When you decide to progress from a career as a registered nurse to a position as a nurse practitioner, there is a lot more involved than simply getting the right qualifications and experience. Though the core principles of these professional nursing roles are similar—achieving the best possible health care outcomes for patients—there are also important differences and new demands. In taking on an advanced role, you have opted to become a largely autonomous and advanced healthcare professional, who will be expected to be an innovator and a leader.
The divide can be especially pronounced if you are transitioning from being an RN working within a hospital or clinic, for example, to a family nurse practitioner, playing a vital role in a lively community health center, physician’s office, hospice, or school. Your interactions with patients and colleagues could well be more intense, long term and forward-looking.
In this career guide, we have brought together a range of insights and tips to help you move more easily from an RN to an FNP role. That includes exploring some of the training requirements you need to prepare for, but also the ways you can be personally ready for the exciting challenges (and tough times) you will face in advanced nursing practice.
Realistic expectations and goals
It’s an interesting point to start this guide to transitioning from RN to FNP with the above reference to the different employers and environments you may choose to work in. Taking the path to becoming a nurse practitioner is an exciting opportunity and one that will lead you to abundant job openings, a good salary package, and a deeply satisfying new level of responsibility. You will have a choice of the sort of employers and providers you work for, as there is a substantial need for more NPs throughout the healthcare sector.
However, it is important to be realistic about the journey you are on and acknowledge that it will not be all plain sailing. FNPs need to have extensive clinical knowledge and experience, and a set of skills that include leadership and critical thinking.
At times, your preparations for your career progression will be highly demanding. You may also find yourself suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ when you do secure your first job as a family nurse practitioner.
In other words, be ready to work hard during this timeframe, and do everything you can to build your self-confidence, resilience, and skill set, ready to start your new job with your head held high.
It can be helpful to keep reminding yourself of why you chose to make the transition from RN to FNP in the first place, and all the opportunities you will enjoy at the end of this journey. That could well motivate you to get through some of the tougher moments you will face.
Avoiding burnout or feeling overwhelmed
The above point leads naturally to this one, as the hard work that’s already been mentioned could sometimes make you feel exhausted. Registered nurses have a heavy workload and considerable demands placed on them during their working day. When you combine this with any family commitments they may have, or other outside work activities, it is not uncommon for people in this profession to find their energy levels take a serious dive sometimes. When you put this alongside the qualification process to become an FNP, it presents a risk of burnout or mental health issues, due to feeling pulled in all directions.
Once you are qualified, the pressure will be off in some ways, but you will still have to manage the adrenaline rushes and tiredness that can be part of settling into a new job role. That is particularly true of a clinically demanding post as a new family nurse practitioner.
Having the right attitude and realistic expectations helps, including focusing on your end goal, as mentioned already. You also need to be aware of warning signs that you need a break and to invest in some rest and relaxation.
One tip is to seek out excellence and well-being tips to balance your time and energy across all the things you are juggling. That needs to include time set aside to enable you to take a step away and do something that restores your energy and mental equilibrium.
Commitment to study and constant assessment
Much of your ability to take this exciting but challenging career step rests on your willingness and ability to commit fully to your learning and development journey. That can include making sure you do practical things to help make this transition easier to manage, such as finding space in your home to complete your studies and research, somewhere you will be least distracted, and able to get in the right mindset for you to thrive. Even small gestures, such as getting yourself a new device or set of notebooks to use for your studies, can help to give you focus and a sense of perspective.
Remember too, that you will have a great deal of information to gather and digest during your qualification journey in preparation for your new role. That makes it essential to be consistent and dedicated to every assessment tool and exercise you have access to. You could even regularly test yourself beyond the regulated and strategic assessments you are required to do.
The more embedded and rehearsed information is, the more chance you will have of enjoying instant recall just when you need to draw on your advanced clinical knowledge and skills. That can include being able to think clearly and calmly under pressure, in those somewhat nerve-wracking first weeks as a family nurse practitioner.
Optimizing your FNP study program
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to ensure you can smoothly navigate all the necessary steps to a more advanced nursing role is to choose a training provider who understands what a big deal this all is.
Your essential qualification for advanced nursing practice should be delivered by an organization that thoroughly guides you through the process of how to become Family Nurse Practitioner. A great illustration of this is Texas Woman’s University, which delivers a high-caliber online program to help you gain a Master of Science – Family Nurse Practitioner degree. The University also provides its students with in-depth insight into the whole process, right through to coping strategies and tips for when you are a novice family nurse practitioner, all aided by 12-26 weeks of core competency training.
Enlist helpers and mentors
This is certainly a time in your life and career when you need to be honest and confident in asking for help, in whatever form you need that help to be. The transition from RN to FNP is not a small step and includes a complex series of things you need to do, culminating in a new job role with a significant ‘settling in period’. So, you may need to get all sorts of assistance from various people while you make this worthwhile but demanding journey.
When studying, you need to be ready to speak up to tutors and clinical educators to ask for help while learning the skills and information required to qualify as a nurse practitioner. This is absolutely crucial, especially when it comes to filling in gaps and reinforcing your knowledge and skills on a continuous basis. The best study programs for FNP qualification are designed to provide individual help and support at every level, so don’t hesitate to make use of that.
Mentors and peers
You may find the best source of help to get through the challenging times, or to enhance and improve both your study and eventual job change, are your peers. This could be other RNs working towards becoming FNPs. Forming virtual or physical study groups means sharing good practice, good ideas, and bucketloads of encouragement for each other.
It could be invaluable to find a mentor too, especially someone who is already qualified and working as a family nurse practitioner. Their personal insights and experiences can serve a wide range of purposes. That includes giving you reassurance that any concerns, questions, or sticking points are normal, and can be solvable. Mentors may also give you important inspiration and information that makes your qualification journey a little easier, or guidance valuable for making your first weeks less daunting.
However, one of the best things about mentors who are already family nurse practitioners is that they can provide you with wonderful reminders of why you are doing all this. Seeing the difference they make in the lives of their patients can be uplifting and make you want this career move even more.
Family, friends, and partners
Potentially, these are the people who can be your most essential allies during your journey to switch from being a registered nurse to one working in advanced practice as an FNP. For one thing, during moments of doubt or struggle, your partner, family, and friends can be your cheerleaders!
In addition, they can take some daily tasks off you for a while. This can enable you to concentrate more fully on your studies, induction, and settling-in period as a family nurse practitioner.
Invest in your personal skills
The differences in the roles and responsibilities between RNs and FNPs are considerable. As an FNP, you will need more advanced clinical knowledge and skills than a nurse practitioner, as you will be required to carry out some duties that have traditionally been the remit of physicians.
Your days spent as a registered nurse will have presented you with diverse challenges, of course, and no doubt times of intense pressure. That is all great experience, and it will help you when you progress to a more advanced nurse practitioner role.
However, the professional abilities you need as an FNP go beyond even those clinical insights and a track record for excellent patient care. FNPs also need to have a particular set of personal skills to meet the demands of their job. Just like your clinical knowledge and skills, these personal attributes will be enhanced and expanded as part of your FNP qualification program, and initial on-the-job training.
To make the transition smoother from RN to FNP, you should spend time developing these personal skills. Not least when you start your new position, your personal (or soft) skills can be quickly adapted to the daily situations you face.
The soft skills you are likely to use mostly involve emotional intelligence. As an RN, you will already have a well-developed ability to show empathy to your patients. As an FNP working in and leading teams of different professionals, having a good understanding of your colleagues’ needs and motivations can prove invaluable.
Communication skills are important to both RNs and FNPs, and expanding these in preparation for your career advancement makes perfect sense too. For example, you will need to be ready to explain often complex and emotive topics clearly, with systems in place to evaluate engagement and understanding. You will also need to know when to call in expert advice, and how to brief colleagues and other professionals succinctly, efficiently, and thoroughly. The ways you can prepare for this in advance include networking as much as possible while remaining alert to the way people interact with each other.
When undertaking any practical requirements of your FNP qualification program or induction, utilize every opportunity to engage with others. This will all help you to build your confidence, and your ability to make strong connections with new people quickly.
Another of the personal and professional skills you will need as a family nurse practitioner is the ability to be an authentic leader. That requires the soft skills already mentioned, along with a willingness to invest in motivating and supporting your colleagues and team members.
You also need to be well organized, decisive, and a good problem solver to take the lead in your new role as an FNP. To develop these attributes, you will receive support on such topics as critical analysis as part of your training program. However, keeping up to date on clinical skills and knowledge can be particularly vital to your acumen as a swift and confident decision-maker.
Board certification – and a good measure of grace
Becoming board-certified is an important step in building your credentials as well as your confidence in your first advanced practice post. This is something that Kimberly Poje, MS, RN, FNP-BC points out in her article, explaining how she progressed from being an RN to an NP (FNP). She admits that she can “still vividly recall the struggles I had as a new registered nurse (RN) and later as a new FNP”. Kimberley also states that “the best advice I can give is to realize that adjusting to a new role takes time. Give yourself that time to ease your anxiety and self-doubt”.
Interestingly, Kimberley is not the only qualified NP who points out the mix of professional and personal attributes this journey requires. Jennifer Collins, MSN, RN, AGACNP-BC, TCRN, in her article on the topic, says that what is required is “lots of patience and grace and most importantly, a lot of learning”.
Jennifer also urges people on this path to “never forget you’re a nurse”. This will ensure you always know your first duty is to your patients but also focus on what’s needed to encourage, support, and appreciate your fellow nurses as an FNP.
Select your first FNP post with care
Finally, it’s important not to get too complacent when your learning and development journey is complete and you are ready to apply for your first post as a family nurse practitioner. For one thing, from day one in this role, you are going to be challenged to apply everything you have assimilated and been tested on so far, in the real world and potentially life-and-death situations.
Before you even get to that point though, you should choose your FNP post with a great deal of consideration of what your own individual requirements and interests are. You don’t need to take one of the first positions you see advertised, as your advanced practice qualifications and nursing experience to date put you in a very strong position.
Consider what environment most appeals to you, and then check your potential employers for things such as work patterns and hours, and your likely patient load. It is also helpful to know what administrative and clinical support you will be able to rely on in that post.
There is no shame in digging into the support you will get in your initial period as an advanced nurse practitioner either. The best employers understand that you need a period of adjustment and thorough ‘onboarding’ to make this new post your own. That all needs to run alongside being sure that all your hard work to get to this stage will be rewarded financially, but also by a health care employer who knows exactly how valuable family nurse practitioners are.