The Role of Family Nurse Practitioners in Advancing Medical Research

The Role of Family Nurse Practitioners in Advancing Medical Research

The role of a registered nurse (RN) is complex and can provide a springboard for positions with additional scope and responsibilities. One of the positions you can take on as an RN is that of a family nurse practitioner (FNP). It’s a more advanced nursing role that requires more in-depth clinical knowledge, leadership skills, and a desire to transform the health of the community over the long term.

Many nurses who are looking for a challenging career that offers more autonomy than a regular RN role are upskilled to become FNPs. As well as offering a more independent way of working, a career as an FNP is well-rewarded in terms of salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly wage for nurse practitioners was close to $123,000 in May 2021.

Another highly appealing aspect of the role is that it offers the chance for FNPs to make a valuable contribution to medicine for the good of the patient community. As advanced clinicians, family nurse practitioners often advance medical research and evidence-based practice through their work. In this article, we will explore the role of the FNP, how they add to research and evidence-based practice, and the best route to attain this coveted role.

What is the role of a family nurse practitioner?

An FNP is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) working with patients of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. There is a strong focus on wellness and disease prevention, so the role includes educating and supporting people to take ownership of their own health. The role is also family-centered, as FNPs serve people at all stages of their lives.

An FNP may work in a variety of settings within family, primary or urgent care, from private practices to community healthcare centers, hospital outpatient clinics and universities. They may establish their own private practice, allowing them to organize their working life accordingly and choose more regular hours that might be more suited to anyone juggling the needs of career and family.

The role offers more autonomy than that of the registered nurse — FNPs may order and interpret diagnostic tests as well as carry them out, prescribe medications and write treatment plans. This is in addition to more traditional activities like providing treatment for illness or injury.

Some FNPs undertake additional training in targeted areas like diabetes prevention or pain management, while others prefer to keep their role general and all-encompassing.

Within the FNP role, there is a strong focus on wellness and disease prevention. This means that the FNP may be involved in devising treatment plans for their patients, empowering them to work towards long-term health goals or acting in an advocacy capacity, meaning they support patients to understand and take action towards better health.

Another important part of the FNP’s role is to provide leadership and help make improvements to systems, practices and how their organization operates. This exciting aspect of the FNP includes helping to develop research and evidence-based practice to improve healthcare outcomes for all.

How do nurse practitioners contribute to research? 

Developing research and evidence-based practice are two of the most satisfying aspects of the FNP role. Achieving these aims brings a unique satisfaction to FNPs, knowing that they are contributing to the future good health of the community.

Advancing research

An FNP is in a unique position to combine a deep understanding of clinical issues and hands-on patient care. This experience makes them ideal for leading research projects. From this perspective, they can identify an issue that requires attention and a good solution. This is often the trigger for FNPs to ask new research questions or to take a fresh look at a previously covered issue, for example via a literature review. They may also contribute to research projects that are already established or may find opportunities for funding their own research project.

FNPs bring a valuable perspective to qualitative studies. Because of their everyday contact with patients, they have a deep understanding of the issues that really do affect people’s lives and the obstacles they may encounter.

Qualitative studies can be relatively simple to undertake and are suited to the environments FNPs work in. So, they may set up patient interviews, focus groups or surveys to glean important information about the impact that healthcare has on patients’ lives.

A needs assessment is another way in which FNPs can access valuable information about the gaps in healthcare and how to improve systems going forward. For these types of assessments, a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research methods may be used to identify the community’s needs, any breaches in care and what patients need from healthcare delivery. 

Pilot studies led by an FNP can provide valuable data to inform larger, full-blown studies, testing out procedures, tools and methods on a smaller scale, for example using a sample of patients who are cared for in a health center.

Surveys can be easily designed and presented to patient’s who receive care from an FNP. One of the advantages of an FNP leading survey is that they generally have an in-depth knowledge of individual patients’ health concerns and have built up a relationship with them over time. This means that automatically know who to ask to participate and are more likely to get a positive response when they do so.

Clearly, another important part of an FNP’s remit is to communicate the results of their findings from research. This includes striving to have their research projects published in peer-reviewed publications and presenting their work at professional meetings and conferences.

Contributing to research publications and at conferences can greatly impact a nurse’s desirability and options for employment. Many nursing students wonder how to stand out in a competitive job market and become family nurse practitioners. There are quality schools like Texas Women’s University that can help you reach your career goals.

Implementing evidence-based practice

Not only does using evidence-based practice help improve standards of care and safety for patients, but it also ensures that care is standardized across communities and that healthcare costs are reduced. This makes it a vital cornerstone of family medicine, driven by highly qualified FNPs.

While all nurses are obliged to use the latest evidence-based practice in their work, FNPs have additional responsibility in this area to lead their teams and ensure that best practice is part and parcel of patient care across their remit.

While evidence-based practice means using the best available resources to make decisions and deliver healthcare and health education, the FNP will also need to balance this with patients’ wishes around their care, each individual situation and their own expertise and those of their colleagues.

The FNP can start implementing evidence-based practice in a variety of ways. One of the ways they can keep up-to-date with the latest innovations and discoveries in healthcare is by reading newly published research studies and implementing their evidence-based findings into their daily practice.

They can also attend and take part in professional conferences, which aid in networking and discovering new ways of delivering patient care.

Membership in professional organizations is also important to enable FNPs to keep their practice fresh and up-to-date.

There are many practical applications of research, such as:

  • Identifying an area that needs improvement and researching the best practice and evidence-based practices that offer the most satisfactory outcomes for this issue.
  • Discussing a way of tackling the issue according to best practice with their team and agreeing on a way forward.
  • Identifying barriers to change, for example the current work culture or available budget.
  • Finding out what could encourage change, for example staff training or securing funding.
  • Planning for the future so that once the new practice has been implemented, it can be sustained.
  • When it comes to implementing the new practice, ensure it aligns with current workplace policies and guidance.
  • Communicating with staff, management, stakeholders, patients and their families so they understand the change taking place.
  • Once the new practice has been implemented, ensure monitoring and recording patient outcomes and the impact on their workplace, then communicating the results with colleagues.
  • To ensure that the new practice can be sustained, including it in new and future policies and systems, establishing training for current and new staff and continuing to communicate its progress with all stakeholders concerned.

FNPs use all these methods to ensure that their knowledge reflects best practices. They have a duty to communicate best practices to their teams and student nurses on placement in their workplace. This is how evidence-based practices often enter into clinical environments.

This means that they are leading the way forward to the best levels of patient safety and care not just in their own practice but also by teaching, mentoring and advising others.

FNPs’ impact on family medicine

When patients consult with an FNP for their everyday health needs, they know that this healthcare professional is well-placed to advise them on the best treatment and course of action, according to the latest and most innovative practices.

This is ideal for patients who have a chronic or life-limiting condition, who wish to be proactive about their health status and be involved in their own care. FNPs are also well suited for patients who are living with multiple issues, such as the elderly, who need a careful understanding of their competing health needs. However, any patient who wishes to lead a healthy life and who is receptive to education and advice from a highly qualified professional.

What’s the route to becoming a family nurse practitioner?

If you’ve been inspired by what you now know about the role of family nurse practitioner, you may be wondering how to follow the route into this rewarding career. To become an FNP, you will already be a licensed registered nurse with a track record of experience in this role.

The next step is to embark on a study program to help boost your clinical and leadership skills as you step into your new role. Many candidates find this preferable to going into their new role without any formal training as it gives a solid foundation from which to grow and makes them feel more comfortable about additional responsibilities.

One of the ways you can make the transition from registered nurse to family nurse practitioner is by studying in a Master of Science program. This will boost your clinical and leadership skills, giving you the confidence to take on your new role with ease. So, if “how to become family nurse practitioner” is your latest search term then check out a reputable course like the online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). It’s designed for candidates who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited school of nursing and can be completed in either two years full-time or two and a half to three years part-time. Because it’s online and can be completed at a pace that suits you, it’s ideal for anyone who is already committed to their working life but wants to develop their skills and potential.

The course will hone your leadership and communication skills while expanding your knowledge of essential clinical subjects like pharmacology and patient assessment. You’ll also get an understanding of research and evidence-based practice and their contribution to medicine. In short, it will equip you with the advanced skills and confidence you need to set yourself up in the challenging but rewarding role of family nurse practitioner.

Where can working as a family nurse practitioner take you?

If you love the idea of advancing medicine for the good of the community, now and in the long term, but still want plenty of patient contact where you can build up your professional medical skills, then the family nurse practitioner could take you a long way in your career.

When you initially qualify, the chances are that you’ll typically be practicing in a doctor’s office or clinic, giving you the chance to care for patients of all ages and backgrounds, at every life stage. This type of work can be extremely rewarding, as you will be involved in an enormous range of health conditions and can be quite generalist in nature. As your career progresses, you may wish to specialize in a particular area of family medicine, adding depth and expertise to your many skills.

Areas of specialization include working as a neonatal nurse practitioner, caring for the very youngest members of your community and the parents of infants, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, looking after the mental and emotional health of the most vulnerable patients, or as a women’s health nurse practitioner, caring for women at all stages of their life. You can also go on to further academic studies as a family nurse practitioner, such as a Doctor of Nursing, progressing your career as you improve healthcare policy and outcomes for medical staff and patients alike. 

This list is not exhaustive and there are many other areas of clinical focus for FNPs. Each and every one of these is enriched by the role the FNP plays in promoting health and well-being, furthering research and implementing best practices for the very best outcomes for their patients. 

A career for nurses who want to make a difference 

Studying to become a family nurse practitioner can lead you on the path to a satisfying career, full of opportunities to deliver hands-on care to patients while also transforming systems to raise standards for everyone.

This career choice offers many opportunities to contribute to a greater understanding of and better outcomes for patients, through involvement in research projects and evidence-based practice.

It’s a career for nurses who really want to make that difference while still practicing skills that benefit patients every day. Now has never been a better time to study as a family nurse practitioner.

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