Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) see patients from every age group at each stage of their health journey. This makes it one of the most rewarding areas of nursing.

FNPs care for a diverse cross-section of society in a workplace that's full of variety. Seeing these patients on a daily basis also means that FNPs must have the ability to care for patients with wide-ranging needs, communication styles, life stages and more.

We're going to explore these skills and considerations in this article, and also outline a flexible and practical way to train as a nurse practitioner. The FNP career path can open many doors, and offer great prospects and opportunities – and with a competitive salary.

Read on to find out more about the experience of working with highly varied groups of patients, and if this appeals to you, how you can qualify to work as an FNP.

What is a family nurse practitioner?

An FNP is a healthcare professional who usually works in primary care, helping patients of all ages, backgrounds and socioeconomic groups.

It's perhaps one of the most varied roles in healthcare as an FNP sees patients from newborns all the way through to the elderly, encountering a wide variety of conditions on the way.

One of the features of the FNP role is autonomy. These professionals frequently perform tasks that traditionally would only be carried out by physicians. These tasks include diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and/or carrying out tests, and prescribing medication.

Another important characteristic of the role is preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing. FNPs achieve this by giving vaccinations and advising on lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and emotional health.

As you can see, it's a wide-ranging role that encompasses every life stage and state of health you can imagine.

Caring for the youngest patients

Caring for the youngest patients – newborns and children – offers both challenges and rewards to the FNP or pediatric nurse practitioner.

One of the main challenges that this role poses is that young patients are often unable to fully express what is going on with them. This means that the nurse must have the ability to adapt their communication style to their patients or, in the case of babies or children too young to talk, problem-solve to get to the root of their issues.

These nurses must also demonstrate a gentle and patient approach, winning over patients who may be nervous or frightened.

FNPs must also understand consent issues around younger patients. Broadly speaking, children under the age of 17 cannot give informed consent, so it is the place of their parent or guardian to do so. However, the FNP must also be aware of exceptions to this rule – for example, young people who are serving in the military or who can prove financial independence from their parents.

One of the key areas that pediatric nurse practitioners work in is disease prevention. This means that they must understand and follow national vaccination policies and schedules and also offer advice on development milestones and lifestyle choices.

They must also be knowledgeable about childhood illnesses, understand the signs and symptoms, and offer appropriate care.

Employing the variety of skills needed to care competently for this section of the community may be challenging – but knowing that as a pediatric nurse practitioner you can make a real difference to families' lives is often the best reward.

Caring for adults

As children transition into young and then older adults, FNPs continue to provide care, but must now address a different set of issues.

While in many circumstances, communication may be easier with adult patients, FNPs must still remain mindful of different patient communication styles. For example, an adult with learning difficulties may need their FNP to explain procedures in especially clear and simple language.

The same applies to consent – the FNP must gauge whether their adult patient truly understands the nature and implications of any procedure and is able to give their informed consent.

Risk factors for illnesses change as patients progress through their life journey. For adults, the most common infectious diseases include influenza, sexually transmitted infections and gastrointestinal issues. This list alone shows that FNPs must have a broad knowledge of diseases and how to test for, diagnose and treat them.

As adults head into middle age, the risk of developing chronic disease increases. This group of conditions includes type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. An FNP will understand the long-term demands of these diseases and the impact that they have on their patients.

As certain chronic conditions are preventable to a degree, the teaching aspect of an FNP's role will really come to the fore with their adult patients. Their duties will include monitoring the patient's lifestyle and suggesting changes to improve their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of disease.

Seeing adults, whether they are younger or heading toward their senior years, take ownership for their health and flourish is another great reward of the FNP role.

Caring for women

Caring for women deserves a special section as women's reproductive health may dominate their adult years, bringing with it many challenges – and also joys.

An FNP who specializes in women's health will focus on reproductive, gynecological and obstetric issues, diagnosing, treating and offering other essential services such as contraception.

The FNP must cultivate a sensitive communication style to discuss issues of an intimate nature, such as pregnancy loss and sexual health. They must also show compassion, tact and care in their interactions with their patients.

During the course of a woman's life, she will be eligible for health screening services, including screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer. As part of their role, FNPs specializing in women's health will need to counsel their patients about the aims and methods of these checks and educate them on their importance in preventing disease.

Women's health is a broad area, one that spans the reproductive years through to menopause and beyond. Therefore, an FNP working in this field must have in-depth knowledge, a caring and sensitive approach, and a desire to improve the lives of women of all ages through quality care.

Caring for the elderly

As patients head into their twilight years, FNPs must employ knowledge and understanding of age-related conditions as well as differing levels of needs when it comes to the patient-nurse relationship.

Many older patients will have one or more health issues at any one time, some of these chronic ones. Therefore, the FNP must be able to problem-solve and ‘think outside the box' when it comes to managing these conditions and any medications concurrently.

Older people will have specific health concerns and risks – for example, those relating to mental ability, frailty and an increased risk of particular diseases. Therefore, the FNP will need to take care to ensure that their more elderly patients are up to date with any screenings. They must also make sure that their patients understand how to look for the signs and symptoms of serious conditions such as dementia that tend to affect older people.

FNPs may also need to adjust their communication style when addressing their older patients because of hearing loss or impaired cognitive ability. Frequently, elderly patients will bring a family member or carer to their health appointments, and so the FNP must understand their relationship with their patient and adapt their communication style accordingly.

Despite its challenges, this patient community is a rewarding one to work with for the FNP. A significant part of their role when working with older people will be to educate and guide them toward living their best life, regardless of their health status.

This involves teaching essential information such as how to avoid falls, how to manage long-term health conditions, and how to take care of dietary and exercise needs.

Helping older people thrive and continue to enjoy as healthy a life as possible is another of the rewards that the FNP can expect in their role.

How do I become an FNP?

If your interest has been piqued by learning about this extremely diverse and fulfilling role, then you may be wondering about how to start a career as an FNP and what it could offer you.

If you're already working as a nurse, then you should know that you will need to undertake a postgraduate course of study to equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to take on this rewarding yet challenging role.

This is a sound career decision as FNPs receive competitive salaries, have many opportunities to practice, and are predicted to be in demand for many years to come. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) southern state FNPs could earn $117,890 per year on average. The BLS also predicts that jobs for nurse practitioners are set to grow at a higher rate than average during the coming years. These factors, combined with the choices you will have when it comes to workplaces and specialist roles, make the FNP position an attractive prospect for any aspiring nurse who wishes to deliver excellent patient care for diverse communities.

If this appeals to you, then consider enrolling on the Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program with Texas Woman's University (TWU).

To start earning a nurse practitioner salary in Texas, students can enroll in the FNP program at Texas Woman's University, which suits the needs of working nurses. As a result, you can study from a location that's convenient to you, continuing with your existing career and completing the course in two and a half to three years part-time (or full-time if your circumstances permit).

There's no need to travel to campus, which saves time, effort and expense when you already have a full schedule. While studying is mostly conducted online, you will also get the chance to undertake essential clinical placements to ensure that you develop the advanced skills you need for this role.

With a high pass rate and the ability to practice not just in Texas but also in 29 other states, this qualification will set you on the path to a successful career as an FNP.

Making a difference to patients' lives

For any nurse looking to practice in a diverse field and build up long-term relationships with their patients, the FNP role presents an ideal career opportunity.

While the job requires flexibility, a broad knowledge and an ability to think on one's feet, the FNP will be rewarded by the satisfaction of knowing that they have made an appreciable difference to their patients' lives.

If you wish to qualify as an FNP, then it's worth considering the online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program offered by Texas Woman's University. Enrolling on this program could be the first step on a long and fulfilling career path.