Is Studying Online to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner Worth It?

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We recently published an article discussing becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are reevaluating our lives and our careers at the moment, looking to find work with more meaning that aligns with our personal values or with a better salary so that we can live the lives that we want to live.

For many registered nurses, becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner is a logical next step. However, going back to school full time to qualify is not always possible due to work and family commitments. Of course, there is the option to study for your master’s and qualify as a Family Nurse Practitioner online, but is the quality of education really as good as attending a brick and mortar school? And is becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner worth the hard work?

What does a day in the life of a Family Nurse Practitioner look like?

Family Nurse Practitioners are family-focused, meaning that they provide care for patients from their infancy all the way up to old age. As well as treating illness and injuries, Family Nurse Practitioners provide advice on preventative care and how to live a healthy life to empower their patients to become responsible for their own health. Establishing a good rapport with patients is essential as Family Nurse Practitioners will often work with a patient throughout their life, being their primary point of contact for the healthcare system.

Family Nurse Practitioners can work in a variety of settings, which will affect what the day to day duties are. You might work in a hospital, a clinic, a school, a hospice, or another facility just as any nurse does. Generally, your duties will include:

  • Assessing and diagnosing health conditions
  • Routine physicals
  • Developing and carrying out treatment plans – particularly for acute or chronic illnesses
  • Primary health care with an emphasis on preventative care
  • Prescribing medications and therapies
  • Ordering and interpreting tests
  • Assisting in minor surgeries
  • Making referrals to other healthcare services and providers as needed

The average day of a Family Nurse Practitioner is similar to that of a primary care physician in many ways. Generally, the day begins with reviewing the patient schedule and making room for any emergency appointments. Usually, you will see three to four patients per hour. Before each appointment, you will review the patient’s chart, and then in the appointment, diagnose and assess the condition of the patient and either prescribe treatments or make a referral as needed. The most crucial goal of this one to one consultation is to establish a good relationship with your patient, as you will usually be working with them for most of their lives. The Family Nurse Practitioner guide on nurse.org includes videos of two-Family Nurse Practitioners sharing their’ day in the life’ experiences, which offer a useful insight into the profession.

What are the career prospects?

According to the BLS, the employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26% by 2028, which is much faster than the average for other occupations. This rise is expected to occur because of the overall aging of the population and increased demand for preventative healthcare. Therefore, training as a Nurse Practitioner is a good bet in terms of available positions.

The BLS report that the average salary for Family Nurse Practitioners is $115,800 per year, with the lower 10% of NPs earning $81,410 or less and the upper 10% of NPs earning $152,160 or more. The salaries of Family Nurse Practitioners do vary depending on the area of the country, so it’s worth checking to see what the salaries are in your area to see if it’s a career you want to pursue.

Once qualified, Family Nurse Practitioners have great opportunities to continue to grow their careers. Many Family Nurse Practitioners have additional specializations such as cardiology, oncology, or dermatology, for example. As being a Family Nurse Practitioner means treating patients from a wide age range, it provides exposure to a great many different age-group specific challenges and issues which means that the job is not only highly rewarding as you are always learning, it means that you may find that you love an area of medicine that you would never have had the chance to work in otherwise.

An exciting prospect for many Family Nurse Practitioners is the idea that they can set up their own private practice once they are qualified. Family Nurse Practitioners already have a great deal more autonomy than registered nurses, and they can increase this even more so with their own practice. If this is a route you would like to take, some things to consider are:

  • Check practice requirements in your state. In some states, you will still need to have a physician on-site to be able to practice, for example.
  • Setting up a practice is setting up a business, so you may end up spending less time with patients as you become involved with the day to day running of the business. Ensure that you are happy with this before setting up or consider hiring someone to take care of the business side of things for you.
  • You will need to file for the required permits and paperwork in your state to allow you to set up.
  • You will need an NPI number to allow you to bill Medicare. The application process can be time-consuming, so start early!
  • You will need both a business plan and a financial plan to have a successful practice. Consider how you will fund your start-up costs – medical equipment can be costly.
  • Consider your location. Setting up an office in the middle of nowhere may mean that your rent is cheaper, but it means that you might not get many patients! Also, consider average salaries for Family Nurse Practitioners in your chosen area – it could be worth relocating to somewhere that you can pay yourself a higher salary.
  • Insurance. Not only determine what insurance you will accept from patients but ensure that you have a robust malpractice policy to prevent risk to your business from any lawsuits.
  • Marketing is essential. Learn all you can about digital marketing and consider hiring someone to help you to plan your strategy.

What qualifications do you need?

If you want to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you will need to first need to be a Registered Nurse.

The usual route into becoming a Registered Nurse is to either complete a two year Associate Degree in nursing, or a four year Bachelor of Science in nursing. Some employers prefer the Bachelor of Science, so this is an option that is well worth looking into. You should ensure that your degree is accredited; otherwise, it may not be possible to use it to become registered. Once you have completed your degree and got some work experience, you can take the Registered Nurse exam.

Once you are a registered nurse, you can take a master’s degree to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. It is possible to gain funding through the AANP to support you in your studies, in the form of a grant or a scholarship. Again, you should ensure that your master’s degree is accredited; otherwise, it may not count towards your becoming qualified. It is possible to study a master’s degree both in-person and online depending on which institution you choose. Provided the course you choose is accredited, both options should provide you with all you need to embark on your new career.

The benefit of an online offering is that you can carry out your studies at home, at a time that suits you. Many online courses are also available part-time, so you can fit them around your current work and family commitments.

Will you get a placement?

To obtain a certified Family Nurse Practitioner status you must take a certification exam. To be eligible for this exam, you will need to have 500 supervised clinical hours as well as the masters, and Registered Nurse status.

Therefore, it is essential that the master’s program you choose is not only accredited but that the institution you are studying with actively supports your finding a placement. As we have seen all too often recently, Santa Clarita Valley hospitals have been experiencing layoffs despite the growing strain on the health service caused by Coronavirus, and this is a pattern that is being repeated nationwide. If your institution is not able to support you with finding a placement, you may find it quite challenging to locate one for yourself in the current climate.

If you are looking to study online and part-time, then the online FNP programs on offer at Marymount University are a good option, as they guarantee a clinical placement. They also boast a 100% pass rate for AANP and ANCC exams for all of their 2019 graduates.

How to balance life and study

If you choose to undertake study for your Family Nurse Practitioner Master’s, then you must take steps to ensure that you plan your studies effectively to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. Some things that will help a great deal are:

  • Keeping track of deadlines – once term starts, time will start to speed past you, and it can be oh so easy for deadlines to sneak up on you. Ensure that you plan out all of your deadlines either on your phone or on a paper calendar, as well as the dates by which you will need to start the work for each one. This way, you will know that everything is in hand and that you are not missing anything.
  • Use your commuting time – if you are commuting by train, you can use this time for reading and making notes. Even if you are walking or driving, you can make use of audiobooks or notes that you have recorded yourself. Keep your study materials handy; you never know when you might find yourself with a spare moment that you can utilize.
  • Do not overload your schedule – it can be tempting to try to rush through graduate study so you can start your new career as soon as possible but try to resist the urge to do this. Take as many classes as you can handle and go part-time if you need to. It is better that you make the most of your study time than take on too much and burn out.
  • Schedule study time – just as you would schedule in work meetings, schedule in dedicated blocks of time for study, and stick to it. It’s also worth utilizing productivity tools to make the most of your time; for example, you might like to try the Pomodoro technique.
  • Study little and often – our minds are much more effective at working for shorter periods, more often. So rather than trying to cram in all of your work the weekend before a deadline, do a little bit each day. Your work will be better, and you will feel much less stressed.
  • Sleep – our minds are much more effective if they are well-rested. Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority, and you will find studying much easier.
  • Talk to your boss – if you are studying alongside work, be sure to talk to your boss and let them know. They might be able to offer you support, and if not, at least they will know why you appear bleary-eyed some mornings!
  • Use technology – take a little time to research the organizational tools that are out there that may help you to study. Feeling well organized can make a surprising amount of difference! While smartphones are wonderful tools to help you, they can also be instruments of procrastination. Make sure you leave your phone in another room while you study, or if this is not possible, then turn off notifications for your social media apps while you are working.
  • Set boundaries – even families with the best intentions will come and interrupt you while you are working unless you explain to them the impact these interruptions have on your ability to concentrate. Let your family or the people you live with know when you are studying, where you will be studying, and what you need from them to help you succeed. Most people will do all they can to support you, but you have to ask them first!

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