How to retrain as a Family Nurse Practitioner later in life

It’s now been over a year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the vaccine rollout well underway, we are definitely starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Much of this positive news is down to not only the pharmaceutical companies who have developed the vaccines, but also the selfless doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who have worked so hard during this difficult time to protect the nation’s – and the world’s – health. If seeing them in action has inspired you to make a change in your own career and move into the healthcare field, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s never too late to retrain.

There are of course many different positions that you could choose to work in, but one that offers a lot of variety and scope to help others is a Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP. An FNP is an advanced nursing role that gives you greater levels of autonomy and responsibility in comparison to a registered nurse or nursing assistant, and enables you to work directly with patients across their whole lifespan. Many also choose to work specifically with underserved communities, which makes being an Family Nurse Practitioner a fantastic choice for those who want to make a real difference in the world.

In this article, we’ll delve into the role of an FNP in more detail, to help you figure out if it’s a career path that you’re interested in taking. Then we’ll go over how you can retrain for the job, as well as give you some tips on studying as a mature student with other work and family commitments.

Let’s get started!

What does the role of a Family Nurse Practitioner involve?

A Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) does many of the same duties as a registered nurse, but also takes on higher-level tasks. The specifics will vary according to where you work, and the kind of patients that you work with. For example, as an FNP you can be employed anywhere from hospitals and clinics to schools and care homes. That means you could work with patients of any age, from infants all the way up to the elderly.

This diversity means that you have the option to specialize in an area of nursing that you are passionate about. For example, you could choose to focus on a particular patient group (e.g. pediatrics or geriatrics), a particular health condition (e.g. oncology or mental health), or a particular healthcare setting (e.g. emergency care).

The role of an FNP usually involves being part of a team of healthcare providers, so you might find yourself working alongside physicians and other medical professionals to give your patients the best possible care. Some of the jobs you can expect to undertake include:

  • Taking the medical history of your patient
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and screenings
  • Conducting diagnostic tests and screenings
  • Diagnosing the health conditions your patients is suffering from
  • Developing treatment plans for a wide range of acute and chronic diseases and health conditions
  • Updating and maintaining patient records accurately
  • Administering medication to patients
  • Prescribing medication to patients (depending on the state that you work in)
  • Collaborating with other medical professionals
  • Supervising a healthcare team
  • Referring patients on to other medical specialists
  • Monitoring patients’ chronic healthcare conditions
  • Assisting with certain medical procedures
  • Educating patients on a wide range of healthcare topics, from disease prevention to healthy lifestyles
  • Encouraging positive health behaviors in your patients, such as regular exercise and healthy eating

What skills are required to be a good Family Nurse Practitioner?

In order to succeed as an FNP and offer your patients the very best care, you will firstly need to have advanced nursing knowledge and clinical skills. You will acquire these by studying nursing at college, and we’ll go into more detail about this in the sections below. Aside from that, there are also a number of character traits and so-called soft skills that will help ensure you can do the job well. Thinking about these is a great way to determine whether this is a career that would suit you.

Firstly, as with all nursing roles, you will need plenty of compassion, understanding and empathy. This is what enables you to connect with your patients in a meaningful way, and is especially important if you’re an FNP because you’ll often be dealing with the same people for a number of years and seeing many members of the same family. Hand in hand with this is a strong sense of professionalism, always exhibiting respect, integrity and trustworthiness.

In terms of the work you’ll be carrying out as an FNP, you will need excellent organizational and time-management skills in order to deal with many different cases simultaneously. Likewise, having strong observational skills and attention to detail is critical, because you’ll have to be able to handle complicated patient notes on various health conditions as well as measure out and administer very precise doses of medications. And because you’ll be dealing with lots of different people of all ages and walks of life, good communication skills are key. In addition to explaining potentially unfamiliar medical conditions to your patients, you’ll also be educating them on how to treat and manage those conditions, plus how to live a more healthy lifestyle in general.

As with all jobs in the medical industry, as an FNP you will need to be willing to commit to a lot of continuing professional development. This means attending regular short courses and reading up on developments in your field in your own time, to ensure that your knowledge remains up to date and your skills sharp.

Finally, the job of a nurse can be emotionally challenging sometimes, and you may find yourself dealing with troublesome patients or upsetting situations. As such, it’s important to be able to separate your work-life and home-life effectively, so that it doesn’t have an impact on your own mental health.

Am I too old to become an Family Nurse Practitioner?

Absolutely not! As long as you have the passion and drive to dedicate yourself to your studies and the work itself, you’re never too old to follow your dreams. Having said that, one issue to bear in mind is that being an FNP can involve working long hours and being on your feet for much of the day. Therefore, it’s important to have a certain level of physical fitness and mental strength to cope with this. On the other hand, because an FNP is an advanced role, you do have more options for tailoring your career to suit you. That means it’s possible to choose a part-time job, or one with more desk time, to match your personal preferences.

How can I retrain as an Family Nurse Practitioner?

There are several steps you must take in order to retrain as an FNP. Firstly, you will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited school, and after graduating become licensed as a registered nurse (RN). This involves sitting a certification exam. Once you have the requisite number of hours of clinical experience, you will then be able to apply to a master of science in nursing degree (MSN). There are plenty of programs available, including those that specifically focus on preparing you for a role as an FNP.

After graduating from your master’s, you will then need to take another certification exam, which is known as the FNP-BC, and then you can work towards getting licensed in your state. The exact requirements for this will vary according to the state you wish to work in. After getting your license, you will then be eligible to apply for jobs as an FNP!

What is studying for a master of science in nursing degree like?

Studying for your MSN involves taking a series of modules, completing approximately 700 hours of clinical placements, and also undertaking a final project. The exact courses will vary depending on which institution you study with and the specialism you choose to focus on, however, you can expect a list of something like the following:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Policy and Advocacy for Improving Population Health
  • Essentials of Evidence Based Practice
  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology
  • Primary Care of Adolescents and Children
  • Advanced Practice Care of Adults Across the Lifespan

Your college will help you to find suitable locations for doing your clinical hours, and these placements will be a great opportunity to put what you’ve been learning into practice under the expert guidance of a professional. When it comes to your project, this will be on an approved topic of your choice, which gives you the chance to focus on an area you’re truly passionate about. It brings together everything that you will have learned up to that point, helping you to then make a seamless transition from academic study to professional work as an FNP.

Tips for going back to college as a mature student

If you’ve been out of formal education for a while, you might be nervous about going back to college as an older student. Luckily, these days, returning to university later in life is far more common, especially on master’s courses, so there’s no need to worry about feeling out of place. Changing careers is no longer unusual, and colleges are very happy to welcome students of all ages on their programs.

Not only that, but as a mature student you’ll actually find you have certain advantages over your younger classmates. For example, you probably have a clearer picture of what your goals are and what you want to achieve during your studies. This helps you to stay focused and motivated, even when it gets tough. In addition, you will likely have developed strong time-management and organizational skills over the years, which will serve you extremely well at college. Likewise, mature students often have a better idea of their own strengths and weaknesses, and how they study best.

Finally, your job and life experience will have most likely taught you a good level of self-discipline, which is critical for succeeding at college-level study. Plus, the fact that you are closer in age to your professors and tutors can help you to develop a closer relationship with them, and also make you less nervous about approaching them with questions. All of that means that going back to college as an older adult can be far more rewarding than you might have thought.

How to balance your studies with existing family and work commitments

If there’s one factor that makes studying more difficult for mature students, it’s trying to juggle classwork with existing commitments at home. Whether you have a job you don’t want to quit, or family members that you need to care for, balancing this with college education might seem daunting at first. However, there are plenty of tips out there to help you. For example:

  • Consider part-time courses. Studying fewer hours per week can help ensure you still have the time to work and take care of your loved ones without burning out.
  • Try distance learning. Taking your academic modules online means no commuting, plus greater flexibility to learn at a time, place and pace that suits your lifestyle.
  • Make the most of college support services. Your university wants you to succeed, and will have lots of support available to help you if you need it – so, don’t be afraid to use it.
  • Be organized with your time. Work out when the best time for you to study is, and be ruthless about sticking to that schedule. It doesn’t matter if it’s early in the morning or late at night, just be sure to block off time that is just for college work.
  • Get your family on board. Talk to your partner and kids about how much going back to college means to you, and how they can help you out. Whether it’s getting them to do a bigger share of the household chores or simply leaving you in peace when it’s time to study, let them know how they can support you. They’re sure to be more than happy to assist!

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