of how nurses can advocate for the profession include:
- Detailing the positive impact that nursing has on the outcomes of patient health and describing the strengths of the profession
- Providing an explanation of the role of nursing and the independent responsibilities involved in being a nurse
- Providing support to nurse educators and stressing their importance
- Furthering their education with advanced degrees and training that provide them with valuable knowledge
Advocate for themselves
Nurses should also learn how to advocate for themselves. They can do this through their associations, workplaces and communities. Other ways they can advocate for themselves include:
- Acquiring membership in key committees that discuss workplace practices
- Engaging in activities that help influence policy makers
- Participating in employee forums and townhall meetings
- Mentoring junior nurses and training them on advocacy techniques
- Collaborating with leaders in the nursing profession and helping make decisions that directly affect policy and the work environment
A family nurse practitioner can choose to focus on more of an administrative role after several years in the field and improve the profession on a higher level. While nurse practitioners are involved in patient care directly, nurse administrators focus on bigger-picture elements such as leadership, public health, improvements in healthcare quality, clinical programs and identifying needs and areas that can be improved upon.
When an FNP moves into an administration position, their unique perspective on the area of nursing and their experience in the field make them effective and valued leaders in the profession. These integral members of the healthcare system know the complexities of the nursing workplace and the challenges that nurses face every day.
Other skills that nursing administrators need to help advance the nursing profession include:
- Leadership and mentorship
- Supervising employees
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Attention to detail
- Exceptional communication skills
- Maintaining level-headedness and objectivity when delegating jobs
- Ability to make difficult decisions
- Ability to act as a mediator in difficult situations
Family nurse practitioners use their advanced experienced and education to provide a holistic level of care that is needed in today’s complex healthcare environment. From treating patients as a primary care nursing practitioner to effecting change from the seat of a board, these valued members of the medical community approach their professions with compassion, skill and expertise.
With the ever-growing need for affordable, professional healthcare in every sector, FNPs fill the need for competent care that includes preventative medicine and education. Nurse practitioners are positioned to care for generations of families in their local communities and learn their hereditary diseases. This is invaluable information when it comes to saving money for the healthcare system because FNPs can educate and work with families from the onset and help new generations avoid the costly illnesses that may have plagued older generations. Ultimately, the role of the nurse practitioner can save money, save lives and improve the health of generations of patients.