Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are RNs who specialize in primary care and take a more active role in managing their patients' health. If you've ever visited clinic or urgent care facility with a nurse practitioner — for a physical exam or to treat a condition — you've no doubt experienced the comprehensive range of care these skilled medical professionals provide.
FNPs are not physicians, but they do have some of the same responsibilities as primary care doctors and often work alongside them. They must be ready to handle everything from health promotion and screening to managing illness and disease, but holistic health assessment is at the core of their practice.
If you've considered advancing your nursing skills by becoming a family nurse practitioner, the questions and answers that follow will provide all of the information you need to get started. The links below can also help you navigate the way to a new career.
What is a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Pracitioner Degree?
The MSN – FNP is a graduate degree specifically for RNs who wish to become a board-certified family nurse practitioner (FNP), an advanced practice registered nurse specializing in primary care and general medicine. It gives registered nurses the knowledge and clinical skills they need to move into the role of primary care provider, seeing and treating patients in family practice, internal medicine or health clinic settings. FNPs also work in public health departments and for nonprofit and government agencies.
Why Should RNs Consider Getting Their MSN – FNP?
While some advanced practice degrees lead away from the bedside, the MSN – FNP offers RNs the opportunity to have an ongoing relationship with patients and greater influence on their health. FNPs often come to the profession from careers in specialized care or nursing administration with the desire to expand their scope of expertise and diversify their medical practice.
FNPs work with patients across the lifespan in a sustained and collaborative care process that can include family members and caregivers as well. Helping patients improve or maintain their health is the ultimate goal, and one that can sometimes be best achieved through this form of primary care relationship.
Here are a few more reasons why getting the MSN – FNP is a great career move for RNs:
- The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that salaries for FNPs are steadily rising, with an 18 percent increase from 2015-2017.
- U.S. News & World Report ranks nurse practitioner at #3 in Best Healthcare Jobs and #4 in the Top 100 Jobs of 2018, with an unemployment rate of just 0.7 percent.
- National healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins reports that nurse practitioner recruitment is at an all-time high and accelerating. Demand for NPs has now eclipsed doctors of every medical specialty except family medicine and psychiatry.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for nurse practitioners will grow 36 percent by 2026, with 56,000 new job opportunities.
I felt like, as a nurse, I wasn't challenged anymore. I felt like there was something else out there that I wanted to do, but still stay in the medical field and I knew I didn't want to do administration or education. I'm very clinically minded, so I thought this [degree] would be a great fit for me.
2016 MSN – FNP online graduate and Maternal and Child Health Specialist with UTMB Health in Galveston, Texas
Is Previous Family Practice Nursing Experience Required to Become a FNP?
No. RNs practicing in all areas of medicine can become FNPs.
Student Spotlight: Ashley and Kayla Johnson
Twin RNs Ashley and Kayla Johnson are both enrolled in the University of Texas at Arlington online MSN – FNP program currently, and they hope to work together in women's services or forensic medicine after graduation. "We know that opening our own clinic is a part of our long term goals," Kayla says. "Just talking to different nurse practitioners and some of my friends who already have their FNP degrees really gets us excited for the future."
They are nurses in the labor and delivery unit at Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital at the moment -- Kayla on the day shift and Ashley on nights. As you might expect, things can get confusing when shift change rolls around. "The patients get a kick out of it," Kayla reports.
Ashley believes the advantages of studying online are significant for nurses and other working professionals who don't have a traditional 8-5 schedule. "I usually get work done on my off days at two or three in the morning, when I'm up and by myself," she says. "No one is distracting me."
She notes that being in school with her sister has advantages too. "It's easier for both of us because we study together, so it has made school easier." Kayla adds, "We keep each other on our toes."
Learn more about our MSN FNP online program!
What Will I Learn in an MSN – FNP Program Online?
MSN – FNP programs are designed to help RNs acquire the full range of diagnostic, clinical and research expertise required to manage healthcare for the broad scope of patients that primary care medicine encompasses. Most online programs consist of coursework and clinical experiences centered on three areas of learning:
- Evidence-based primary care (wellness and health management across the patient lifespan)
- Advanced practice (diagnosis, assessment, pharmacology, research, clinical management)
- Experiential learning (supervised clinical experience in the field)
MSN – FNP graduates are also prepared to achieve board certification in their profession.
What's Different About Earning the MSN – FNP Online?
The biggest difference you'll experience compared to an on-campus program is that you have more freedom to fit your degree to your needs. Since the bulk of your coursework is completed online, it's easy to do assigned readings, watch video lectures and complete projects on your schedule. Courses are also shorter so you can move through the degree requirements faster.
Online study is often the best way for nurses who work split shifts, overnight, or on-call to get a graduate degree because they can log into their courses 24/7. Clinicals can also be supervised and completed in your community for maximum convenience.
"There is absolutely no way I would have been able to go back to get my master's without an online, accelerated program. There's just no way. It wouldn't have happened. For me, the flexibility of being able to study whenever I needed to, after I put the kids to bed, and not having to worry about being in a classroom setting was one of the big reasons why I picked UTA."
2017 MSN – FNP graduate and Family Nurse Practitioner with Med Care Associates in San Antonio, Texas
What Types of Classes Can I Take Online?
In online MSN – FNP programs, you will study a range of subjects related to patient diagnosis, treatment and care. Graduate coursework covers common health management issues associated with age and gender, as well as acute, complex and chronic disease.
Online curricula in the UTA MSN – FNP program helps RNs advance their medical knowledge and health management skills through advanced study in:
- Adult and pediatric health assessment
- Diagnostic reasoning
- Evidence-based practice
UTA students also take courses covering specialized areas of medicine such as cardiology, infectious disease, immunology, renal and vascular disease, hematology, metabolism, neurology, ocular and respiratory disease, and psychiatric care.
How Do Clinicals Work in an Online Nurse Practitioner Program?
Because many online MSN – FNP students attend a nursing program in a different city or state, students often set up their own clinical learning experiences with the approval of their school. Many students find this to be a significant advantage, since they get to choose their location and a local preceptor to supervise.
Students should make and confirm arrangements for each clinical rotation several months prior to the designated start date. This ensures there is adequate time to submit all required paperwork, and for the school to review the preceptor's qualifications and approve the arrangement.
UTA's MSN – FNP online program requires a total of 720 clinical hours, which includes 360 clinical hours from the 13-week clinical practicum.
What Do I Need to Apply for MSN – FNP Programs?
MSN – FNP program admission requirements vary by school, but commonly include:
- A Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited program
- An active and unencumbered nursing license
- Several years of RN experience
- Transcripts from all previous schools attended
Some programs may also require:
- GRE scores
- A minimum GPA in undergraduate work
- Undergraduate statistics and/or research courses (usually with a grade of C or better)
- A statement of purpose or professional history
- Letters of recommendation
In addition to an active/unencumbered RN license, UTA's online MSN – FNP program requires at least two years of clinical experience, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and a BSN from an ACEN or CCNE-accredited program at a regionally accredited school. Applicants must also be legal residents of Texas, California, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, or New Mexico, though graduates can practice in any state. Keep in mind that the scope of practice varies by state. We cover this topic further down the page.
You can find additional application requirements, including specific information for international and probationary student admissions, on the UTA online program site.
Why Do RNs Have to Take the GRE?
The GRE is a common admission requirement for many MSN specialties. One reason nurse practitioner programs favor the GRE is because of what it actually measures. Reading comprehension, critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving are crucial to the work of family nurse practitioners. These skills are also import to graduate study, and the GRE essentially evaluates an applicant's preparedness in those areas.
GRE scores are only one factor in an admissions decision, however, and some schools waive the requirement altogether for certain applicants. UTA's MSN – FNP online program allows you to skip the GRE if your undergraduate GPA is 3.0 or better.
Why Is Accreditation So Important?
Nursing school accreditors include the Commission on College Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accrediting Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Their review process ensures that nursing programs are providing an appropriate professional education. The process also helps confirm that graduating nurse practitioners have the right qualifications for safe and ethical patient care, and that program curricula correlates with current licensing standards.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, some of the risks associated with earning a nursing degree from an unaccredited institution include lack of access to federal financial aid, course credits that may not transfer to other schools, and limited career options due to strong employer preference for degrees from accredited programs.
The U.S. Department of Education's searchable Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) offers a quick way to research the status of any nursing program in the United States.
Will My Diploma Show That I Got My Degree Online?
No. The wording of your diploma will reflect your MSN degree and specialization as a family nurse practitioner, not whether you earned it on or offline.
Learn more about our MSN FNP online program!
What Do FNPs Typically Earn?
February 2019 ZipRecruiter job posting data indicates the average FNP base salary is $103,838. Signing bonuses, profit sharing, relocation assistance, productivity pay and other incentives can also add to total FNP compensation, depending on the employer.
The biggest factor affecting your earning potential, however, may be the location where you practice. A quick look at the ZipRecruiter figures on average FNP salaries for different states demonstrates the amount of variance you might find across the nation.
Figures from Salary.com for January 2019 also reveal that FNPs in five cities are earning more than the majority of their counterparts across the nation. Base pay in San Jose, California (+24.5 percent), New York, New York (+23.5 percent), Boston, Massachusetts (+16.1 percent), Los Angeles, California (+15.4 percent) and Washington, D.C. (+13.5 percent) tends to be higher than average.
What Is the Career Outlook for FNPs?
The job market for nurse practitioners of all types is robust and growing. Here are a few facts that demonstrate why the career outlook for FNPs in particular is so strong.
- The U.S. Health & Human Resources Administration projects that demand for primary care services will easily outpace the number of available specialists in the field by 2020, creating a physician shortage of 20,400. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates this deficit could reach 49,300 by 2030. Both entities suggest that nurse practitioners providing primary care services could help significantly reduce this healthcare gap and alleviate the physician shortage.
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes that the booming market for retail healthcare clinics offers nurse practitioners great convenience and flexibility, the chance to practice true community-based care, and a strong career path to leadership. The New York Times reports that there are currently 12,000 retail clinics operating in America, and that patient demand for accessible and affordable care will continue to drive growth in this sector of healthcare.
- The Brookings Institute argues that the evolving scope of practice and prescribing authority for nurse practitioners is already changing the way primary care is delivered in many areas of the nation, lowering costs and expanding access to care. This means more FNPs are being recruited across the spectrum of primary care, and they are working with patients on a broader range of health issues.
These and other factors are creating unprecedented demand for nurse practitioners and giving FNPs more choices, better pay and a diverse range of clinical settings in which to work.
Can I Practice Anywhere in the U.S. Once I Earn My FNP Degree?
Yes, but the scope of practice allowed does vary state to state. National board certification is required to work anywhere in the U.S. or its territories, and according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, FNPs can practice independently in 23 states at present. However, many state legislatures still impose certain restrictions.
In some states FNPs have "full practice" authority with a level of independence comparable to physicians. In other states, FNPs can transition to independent practice after logging a specified number of licensed work hours. In states such as Texas and California, FNPs have "restricted practice," which means their work must be supervised by a physician or a healthcare team.
Laws governing nurse practitioner authority are changing rapidly however. The U.S. Veteran's Administration, which is the largest employer of nurses in America, granted full practice authority to all of the nurse practitioners across its system in 2016, and many states are moving that direction. The Scope of Practice Policy project is one resource helping FNPs monitor this progress.
Where Are FNPs in High Demand?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for all types of nurse practitioners is highest in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ohio. The BLS also indicates the following metropolitan areas employ the most NPs:
- New York-Jersey City-White Plains (New York-New Jersey)
- Boston-Cambridge-Newton (Massachusetts)
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale (California)
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (Georgia)
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land (Texas)
- Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (Maryland)
- Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (Arizona)
- Dallas-Plano-Irving (Texas)
- Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria (Virginia)
There is also a critical need for FNPs in rural and remote areas of the country, where the shortage of primary care physicians is even more acute than in cities. States with large numbers of residents getting their care from rural health clinics include New Mexico, Arkansas and Virginia.
FNPs are regularly recruited to practice in the Health Professional Shortage Designation areas outlined by the Health Resources and Services Administration, where they may work with underserved populations in settings such as community clinics, state mental hospitals or correctional facilities.
For me, in South Texas, I really want to empower my patients to take a more active approach in their healthcare, just to be able to realize the power is in their hands. Giving them back that power is my goal.
2017 MSN – FNP graduate and Family Nurse Practitioner with Med Care Associates in San Antonio, Texas
Are There Financial Incentives to Practice in Health Professional Shortage Designation Areas?
Yes. In fact, FNP is one of the key health occupations targeted by state primary care offices and federal recruitment programs to help fill the critical need for primary care providers across America. Incentives such as scholarships and loan repayment are available to eligible FNPs working with underserved populations in specific geographic areas.
Check out some of these resources to learn more about financial incentives for FNPs:
How Much Will It Cost to Get My MSN – FNP Degree Online?
The cost of any nursing degree depends on a number of variables, including the number of credit hours and clinical rotations required to graduate. Getting your MSN – FNP online can cost less than many on-campus programs, but the quality and reputation of your graduate program is also important to consider.
An online MSN – FNP degree can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $85,000, depending on your school and the length of your program. A survey of 30 popular online MSN – FNP programs reveals that costs per credit hour can range from $201 to $2065, but they average around $697. Some schools also charge fees per credit or semester, and textbooks or course packets can be an additional expense.
With a total tuition cost of $30,084, UTA's MSN – FNP online program is affordable as well as convenient. Students pay by the course as they move through the program, at a pace that fits their budget and schedule.
What Types of Financial Aid Are Available?
Students in accredited online MSN – FNP programs have access to the same state and federal financial aid programs as on-campus students. A typical financial aid package can include grants and loans, as well as any nursing scholarships your school may offer.
Nurse.org also publishes an extensive list of nursing scholarships and awards, and UTA's searchable Mav ScholarShop database provides information on scholarships for students in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
Many healthcare employers also provide tuition reimbursement or other education benefit programs designed to help RNs complete an advanced degree. For example, UTA offers affiliate scholarships for employees of its more than 600 partner hospitals and health systems, as well as tuition reimbursement. If you work at a UTA-affiliated healthcare facility, check with your employer for further details.
Do I Need to Pay Out-of-state Tuition?
In-state and out-of-state tuition is the same in many online MSN – FNP programs, and this can be one of the great benefits of getting your graduate degree online. However, a few online schools do charge state residents a lower tuition rate, so be sure to check with programs you're interested in before applying.
UTA offers e-tuition for their online program, meaning that Texas, California, Florida, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Virginia residents pay the same tuition rate.
Can I Use My Military Benefits?
Yes, in most circumstances. Check with your branch of the armed forces to verify your eligibility and any restrictions concerning your degree plans. The school and program you choose must be accredited, but as long as you are eligible to use the GI Bill or other military benefits to pay for college, you should be able to use them for an MSN – FNP degree.
How Fast Can I Get My MSN – FNP Degree?
Most students can earn their degree in three years or less, but much depends on you. Factors include whether you attend full or part time, the curriculum requirements, the number of courses you take each term, and the amount of time you will spend in clinical rotations.
You can complete your MSN – FNP degree online at UTA in 31-36 months, which includes the clinical requirement. Courses are 5-13 weeks in length, and 46 credit hours are required to graduate.
How Much Time Should I Devote to Class Each Week?
Since online MSN – FNP programs are both academically rigorous and designed to help students move through degree requirements at an accelerated pace, courses can be fairly intense. As a general rule, you should expect to spend 4-5 hours studying for every hour of course credit you take.
This means that for a typical 3-hour course, you'll need 12-15 hours of time per week to view lectures online, complete readings and assignments, and post to discussion boards, depending on what the professor has assigned. But since none of those hours are spent sitting in a classroom or attending required lab sessions, many students find the workload more manageable than in equivalent on-campus courses.
Will Taking Courses Cut Into My Work Schedule?
Every RN pursuing the MSN – FNP degree does need to consider how school will fit into his or her busy life as a working professional. Getting a graduate degree is a commitment, and adequate time for learning and study is required to do well. But one great thing about online MSN – FNP programs is that they are designed to work for you, and with your schedule.
Keep your job and study whenever and however you learn best -- whether that entails reading a chapter on the train to work or doing homework over a late-night snack. Or maybe catching up on the weekend is more your style; just fit the degree to your time and pace.
I feel like I can still have a life, work full time and go to school. To me, it would be impossible to work night shift, wake up the next day or on a day off and go to class. I'd rather just open up a laptop and go to class. It's just way easier for my life schedule.
Current UTA MSN – FNP online student
How Long is Each Clinical Rotation, and How Many Are There?
The time needed to complete clinical rotations and the number of rotations required differs by school and program. For this reason, it's important to ask any prospective schools about their clinical requirements up front. Graduate students generally complete 2-4 rotations on the way to earning their MSN – FNP, and intensive programs can require more than 700 clinical hours.
At UTA, online MSN – FNP students must complete two 11-week clinical rotations of 180 hours each, followed by a 13-week clinical practicum with 360 clinical hours.
Is It Possible for Online Students to Do Clinicals On Campus?
Maybe, but it's less likely when you earn your MSN – FNP degree online. If you reside in the area where a program you are considering has a physical campus, check if that's possibility before you apply. Some schools can provide this option at an affiliated ambulatory or on-campus clinic.
It's much more common for online students to do clinicals in their own community. Students in the UTA online MSN – FNP program arrange their own clinicals, usually at a primary care or clinic site in their local area.
Can I Complete a Clinical Rotation Where I Currently Work?
Probably not. The goal of clinical rotation is to give you additional hands-on experience that can expand your knowledge and skills as a provider, so a rotation that does not differ substantially from your regular work environment or experience isn't likely to be approved.
How Are Nursing Courses Taught Online?
If you've ever used the internet to attend a nursing workshop remotely or take a course for CEU credit, you're probably familiar with the basics of online learning. Aside from clinicals, all coursework in MSN – FNP programs happens in the virtual classroom, and all you have to do is log into your course to find the materials you need. Your class syllabus, lectures and assignments will be organized there; you'll see all applicable deadlines; and you'll also use course tools to submit completed work and contribute to discussion boards.
Will I Study With Professors Who Have Clinical Experience?
Yes, definitely. Professors who teach MSN – FNP courses online are master's- and doctoral-trained nurses who bring years of professional clinical experience to their work with students. One important requirement in nursing school accreditation is that faculty members have the knowledge and skills to meet current standards for the profession, which includes relevant work experience in the subject areas they teach.
"I have to say a big thanks to the professors at UTA for their diligence in ensuring that each student is equipped to function independently and become a proud alumni."
2017 MSN – FNP online graduate and Family Nurse Practitioner in Richmond, Texas
How Accessible Are Nursing Professors in Online Courses?
You may actually find professors in online MSN – FNP programs more accessible than you've been used to in traditional on-campus courses, simply because the virtual classroom is a more fluid teaching environment. It's open for learning 24/7, and though professors don't quite work that schedule, they are accustomed to dealing with students who need flexibility and value independent study.
Online nursing professors also have a relationship with students that is built around an ongoing dialogue rather than gathering at a regular place and time, though live online lectures are a great opportunity to get that feeling of being in the classroom too. Professors are often more available to meet by video chat or phone outside of standard business hours as well.
Faculty Spotlight: Beth McClean
At UTA, Clinical Assistant Professor Beth McClean has a great reputation for motivating and supporting her students in the MSN – FNP online program. Many graduates still consider themselves part of "Team McClean."
Beth McClean was my rock from day one. She treated me like she had known me forever. She always listened to my concerns. She was always so comforting and so encouraging."
2016 MSN – FNP online graduate
"Every email was 'Good morning, Team McClean. You guys are gonna do this, keep going, keep moving forward.' And those are the words I needed to hear," Garcia says.
MSN – FNP online graduate Nichole Gamez is another grateful member of Team McClean 2016. "Honestly, I don't know that I could have completed the program without her support," Gamez says. "She really builds you up. She doesn't let you give up."
"When I was first asked to join this online program, I said to myself, 'a person needs to be a maverick,'" McClean recalls, noting that whether her students have been in San Antonio, Arlington or elsewhere, they've all taken the same bold step together. "All of my people were going to be mavericks with me," she says proudly, "and I think we've done that."
Will I Be In Class With the Other RNs?
Yes. Students getting their MSN – FNP online often forge strong relationships with peers who are taking courses and moving through the degree program at the same time. Live lectures, discussion boards, collaborative assignments and study groups offer many opportunities to interact with your fellow nurses and share experiences throughout the journey to FNP.
"I enjoyed the relationship with the other students. We had discussions with different people from different environments sharing their opinions. I liked everybody sharing different perspectives. That helped a lot." – Kudirat Sunmonu, 2017 MSN – FNP online graduate and Family Nurse Practitioner in Richmond, Texas
It was cool to talk to people from different backgrounds in nursing and different units to hear how they structure their nursing assignments.
MSN – FNP online student
Are There Support Services for Online Nursing Students?
Check with any nursing program you may be considering to learn more about the support and services they offer for online students, as they can vary by institution.
UTA MSN – FNP online students have access to some of the same support systems that their on-campus peers enjoy, such as advising, academic coaching and tutoring. The UTA Writing Center offers online appointments as well, and UTA library services include live online chat with a librarian.
What Are the Technology Requirements For Online Courses?
Taking courses online requires consistent access to a laptop or desktop computer with an operating system that is fairly up to date. You'll also need software or applications that can handle your word processing, spreadsheet and presentation needs. Email is of course a must these days, and you'll also want to make sure you have the latest version of your web browser and adequate internet speed for watching videos online.
"I am not a technically savvy person. I have an iPhone and that's about as fancy as I get, but it was very easy logging in, submitting assignments, going to the discussion board. I never had a problem." - Christina Garcia, 2016 MSN – FNP online graduate and Maternal and Child Health Specialist with UTMB Health in Galveston, Texas
Why Should I Choose UTA?
UTA is a pioneer in online nursing education with a history of producing successful and skilled family nurse practitioners. MSN – FNP online graduates receive a degree that builds their expertise as working professional nurses and increases their value on the job market. Graduates also benefit from a lifelong connection to a community of UTA nurses focused on quality and innovation.
I would 120% recommend this program to anybody else. It's amazing, it's convenient, and that's key.
online MSN — FNP graduate in Dallas, Texas
Here are some other reasons why UTA is an excellent choice for RNs:
- UTA's nursing school is one of the five largest in the United States, graduating a total of 3,276 nurses in 2016-2017 across all BSN, MSN, DNP and PhD programs.
- UTA is also the #1 Public College of Nursing based on total enrollments and graduates according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
- UTA is recognized as a high-performing nursing school by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, due to the fact that 91 percent of its graduates pass the NCLEX certification exam on the first attempt.
- In addition to teaching and mentoring UTA's 4,729 MSN students, nursing faculty members conduct groundbreaking medical research and forge innovative partnerships aimed at improving health and the human condition.
Learn more about our MSN FNP online program!
American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP):
U.S. News & World Report:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA):
Association of American Medical Colleges:
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:
The New York Times:
Scope of Practice Policy:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
Indian Health Service:
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services:
Rural Health Information Hub: