difference between FNP vs nurse practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) vs. General Nurse Practitioner: Which is Right for You?

Nurses have always been an integral part of the healthcare industry. They are on the front lines, ensuring patients and families are cared for, regardless of their official position or title.

That said, nurses looking to take on more responsibility and recognition—while making more money—often pursue their Master’s in Nursing (MSN) degree. They can use this degree to gain more autonomy in their careers, and secure positions as nurse practitioners, among other advanced titles. Two popular pathways for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with a master’s degree include a family nurse practitioner (FNP) and a general nurse practitioner.

While there is some overlap in both of these positions, there are also distinct differences between the two titles.

Keep reading to learn the differences between family and general nurse practitioners, in order to determine the right career path for your interests, goals, and needs.

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)?

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses that provide preventive and primary care to families. They are able to fulfill many of the responsibilities of a primary care physician, without spending those added years in medical school. However, these professionals have taken steps to earn their licenses as registered nurses (RNs) and complete an advanced Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) master’s degree program, to reach this higher-level occupation.

While family nurse practitioners are considered APRNs, they are a more specialized type of nurse practitioner as they provide primary care for patients across the lifespan, from infants to the elderly. Their job roles and functions include:

  • Treating acute and chronic illnesses, conditions, and injuries
  • Prescribing medications and developing treatment plans
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Performing physicals and other diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients on preventative care and pain management

How Much Does a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Make?

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not explicitly report salaries for family nurse practitioners, it records the median annual wage of nurse practitioners, including family nurse practitioners and general nurse practitioners, as $121,610.

Since family nurse practitioners serve patients of all ages, they can find work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, hospice centers, school clinics, home healthcare, and community health centers.

Furthermore, with their advanced training, FNPs are qualified to work in nursing education, academia, administrative and managerial roles, educational environments, and policy–generating professions.

How Do You Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Family nurse practitioners are experienced nurses with advanced education and training to provide primary, preventative, and general medical care to infants, children, adults, and the elderly, including diagnosing conditions and prescribing medication.

Due to this level of responsibility, aspiring FNPs must first obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, and ideally an MSN with a Family Nurse Practitioner focus. This also means that candidates must have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited and recognized college or university since it is a prerequisite for many graduate nursing programs.


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Program admission requirements will vary depending on the institution and program, so candidates should research what is required. Students should also look for courses in the following areas:

  • Leadership Theory
  • Professional Practices
  • Policy and Politics of Healthcare
  • Pharmacology
  • Advanced Practice Through the Lifespan

Much like RN certification and licensure, family nurse practitioners are also required to earn either their:

  1. Family nurse practitioner-board certification (FNP-BC) offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  2. Family nurse practitioner certification (FNP-C) provided by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)

Lastly, every state will have location-specific family nurse practitioner fees, processes, and requirements to obtain and maintain certification and licensure, so be sure you know what is expected for the state where you plan to practice.

What is a General Nurse Practitioner?

While general nurse practitioner is often used as an all-encompassing term, it is a more generalized field of nursing and position that describes the role of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN).

General Nurse Practitioners, like family nurse practitioners, can serve as primary care providers responsible for diagnosing patients, treating conditions and illnesses, and counseling or educating patients on preventative care. All nurse practitioners can also administer care without the supervision of a physician.

Unlike family nurse practitioners who serve all ages, general nurse practitioners will typically choose to specialize in a particular area or type of patient, such as psychiatry, women’s health, pediatrics, emergency medicine, or adult geriatrics.

Where Do General Nurse Practitioners Work?

General nurse practitioners also work in various healthcare environments—hospitals, doctor’s offices, outpatient facilities, urgent care clinics, and nursing homes.

However, the place and department where they find employment varies depending on their chosen specialty. They usually work with specific age groups or populations with certain health conditions. For example, if a general nurse practitioner specializes in oncology, they would work, provide care, and serve cancer patients.

How Do You Become a General Nurse Practitioner?

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in nursing, candidates interested in becoming a general nurse practitioner will need to:

  1. Be a licensed registered nurse (RN).
  2. Hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or higher.
  3. Obtain national certification as a certified nurse practitioner (CNP).
  4. Earn an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) state licensure as a certified nurse practitioner (CNP).

Candidates should ensure that their advanced degree comes with a specialization in their dedicated and desired career path. Much like family nurse practitioner programs, general nurse practitioner programs offer students the opportunity to obtain practical clinical experience in the area of their choice, such as an OB/GYN office, if they want to specialize in women’s health.

Finally, certification is also a critical factor in becoming a general nurse practitioner. Upon graduation, candidates must earn their national certification, state licensure, and any other specific certification their specialization requires.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) vs. General Nurse Practitioner: Which Career is Right For You?

Both careers as a family nurse practitioner or a general nurse practitioner are filled with personal and professional opportunities for fulfillment in serving and providing care to patients and their families. Not to mention that both career paths lead to growing your knowledge, skills, career, and salary.

If you want to provide care to individuals and families across their lifetimes, enrolling in a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program may be your path forward. Or, if you are interested in specializing in a specific area of the healthcare industry, consider earning your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to provide leadership and knowledge to other nurses and increase your options for more career opportunities.

No matter which career path you choose, you can and will impact the lives of patients, their families, and your fellow healthcare professionals.

Contact us today to learn more about our Advanced Practice Registered Nursing programs. We can’t wait to help you get through college and take the next exciting step in your nursing career!