Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degrees for Family Nurse Practitioners

Health promotion and disease prevention for patients across the lifespan—it’s all in the wheelhouse of the family nurse practitioner.

From infants and adolescents to adults and seniors, the family NP is adept at providing complete, advanced primary care for the entire family. Their broad scope of practice means you’ll find them providing preventive care and treating patients with both chronic and acute illnesses in a variety of primary care settings.

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Often the heart of community health centers, private practices, schools, public health services, ambulatory clinics, and NP-run practices – family nurse practitioners are called upon to provide necessary and routine care, and are particularly valued as primary care providers in medically underserved parts of the country where physician shortages run rampant.

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But even in the most well-staffed primary care settings, many patients turn to the trusted family nurse practitioner, who has full authority to perform physical exams, order and perform diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications.

Because of the broad scope of their role, a snapshot of a family nurse practitioner’s day may include managing the prenatal care for a woman pregnant with her first child … completing a wellness visit for a rambunctious two-year-old … treating an adolescent’s sprained ankle from a bicycle fall … performing a physical exam and prescribing medication for a senior with complex and co-morbid health conditions … and counseling a patient on safe, effective ways to lose weight. It’s never the same day twice for family nurse practitioners, which is part of the allure of this NP role.

How to Get Here: Education and Certification Requirements for Family Nurse Practitioners

Family nurse practitioners must hold an APRN license as an FNP in the state in which they live, which requires, at a minimum, an MSN-FNP degree from an accredited college or university, an active and unencumbered RN license, and APRN certification through a nationally recognized board.

While the MSN remains the minimum educational requirement to earn licensure as an APRN, many aspiring and practicing FNPs also choose to earn the DNP, which often comes with greater professional opportunities and a larger paycheck. This highest practice-based nursing degree also tends to be the choice option for FNPs who recognize that a doctorate puts them on par with many of their doctorate-prepared peers within the interdisciplinary healthcare team, including physical therapists, pharmacists, audiologists, psychologists, and occupational therapists.

There are many DNP-FNP programs designed for both BSN- and MSN-prepared nurses, with BSN-DNP programs consisting of about 73 credits and three years of full-time study and MSN-DNP programs consisting of about 36 credits and two years of full-time study. MSN-DNP programs may be designed for both APRNs and non-APRNs alike.

Direct-entry DNP programs are another unique path to a career as an FNP. These programs, specifically designed for students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major, are designed to fast-track a career in nursing by combining the components of the MSN (after which you’ll earn your RN license) and the DNP into one, accelerated program. These programs consist of between 65-80 credits and take about four and a half years to complete.

The DNP-FNP includes courses and clinical experiences that are designed to meet the AACN’s 8 DNP Essentials and prepare the student for the chosen APRN certification.

Clinical experiences are an important part of this practice-focused degree, and you’ll complete about 500 hours of them, both as clinical immersions integrated into the programs’ coursework and as formal internships. All coursework and clinical experiences culminate in a final DNP project, which serves as a synthesis of your newly acquired competencies and is your opportunity to take what you’ve learned and apply it to a real-world project focused on meaningful change to healthcare outcomes.

Some of the courses specific to a DNP-FNP program include:

  • Advanced practice nursing in primary care adolescent and adult populations
  • Advanced practice nursing in primary care in older adult patients
  • Advanced practice nursing in perinatal care patients
  • Advanced practice nursing in pediatric primary care

Once you’ve graduated, you’ll be prepared to take one of the following certification examinations as Family Nurse Practitioner:

Most states recognize both of the above national certifications for APRN licensure; however, some states have a preference, so it’s important to check first with your state board of nursing.

Practice Autonomy and Prescriptive Authority: Where Do Family Nurse Practitioners Stand?

Family nurse practitioners in the U.S. hold the title of licensed, independent practitioner, whether they’re practicing autonomously or under the supervision of a licensed physician.

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In 28 states and Washington D.C.,, family nurse practitioners have full authority to treat patients, perform and order diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications independent of a licensed physician. In about half of the 28 states with full practice authority, nurse practitioners must complete a specific number of practice hours/years before they can earn full practice authority and/or prescriptive authority.

In the remaining states, practice autonomy tends to differ widely, although most require career-long physician oversight.

Earning Potential: Salary Expectations for Family Nurse Practitioners

According to a 2019 Medscape APRN Compensation Report, the average, gross salary for family nurse practitioners was $107,000, just slightly below the $108,000 average for the broader nurse practitioner title. NPs with a doctorate degree earned more than their MSN peers—$114,000 vs. $107,000.

FNPs earned more than pediatric primary care NPs ($101,000) and women’s health NPs ($98,000), but slightly less than adult gerontology primary care NPs ($111,000) during this time.

About 5% of all NPs owned their own practices during this time. Those that did earned about 9% more than non-owners. NPs that held DNP degrees earned about $7,000 more annually than their MSN-prepared counterparts.