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Why Should I Choose a DNP (VERSUS an MSN) to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

January 2, 2020

Are you a nurse who is passionate about advancing your knowledge and improving your ability to provide the best possible patient care?

Do you hope to pursue a role that will allow you more autonomy in the work place?

Are you seeking a graduate degree that’s designed to prepare you to transform the field of health care?

If this sounds like you, then you’re the kind of person who would benefit from enrolling in a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization.

As we face a shortage and decline of physicians, expert Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) are becoming more and more valued and sought after in the field of nursing. But the question becomes: What is the best path to achieving FNP certification? Let’s explore the options that aspiring FNPs have, namely choosing a DNP with an FNP specialization over an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing).  

Interested in learning more about a FNP-DNP degree and how earning one will  benefit your career? Download our guide today!

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

Existing in a larger category of advanced practice registered nurses, family nurse practitioners focus exclusively on providing family-centered primary care to children and adults in a clinical or family-practice setting.

FNPs receive specialized training and are prepared to serve a variety of populations through routine wellness care, health monitoring, and the treatment of minor, acute, and chronic illnesses. 

Not only do all FNPs hold a master’s degree (or higher), they also must obtain national certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). FNPs must be licensed to practice in the state of their choosing.

In addition to obtaining an advanced education, all FNPs are required to complete a certain number of clinical placement hours. Direct patient care learning experiences provide aspiring FNPs with the skills, tools, and knowledge needed to confidently provide effective patient care.  

Understanding the Hierarchy — MSN vs DNP:

While an FNP professional is not qualified to practice as a doctor, many states do allow FNPs to practice autonomously, placing them in an ideal position to help address the estimated shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.

Currently, 22 states, including Connecticut, offer FNPs full practice autonomy — meaning that they can practice without the supervision of an MD or DO. This autonomy regarding clinical practice is also a significant indicator that FNPs need the highest level of educational experience in order to provide the best possible patient care — knowledge and skills that can come from pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization.

Further, in an MSN program, students will receive some clinical experience as part of the degree, but it’s nowhere near the same level of clinical experience, systems-level training, and leadership skill-building that’s prioritized in a DNP program. That said, students who are interested in becoming FNPs should seriously consider the route of a DNP degree because doing so will provide graduates with the highest level of quality care to patients.

Industry Indicators for Nurses Considering a DNP:

The AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) says that the DNP degree should be the standard for entry into the nurse practitioner profession and that the MSN degree may not be a viable path to FNP for much longer: “The DNP provides a clinical option for advanced preparation in nursing practice that is more comparable to other intraprofessional education.”

In addition to reforming the standards for FNPs in the field of health care, here are a few more industry indicators that prove the real ROI of an FNP-DNP degree.

Career Outlook: More and more patients prefer to interface with FNPs, and in 2018, there were over 1.06 billion patient visits to FNPs. Because of this need, the projected job growth for FNPs between 2016-2026 is 31 percent, which is much higher than the national average for jobs. 

Yearly Earnings: According to a Medscape salary report, DNPs earned more than their MSN-trained colleagues bringing in $9,000 more on average per year. 

Advancement Opportunities: With your DNP degree and national certification as an FNP you will be able to begin direct patient care as a licensed APRN. You will also have the career flexibility and qualifications to obtain leadership and administration roles in your career if you choose.

Making the decision and commitment to earn your FNP-DNP degree can be challenging; it will require three to four years of study and a financial investment to become a licensed family nurse practitioner, but the return on investment you can receive with this degree surpasses the cost.

Join a Community of Independent Changemakers:

At Sacred Heart University, we understand that making the decision to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization can come with many questions and concerns, but we hope we’ve provided you with some helpful insight regarding choosing to pursue an FNP-DNP degree — over an MSN degree.

We wish you all the best, and we look forward to connecting with you as you discern whether or not to pursue the FNP-DNP degree track at SHU.

For a comprehensive overview of the FNP-DNP degree, including career outlook and a program overview, download our resource — Do You Want to Advance Your Nursing Career?

Download Now

SHU Graduate Admissions Team

About the Author

We are the graduate admissions team at Sacred Heart University. We aspire to create a welcoming and supportive environment for students looking to continue their education while empowering them in mind, body and spirit. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a graduate degree at Sacred Heart!

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