Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) vs. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Becoming a nurse practitioner is an exciting career step for many registered nurses. However, it can be confusing to decipher what degree to earn and what specialty to choose. While some nurses may select their degree program based on proximity or cost, it is important to research options carefully and understand the long-term career opportunities of each option. 

Family nurse practitioner (FNP) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees are both advanced nursing degrees that prepare nurses for leadership roles in healthcare. However, there are some key differences. The primary difference is that an FNP is a specialized nurse practitioner, whereas a DNP is a type of degree a nurse practitioner can earn. A DNP can be an FNP, but not all FNPs hold a DNP degree.

All nurse practitioners must complete graduate-level coursework to obtain certification and licensure. There are many options of degrees to complete for FNPs, including a master’s of science in nursing (MSN), a post-master’s certificate, or a DNP. 

The FNP degree focuses on clinical practice, while a DNP degree often focuses on research and evidence-based practice. Both tracks prepare nurses to care for patients across their lifespan, but the DNP track can be pursued as an FNP or in a wealth of other specializations. 

Nurses with a DNP can apply research findings to their clinical practice, and they are also prepared to pursue careers in academia or research. The additional coursework and clinical hours required for the DNP make it a more time-intensive degree, but it is ultimately a more versatile credential.

Keep reading to learn more about family nurse practitioners and doctors of nursing practice. Included below is a side-by-side comparison for easy reference. 

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)?

Family nurse practitioners (FNP) are a type of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who provide comprehensive care to patients of all ages. FNPs complete graduate-level coursework in nursing and must pass a national certification exam to practice. In some states, FNPs may also be able to prescribe medications. 

FNPs are focused on providing primary care to patients across the lifespan. The scope of their practice varies by state but generally includes performing physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, diagnosing and treating common illnesses, managing chronic conditions, and providing health promotion and counseling services. FNPs work in various settings, including primary care clinics, hospitals, and family medicine practices. Some FNPs also choose to open their own private practices.

To become an FNP, registered nurses must complete a master’s of science in nursing, a post-master’s certificate, or a DNP degree with a family nurse practitioner specialization. These programs can be completed online or in person and vary in length from nine months to four years. After graduating from an approved program, FNPs can earn certification through the  American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)?

A doctor of nursing practice is a doctorate-level nursing degree that prepares nurses for advanced nursing roles such as primary care provider, nurse researcher, and nurse administrator. The doctor of nursing practice degree is a terminal degree in nursing, meaning it is the highest level of education a nurse can achieve. 

To be eligible for the DNP program, nurses must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and be licensed as a registered nurse in the state where they practice. There are a few programs that will bridge registered nurses with just an associate’s degree into a DNP program. 

A DNP program builds on the knowledge and skills nurses acquired in their nursing program and through on-the-job experience to prepare students for more advanced clinical practice and leadership roles. This degree typically takes three to four years to complete (post-bachelor’s) and includes coursework in advanced nursing theory, research methods, and evidence-based practice. 

Graduates are prepared to provide direct patient care in specialized settings, such as intensive care units or operating rooms. They may also pursue careers in research or teaching.

Type of DegreeMaster’s of science in nursing, a post master’s certificate, or doctor of nursing practiceDoctor of nursing practice
Years of Education18 months to four years, depending on previous education and level of degree pursuedTwo to four years, depending the previous education completed
Population or Specialization FocusPrimary care across the whole lifespan to patients of all agesDNPs can focus on any population or specialization, including women’s health, gerontology, pediatrics, psychiatry, family practice, midwifery, surgery, and anesthesia
Place of employmentFNPs are predominantly employed in primary care clinics but can also be found in private practice, community health centers, and university clinics.Many DNPs work in leadership roles in healthcare, while others may work directly with patients. Places of employment include government offices, hospitals, healthcare agencies, universities, research centers, and private practice.
Average SalaryAccording to (2022), FNPs earn $98,369 per year on (2022) estimates that DNPs earn $107,000 per year on average.
Degree Admission RequirementsRequirements for admission to an FNP program will vary based on the level of degree pursued, but will typically include a current, active, and unencumbered registered nursing license and proof of completing an accredited nursing program. Some programs may require a minimum undergraduate GPA or work experience.To be eligible for a DNP program, candidates must first have a current, active, and unencumbered registered nursing license and proof of completing an accredited nursing program. 

Most DNP programs require that applicants have at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), although some may take students who have only completed an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). It is not uncommon for DNP programs to require a minimum undergraduate GPA as well as significant work experience and leadership skills.
Job DutiesFNPs provide comprehensive healthcare services to individuals, families, and communities. FNPs are able to assess, diagnose, and treat a variety of health conditions. They also provide guidance on preventive care and health maintenance. In addition, FNPs often serve as the primary point of contact for patients when they have questions or concerns about their health.Job duties of DNPs vary widely based on the place of employment and job title. Responsibilities for DNPs who work directly with patients can include diagnosing and treating illnesses, developing treatment plans, and providing education and support to patients and their families. 

DNPs who work in leadership positions must also be adept at managing the business aspects of a medical practice, such as budgeting, hiring, and record keeping. Other roles DNPs can hold may require advocacy work or even lobbying with government agencies. Finally, DNPs must be committed to continuing their education in order to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field of nursing.
CertificationThe two primary certifications FNPs earn are either the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP) from the the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) or the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC) from The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Certification Program.DNPs will need national certification in order to obtain licensure in most states. This certification can be from a number of national agencies depending on the candidate’s chosen specialization or population focus. These can include:
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner Certification (ANP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Certification (GNP-BC)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (PPCNP-BC)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan)
  • Certification (PMHNP-BC)
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification Adult-Gerontology (ACNPC-AG)
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNPC)
  • Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)
  • Acute Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Certification (NNP-BC)
  • Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (WHNP-BC)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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