Registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) are often the frontline providers in our healthcare system. Whether a patient is old or young, suffers from a chronic or acute condition, has access to a multitude of resources or very few, an RN or an NP is often the first professional to treat them.
Like medicine as a whole, nursing is becoming more specialized, and nurses seeking advanced certifications, specialized training or their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are in the unique position of being able to choose the area of medicine that is most suited to their interests and abilities. For instance, a prospective NP may choose to work in a certain setting, with patients from a certain demographic or with patients who suffer from a specific disease or type of injury.
Choosing from among the many specialties that can be pursued by an MSN candidate or potential candidate can be an overwhelming task, but a good place to start would be to explore AGNP vs. FNP specializations, both of which cover a broad spectrum of care. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) and family nurse practitioners (FNPs) often care for patients of similar ages and with similar conditions, but there are key differences in their roles.
What Is an AGNP?
Many MSN candidates see the word “gerontology” in the title adult-gerontology nurse practitioner and automatically assume this area of specialization only focuses on older patients. While some areas of specialty within the AGNP designation are focused on geriatric patients, an AGNP can actually treat any patient from adolescence to old age. The only patients an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner cannot treat, strictly speaking, are infants and preadolescent children.
Aside from the ages of patients they treat, AGNPs also are able to choose what area of care they specialize in: acute or primary.
Acute care settings — where patients are actively ill or injured and need to be treated in the short term for the symptoms and conditions they are currently presenting — are typically fast-paced environments such as hospitals, inpatient clinics or surgical centers. Because of the nature of the treatment they provide, the work hours of adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) can be less regular than that of nurses in primary care settings, and can tend toward the unconventional.
AGACNPs are tasked with monitoring symptoms, adjusting medications, preventing complications and sometimes administering palliative care.
If the acute care route is less desirable, AGNPs may choose to become adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs).
A primary care setting is slower paced than an acute care setting and is typically geared toward maintaining good health and encouraging patients to make healthy lifestyle choices. AGPCNPs often enjoy more regular work hours than AGACNPs and are able to tailor their work environment by choosing the type of patients they see.
What Is an FNP?
Family nurse practitioners must work under the direction of a doctor in some states, while in others they can start their own practices, enabling them to provide care in traditionally underserved areas. An FNP, like any other NP, has some ability to prescribe medicine, depending on the state where they practice. FNPs monitor all aspects of treatment for patients of different ages, including making diagnoses, ordering tests and interpreting test results. FNPs usually work in primary care settings, focusing their care mostly on general and preventive healthcare and the management of chronic conditions.
Perhaps most importantly, FNPs have the distinction of being advanced practice nurses who can work with patients throughout the course of their lifetimes. This means that they can monitor and guide a patient’s health from infancy on, allowing them to form important bonds with those they care for.
FNPs can also pursue advanced certifications that qualify them to work more closely with patients who have certain ailments (e.g., diabetes) or fall into certain age groups (geriatrics or pediatrics), or they can focus on helping patients manage their mental illness and psychiatric needs.
Differences Between AGNP and FNP Specializations
For those considering AGNP vs. FNP specializations, it can be helpful to keep these two main distinctions in mind:
- An AGNP can work in primary care or acute care, but usually works in acute care, while an FNP will almost always work in a primary care environment. Candidates considering which certification to obtain will benefit from weighing the more fast-paced environment of acute care against the more long-term and preventive nature of primary care.
- An FNP can and often does work with patients from infancy through old age. AGNPs are not certified to provide care for infants or preadolescent children.
When it comes to AGNP vs. FNP certification paths, they are essentially the same. All candidates need to earn a primary nursing degree, practice as an RN for a number of years and then choose a specific area of specialty within the MSN degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, NPs as a group have a median yearly salary of $120,680, and this job category is projected to grow 46% between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than the average.
Make an Impact in Care Delivery
All nurse practitioners, regardless of their specialization, have two things in common: advanced knowledge from their MSN training and a passion for making a positive impact in their patients’ lives. Whether they are AGNPs or FNPs, nurse practitioners are the very definition of “essential workers.”
NPs often serve at the front lines of healthcare and make treatment decisions that can literally mean the difference between life and death. Because of the affordability of their care, nurse practitioners can also fill the healthcare gaps in underserved areas, changing the world by providing medical care to those in desperate need.
Join the growing number of nurses learning how specialization is key to both their career advancement and career fulfillment by exploring Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing today.