What Does a Family Nurse Practitioner Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A family nurse practitioner provides health care to families at all stages of life. Like family physicians, these health care professionals can offer a range of basic services to patients and they act as an initial point of contact with the medical system. In the event a patient needs care the nurse practitioner cannot provide, a referral to another practitioner may be necessary. Hospitals, clinics, and other health care settings have a need for family nurse practitioners to offer services to their patients.

Family nurse practitioner programs are graduate level, with students earning either a master's or a doctoral degree upon completion.
Family nurse practitioner programs are graduate level, with students earning either a master's or a doctoral degree upon completion.

One aspect of this work involves physicals, well patient exams, and treatment for basic health issues. The family nurse practitioner establishes a relationship with patients and follows them throughout their lives, from birth through to aging and death. In addition to handling patients while they are generally healthy, these care providers can also participate in the monitoring and treatment of chronic illness and disability. Continuity of care for patients with existing medical problems can be critical, and the family nurse practitioner may be an important point of contact for the patient and care team.

Patients with minor medical complaints can see a family nurse practitioner for evaluation.
Patients with minor medical complaints can see a family nurse practitioner for evaluation.

Patients with minor medical complaints can see a family nurse practitioner for evaluation. Some treatments may be performed in the clinic, and the care provider can also request medical imaging studies and other tests to learn more about the situation. If it is too complex for the family nurse practitioner to provide adequate care, the next step is a referral. For example, if a patient comes in and testing reveals a high risk pregnancy, that patient would need to see an obstetrician who focuses on handling such cases.

Family nurse practitioners typically work in conjunction with other medical professionals on a health care team.
Family nurse practitioners typically work in conjunction with other medical professionals on a health care team.

In hospital and clinic settings, a wide variety of patients may be sent to a family nurse practitioner to determine if they can be treated, or instead referred up the ladder for escalated care. Such health care professionals can also work in offices, schools, and other settings where basic first aid and health care services may be needed. As people report in sick, the practitioner can examine them, determine if they need treatment, and provide a place to rest and recover before resuming work or school activities.

Most nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medications.
Most nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medications.

This work often includes outreach and education. Family nurse practitioners may teach community interest classes to keep members of the community informed about important health care issues. They can also work with at-risk populations to address particular issues of concern, like addictive behaviors, to reduce the need for health care services in these communities. Prevention of health crises and proactive public education can improve public health as well as patient outcomes when illness arises.

Nurse practitioners have to be able to perform routine check-ups.
Nurse practitioners have to be able to perform routine check-ups.
A family nurse practitioner may take cultures to determine the type of bacteria causing a throat infection.
A family nurse practitioner may take cultures to determine the type of bacteria causing a throat infection.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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