FNP vs AGPCNP: Which Specialty is Right for Me?

FNP vs AGPCNP nurse practitioner decision
FNP vs AGPCNP nurse practitioner decision

Many professionals who are interested in becoming primary care nurse practitioners share a common question: when it comes to Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) vs Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP), which degree plan is the best choice?

Primary care nurse practitioners with various specialities share many common traits. They:

  • Treat patients experiencing both common and acute health problems that are not immediately life-threatening
  • Focus on promoting healthy lifestyles through education and counseling, and managing patients with chronic issues
  • Provide education and therapeutic interventions to promote health and prevent disease
  • Practice in diverse environments including private practice, community health centers, health care systems and universities

With all of these important factors in common, it can seem difficult to determine the important differences between nurse practitioner roles, such as FNP vs AGPCNP. But the answer to the question “which speciality is right for me?” can be found — it simply depends on a few key components, including each person’s interests, career goals, and ideal patient population.

By learning more about the similarities and differences in the certifications and scopes of practice for each profession, as well as discovering information on job outlook, salary, and differences in degree programs that prepare nurse practitioners, each person can gather the facts they need to make the right decision for their career path.

What is an FNP? What is an AGPCNP?

While the FNP and AGPCNP roles have many qualities in common, such as the fact that they are both primary care nurse practitioner roles, they have distinct job descriptions with several key differences.

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) treats patients across the life span, from newborn babies to older adults. Most FNPs practice in outpatient settings and private practices — whether part of a major health system or private practices.

Depending on the state they are in, a family nurse practitioner can make medical diagnoses, deliver treatments without the immediate oversight of a physician, and prescribe medications. While each of these activities are regulated by the state the family nurse practitioner works within and may have specific state supervisions, but the NP role requires a graduate level education and involves a scope of practice that is more advanced than that of a registered nurse (RN).

As of April 2022, 26 states and the District of Columbia grant full practice authority to family nurse practitioners. The others allow reduced or restricted authority, which means a nurse practitioner’s role may be limited in certain aspects or the NP may be required to have physician supervision.

Full, restricted, and reduced authority legislation also applies to Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) professionals. However, the scope of practice differs for AGPCNPs who specialize in providing primary care to adults over the age of 18. Unlike FNPs who may see a patient from their first days of life, AGPCNPs only work with those who are 18 and older. However, both FNPs and AGPCNPs tend to see patients regularly and over a long period of time, providing preventative care, chronic disease management as well as responding to illnesses or injuries as they arise.

How common are the FNP and AGPCNP specialties?

The family nurse practitioner certification is by far the most common among nurse practitioners. In fact, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that, of the 355,000+ nurse practitioners licensed in the United States, 69.8% of them are certified as family nurse practitioners. That represents nearly 245,000 individuals.

While far fewer people become adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, they still represent the third-largest group of nurse practitioners. Coming in at nearly 24,900 individuals, 7% of nurse practitioners are certified as AGPCNPs. 10.8% of nurse practitioners are certified as Adult Nurse Practitioners and 1.8% are certified at Gerontology Nurse Practitioners. However, both the Adult and Gerontology certifications were retired in the past ten years, making AGPCNP certification the second-most popular current certification option for nurse practitioners.

What is the salary and job outlook for FNP and AGPCNP roles?

Nurse practitioners are entering a market with incredibly high demand for their skills and expertise. As more nurse practitioners endeavor to practice as autonomous primary care providers, the potential for their salaries and career advancement are only increasing.

FNP Specialty

FNP and AGPCNP Salaries

While the salaries range by state and clinical setting, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2020 report The State of the Nurse Practitioner offers some insight into average wages for nurse practitioners.

According to the report, family nurse practitioners earn an average base salary of $107,000 per year. AGPCNPs earn an average base salary of $110,000 and a total median income of $116,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the top paying states for all nurse practitioners are:

  • California: $151,830
  • New Jersey: $137,010
  • New York: $133,940
  • Washington: $130,840
  • Massachusetts: $129,540

FNP and AGPCNP Job Outlook

When it comes to job outlook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nurse practitioner roles will grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030. That is much higher than the average growth rate projected for all occupations of 8%. There are several reasons for this projection of rapid growth:

  • The heavily populated Baby Boomer generation is aging and its members are requiring more medical care.
  • State laws are changing to allow greater practice authority for nurse practitioners to practice individually as primary care providers.
  • Nurse practitioners are considered key players in the shift to prioritizing preventative care as they tend to spend a significant amount of time with their patients, which allows the opportunity for education and discussion.

The BLS reports that the metropolitan areas with the highest employment level for nurse practitioners are:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
  • Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA

The nurse practitioner average salary, job outlook, and above average upward mobility are all part of the reason why the U.S. News & World Report ranks nurse practitioner as:

  • #1 in Best Health Care Jobs
  • #2 in 100 Best Jobs
  • #2 in Best STEM Jobs

What are the pathways to FNP and AGPCNP certification?

The first step toward becoming an FNP or AGPCNP is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or direct entry master’s degree and becoming a licensed RN. Then, a post-licensure graduate nursing program in the specific nurse practitioner speciality will be the next step.

Aspiring nurse practitioners can prepare for licensure through an accredited Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nurse Practice degree program.

How Do MSN and DNP Degree Programs Differ?

Both Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs can prepare individuals as nurse practitioners that meet the requirements for nationally recognized certification exams. However, the degree programs have some key differences that aspiring nurse practitioners will want to consider.

The primary difference between the degree programs is that the MSN is a master’s level program after which a graduate could, theoretically, pursue higher education. On the other hand, a DNP is a terminal degree in the field of nursing. The DNP program includes advanced research coursework and a doctoral project that focuses on translational research, quality improvement, and evidence-based practice.

While both programs empower nurses to be qualified and eligible for leadership roles in the workplace, the DNP may prepare nurses for some of the most prestigious leadership roles in nursing such as high-level administration roles as there is course work in systems and leadership incorporated into the program. When it comes to academic positions. MSN graduates who are interested in academic roles are generally qualified for positions as faculty members or clinical/lab educators in ADN/BSN nursing programs. DNP graduates will be prepared for each of those roles as well as positions as full-time faculty members, professors, or department chairs in advanced practice clinically-oriented or degree programs oriented toward systems, leadership, or translational research.

Differences between the MSN and DNP may also include scope of practice. DNP-prepared nurses are equipped to make decisions as independent practitioners for patients facing highly complex medical challenges. MSN-prepared nurses will be able to treat patients within their specialty fields.

One factor for aspiring nurse practitioners to consider is the fact that The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties is advocating for the DNP to become the entry-level nurse practitioner degree by 2025.

How does the certification process differ between FNPs and AGPCNPs?

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are the accrediting bodies that accredit nurse practitioner programs. Graduates of accredited nurse practitioner programs are then eligible to take a national certification exam to become an AGPCNP or FNP.

There are also two bodies that offer certification for FNP and AGPCNPs— the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

The requirements for taking the FNP and AGPCNP certification exams include:

  • An active RN license or a professional, legally recognized equivalent in another country
  • A Master’s, Post-graduate certificate or Doctorate of Nursing Practice from an accredited FNP or AGPCNP program respectively, including 500 FNP or AGPCNP faculty-supervised clinical hours
  • Three separate, advanced courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology
  • Content in health promotion and/or maintenance as well as differential diagnosis and disease management.

In addition to passing the exam to become a board certified FNP or AGPCNP, nurse practitioners must also become licensed by the state where they practice. While the licensure processes in each state are a bit different, most will require proof of:

  • Licensure as a registered nurse
  • National AGPCNP or FNP certification
  • Completion of an accredited AGPCNP or FNP academic degree program that included the requisite number of clinical placement hours overseen by a supervisor

AGPCNP Specialty

FNP vs AGPCNP: The Key Differences

In summary, the family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner share many common qualities while also having some important distinctions. Both professions can work as primary care providers with a broad scope of practice depending upon the state in which the practitioner works. Both roles require at least a master’s degree, hundreds of clinical placement hours, sitting for a national certification exam, and obtaining state licensure.

In terms of key differences, the most important to remember is that family nurse practitioners are prepared to treat patients across the lifespan. Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, however, specialize in treating adults aged 18 years and older. Therefore, nurses preparing to become FNPs will have course content on pediatric care, while AGPCNP students will often have additional coursework related to the unique care needs of aging patients.

Achieve Your Career Aspirations with a Top-Tier Nursing Program

Do you want to provide primary care to patients across the lifespan, or throughout adulthood? If so, the University of Indianapolis has four excellent, online degree programs, all accredited by CCNE, that will equip you for the career you desire.

The online MSN-FNP and MSN-AGPCNP degree programs each feature 45 credit hours, 720 clinical hours, and a clinical residency. The program can be completed in under three years. Graduates of the program thus far have received AANP certification exam passing rates well above the national average.

For those interested in a DNP, the online BSN-DNP FNP and online BSN-DNP AGPCNP degree programs are designed to equip students with the highest-level proficiency in their field of nursing. Each program features 65 credit hours and 1,220 clinical hours, respectively, and can be completed in 10 consecutive semesters.

Prepare to become a leader in nursing with a University of Indianapolis online nursing program.