A day in the life of a family nurse practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are some of the hardest-working people in local healthcare. They have endless responsibilities and duties to their patients, who tend to come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, and who are at all stages of life.

It is also one of the most rewarding healthcare positions you can get into, as it allows you to work with patients you will see and treat for years to come, creating bonds that will last forever.

That said, studying to become an FNP takes time. What’s more, this is a role that you’ll need to commit to if you intend to make the most of it.

In this guide, we’ll take you through what an FNP does and what they can expect to do from day to day. In any healthcare position or facility, no two days are the same. However, it still pays to know what your responsibilities and demands are likely to be before you start studying. So, let’s start with the basics.

What is a family nurse practitioner?

An FNP is a registered nurse with advanced training and education in primary care. As mentioned, they provide care to patients throughout their lifetimes, often treating infants, adults, and the elderly alike. As part of an FNP’s duties, they are licensed to diagnose and treat common illnesses, injuries, and chronic conditions.

When and where needed, they can also order and analyze diagnosis tests, prescribe suitable medications, and even educate and counsel their patients whenever necessary. They’re exceptionally multi-talented, so they must always be comfortable balancing multiple tasks simultaneously. We’ll cover some of the essential traits that an FNP needs a little later.

Flexibility is key in this role. FNPs can work from anywhere, such as clinics, private healthcare establishments, hospitals, and community health centers.

The main difference between FNPs and other specialists is the provision of direct primary care. FNPs work directly with patients, covering many ailments, concerns, and treatments. Of course, this still means that they need to communicate with various people within their healthcare remit!

Every day, they collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors, physicians, and other nurses, to ensure that their patients get the best overall care (tailored specifically to their needs).

In many cases, an FNP becomes a patient’s primary care provider and may remain with the same patients for years. That’s a huge relief for the patient and a boon to the FNP as it can help them build stronger interpersonal relationships.

Now that we know what an FNP is licensed and expected to do, let’s see how that translates into a typical day on the job.

What tasks do family nurse practitioners have to perform every day?

 As you can imagine, most FNPs spend their days seeing patients. Their duties will differ from case to case, but they usually spend the day diagnosing ailments, treating their patients, instructing other nurses and performing administrative duties.

As you may already know, a nurse’s work will always vary daily, regardless of their specialism or where they practice. Many FNPs start their day with routine administration so that they may spend the rest of their shifts with their patients.

An FNP’s schedule will also differ depending on where exactly they work. For example, if they work in a clinic, then they are just as likely to work day shifts as they are to work night shifts. On the other hand, if they are employed in a private clinic, then the work will start and end at the same time every day.

When you study programs online to get into this field, such as an MSN Family Nurse Practitioner course at a leading educator such as Texas Woman’s University, you’ll likely learn more about what the ‘average’ day looks like. However, you’ll also learn how to roll with quick changes to schedules and timetables!

In busy circumstances, certain FNPs are used to seeing dozens of patients per day and usually end the day by adjusting and understanding their schedule for the rest of the week!

Now, let’s take a look at each task that an FNP does in a day.

  1. Assessing patients

 The first thing that FNPs typically have to do with their patients is assess their current health status. This means taking the time to sit down with them and talk through their current conditions, any issues or concerns they may have, and whether or not there are any specific treatments they would like to pursue.

FNPs must also take the time to check their patients’ blood pressure and conduct other common tests to measure their general health. This, of course, will help them to ascertain any predispositions for specific ailments and to decide whether specific treatment courses are worth following up on.

  1. Diagnosing patients

 After collecting patient data, FNPs must make diagnoses based on their findings. All FNPs must use their education, training, and experience to make the best possible decisions regarding their patients and their specific ailments.

This sounds like a lot of pressure! However, remember that FNPs are highly skilled and widely trained to assist varying numbers of people each day. This is a role that requires incredible ad-hoc judgment and confidence in their own abilities. Again, we’ll cover skills and attributes in a little more detail later.

It is also very common for FNPs to discuss their findings with other healthcare professionals, such as other nurses or physicians within their establishments, in order to make the most accurate diagnosis possible and therefore be able to treat the patient appropriately.

In fact, working in any line of family healthcare will usually demand some form of collaboration. While much of the work is undertaken alone and under your own steam, you’ll still receive supervision, and for the health and wellbeing of your patients, it’s always a good idea to ask for support and guidance.

  1. Treating patients

 Naturally, after diagnosis comes treatment – but how exactly does this work when it comes to FNPs and their patients?

FNPs have a fairly broad remit when it comes to treating patients! For example, an FNP can recommend lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation or diet adjustment, or prescribe medicines to help support a patient’s recovery from illness. In certain cases, an FNP may also refer the patient to a specialist who can help them further.

For example, in the specific case of a patient experiencing problems related to hormonal imbalance, an FNP may recommend that the patient visits an endocrinologist.

Part of being an FNP is also understanding that treating patients goes beyond just prescribing the best treatment for them. They also commonly converse with the patient’s family and other professionals to ensure that they get the care they need. Communication skills are vital in this role – not only for the FNP to succeed but also for patients to flourish.

  1. Instructing other nurses

 Some FNPs also train other new nurses. This means that at least part of their day is spent guiding or shadowing new recruits on completing their tasks properly (and, of course, attending to their patients with appropriate care and attention).

As instructors, they must also frequently answer any of the questions that their student nurses may have. Once new nurses are ready to perform certain tasks, FNPs may need to supervise them on anything from medical procedures to administrative tasks.

Crucially, part of the FNP’s responsibility revolves around keeping a healthcare team educated and confident from day to day. If you’re pursuing a career in nursing education and primary care, it’s a route that could appeal to you.

  1. Undertaking administration

 Administration is a broad umbrella term, but there’s little doubt that a large part of being an FNP is attending to daily ‘paperwork’ and crucial data management.

These tasks include filing patient data, organizing files, creating and adjusting staff schedules, ordering healthcare supplies for their establishments, and more. In fact, administrative tasks can and will vary depending on the department, clinic and seniority of the FNP.

In many healthcare establishments, FNPs act as nursing staff leaders. Therefore, they must always be on top of administrative tasks.

However, as the leaders of the nursing staff, in some cases they choose to delegate administrative tasks to other nurses, especially if they have more pressing issues at hand.

What skills are desirable in a family nurse practitioner?

The best FNPs are empathetic, kind, dedicated and highly ethical. However, these are simply the base traits for most healthcare positions. What does a highly skilled FNP look like?

Before we dive deeper into our list of desirable skills and traits, do remember that many of them are learned on the job or at university. That said, having a core set of skills that prepares you adequately for life as an FNP will help you excel more quickly.

Let’s look at a few skills that the best FNPs are likely to require to succeed on the job.

  • Patience

 FNPs work in a high-pressure environment on most days. Of course, nurses working in areas such as the emergency room witness stressful situations throughout the day, but even in calmer establishments, emergencies, mistakes, and general stress are part of the everyday job.

Therefore, FNPs need to be able to remain calm and assess each individual situation carefully and as unbiased as possible to conduct themselves correctly.

Patience is an immense skill and attribute that will serve any healthcare professional well. For example, a situation can get stressful if a patient does not wish to communicate, is refusing treatment, or is not making the changes you instructed.

There’s also the matter of communication breakdowns, and also technical problems along the way. Ultimately, FNPs need to bounce back from complex issues with calm and patience.

  • Communication

 As mentioned, communication skills are vital in the world of healthcare, especially for FNPs. Nurses come across all kinds of people every day, and to perform their duties as best they can, they need to actively listen and distill information to share with patients.

FNPs should always be ready to listen to their patients’ needs, but also the demands and limitations set by their supervisors and colleagues. It’s also vital for FNPs to communicate complex data back to their patients so that they can understand what’s going to happen next.

Getting any kind of medical treatment can be scary for many people! Patients need FNPs to explain what they’re facing in language that’s calm, measured and easy to understand.

  • Empathy

 Empathy and communication go hand in hand in the work of an FNP. Anyone considering nursing as a job is generally empathetic by nature. However, it is important to keep and value that empathy throughout your career.

Being empathetic as an FNP helps your patients feel as seen and heard as possible and allows you as the professional to put yourself in their shoes as you treat them. This can help to better ensure the best care possible for the patient.

Even if it doesn’t – which in some cases, it won’t – the patient will still feel more relaxed having dealt with an FNP who evidently cares about them and their recovery.

Empathy skills also help FNPs to deliver complex or difficult news to patients who may be expecting positive outcomes. However, all FNPs must remember to keep a professional distance with patients, as it is neither ethical nor healthy to get too closely attached to them during care.

  • Time management 

When you first start working as an FNP, you’re going to need to start managing time and workloads with exceptional care and efficiency. This goes beyond creating schedules for others and is more about managing your own time!

As an FNP, nearly all day, every day, will be filled with duties, from administrative tasks and training to patient care and other healthcare individuals. You’re going to be on your feet, attending to all manner of tasks – and it’s down to you to organize yourself for the better.

However, taking your time with each task is crucial. Spreading yourself too thin can easily lead to a mistake that could impede a patient’s care. It can also leave you feeling overwhelmed or overworked.

Understanding how to manage your own time while maintaining enough time to wind down, relax, take a break and recharge is essential to being a quality FNP.

  • Attention to detail

 Finally, it’s vital for all FNPs to care deeply about detail. Details matter when it comes to healthcare – they can often mean the difference between life and death.

All medical professionals decide on treatments for patients based on their ailments and their records. Therefore, FNPs need to ensure that any modifications made to a patient’s file are accurate and up to date and that all of their data and information are filed completely and correctly. Mistakes can be detrimental!

This helps to ensure that the patient gets the best care possible and that any other medical professionals who are treating them have all of the necessary information to make their own assessments, suggestions and prescriptions.

Attention to detail can also be extremely useful when making staff schedules in order to encompass others’ preferences and time demands.

Then, there’s also paying attention to how patients respond to specific treatments and medicines. Was one particular route of care appropriate? Did it produce the results that you expected?

Carelessness in nursing and healthcare in general can kill. It’s absolutely vital to keep your eyes squarely on the details at all times.


 FNPs are multi-talented and tireless. They not only excel in managing highly complex, ever-changing workloads, but also know how to treat a variety of different ailments for the better. They can help patients with immune system recommendations and preventive care and can translate complex outcomes into manageable advice.

For all that the daily life of an FNP seems like hard work, it’s a career that is immediately rewarding. Treating patients and helping people back to wellness is a wonderful feeling! That said, this role is going to require immense dedication and attention to detail on your part.

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