Patient Education in Nursing and the Role of FNPs

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Nurse reviewing chart with patient

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be confusing and complicated. General sentiments focused on eating less and exercising more are sometimes solid advice, but they are only part of the equation. Other elements, such as stress relief, proper management of chronic conditions, and sufficient handling of acute conditions when they arise, are key for helping most people experience a healthy lifestyle.

Pursuing wellness can be a daunting task for anyone without the right guidance. Fortunately, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) can act as patient guides. They can do so by delivering supplemental patient education nursing and providing holistic care to their patients across their life spans. Part of holistic care is recognizing vital patient education opportunities on common issues that many of their patients may face at one point or another. FNPs have specialized training, such as a certificate from an accredited online post-master’s certificate program, that prepares them to play a key role in holistic care and patient education nursing.

Common Patient Education Topics

FNPs coordinate and provide patient care, but also focus heavily on education. They are like nurse educators in that they provide knowledge, but they work with patients and the public rather than new nurses. Because FNPs often see the same people on a regular basis, they frequently develop a relationship, providing advice and support to patients and their families.

In the case of chronic conditions, FNPs are typically responsible for showing patients how to manage them. FNPs may routinely encounter several common conditions as part of care delivery. Their training and experience can help them to recognize these conditions and respond to them appropriately.

Battling Obesity

Obesity is a significant health issue in the U.S. Adult obesity rates exceed 24% in all states, and adult obesity rates top 35% in 16 states, according to the 2021 data from the State of Childhood Obesity project.

FNPs can play a vital role in assisting patients with obesity through education, so they do not spend their lives facing a variety of health issues that obesity can cause. This is typically done via an educational strategy that focuses on a healthy diet, exercise, and realistic goals for improvement.

The first step FNPs typically take is informing patients about the inherent risks of obesity. These include increased chances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers (especially breast, colon, and kidney cancers), osteoarthritis and back problems, respiratory and sleep disorders, and even infertility. Next, FNPs formulate a plan for healthier eating habits. Most FNPs will recommend reducing fats and increasing complex carbohydrates to affect a reduction in energy intake. They also suggest switching from sugar-rich soft drinks and alcoholic beverages to drinks with artificial sweeteners or, preferably, water.

While dietary changes paired with strict portion control can bring about modest weight loss, exercise is also vastly important. Regular daily activity is a crucial factor in weight loss, but activity can be particularly challenging for patients who are unable to stand or even leave their chairs. In such cases, FNPs will often start by assessing their patients’ habits and suggest ways to gradually increase their activity levels. They may give patients pedometers so they can track their daily progress. In states where FNPs have full prescriptive authority, they may prescribe weight-loss medication.

FNPs also provide care for obese or overweight children. For young patients, FNPs often suggest increasing physical activity to a mandatory minimum of 30 minutes per day; changing sedentary habits, such as watching TV and playing video games; and adopting healthier eating behaviors.

FNPs aren’t limited to fighting obesity in the doctor’s office. They also frequently speak at schools and other institutions about ways to start or maintain healthy habits.

Diabetes Care

Although they share a name, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are distinct conditions that are treated in different ways.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes a patient’s white blood cells to attack and destroy the beta cells, which are produced by the pancreas and are necessary for the body to process carbohydrates and sugar, eventually causing the pancreas to stop producing insulin. It is commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes because of its prevalence among younger patients, and its root cause is unknown.

Because their pancreas is no longer functioning, patients with type 1 diabetes are completely insulin dependent. FNPs, in tandem with the patient’s endocrinologists, prescribe regular insulin injections via insulin syringes, pens, or pumps. Type 1 diabetics are also given meters to monitor their blood glucose, an essential and mandatory practice if they are to stay healthy.

Outside the office, FNPs can work with organizations such as JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) to spread public awareness about diabetes and raise funds for research.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose levels and the body’s inability to efficiently use insulin (known as insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes may stem from the patient’s lifestyle. It is by far the most prevalent type of diabetes; about 90% of diabetes patients have type 2.

Because most patients with type 2 diabetes are also overweight, FNPs usually provide the same procedures and education that they would for obese patients. In addition, FNPs also teach patients about blood glucose levels and the negative effects that excess glucose can have on the body.

To help keep patients’ blood glucose at acceptable levels, FNPs may prescribe either oral insulin, such as Metformin, or insulin injections to be taken as needed. They also provide meters, so patients can regularly test their blood glucose levels.

With the proper care, type 2 diabetes can be successfully managed and even reversed.

Promoting Stress Relief

One extremely common health issue about which FNPs regularly advise their patients is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is caused by a variety of factors, but high levels of stress are a major contributor.

FNPs explain to their patients that high blood pressure can increase their chances of dying from a stroke or heart disease. FNPs also urge them to take their prescribed medication regularly, work to maintain a healthy weight, and form heart-healthy eating habits with a focus on low-sodium foods. FNPs also urge patients who smoke to quit and can offer help, including medications or quit-smoking groups, if necessary.

For stress relief, FNPs can offer their patients a wide range of options. Some of the more popular activities include writing in a journal to pinpoint the sources of their stress; meditation; openly sharing their feelings with loved ones; and adopting a relaxing hobby, such as gardening, creative writing, crafts, or art. FNPs may also recommend that patients do something that they enjoy, such as playing with a pet or volunteering for a local organization.

Smoking Cessation

While smoking is fortunately on the decline in recent years, the habit is still prominent enough to be a concern. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020 indicated that 12.5% of adults still smoke. Getting people to kick the unhealthy habit remains as important as ever since regular smoking increases the risk of several diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, and vision issues.

FNPs explain these health risks to smokers to encourage them to look at the bigger picture of their habit. They can also explain the potential dangers involving e-cigarettes or vaping. Because smoking is a difficult habit to break due to nicotine’s addictive quality, part of an FNP’s education strategy may be to encourage patients to seek out programs that can help them move toward gradual cessation. These programs can include counseling or tobacco dependence treatment.

When patients make an unsuccessful attempt at smoking cessation, it can be important for FNPs to discuss the attempt with them. This dialogue may help patients identify what caused them to fall short, allowing them to mitigate that cause in future attempts. FNPs can use several resources to help them build a successful approach to these kinds of discussions.

Vaccines and Immunization

Vaccinations and immunization shots are important to keeping diseases that can otherwise proliferate from spreading. They can help keep a patient healthy and safe from various viruses, including seasonal viruses such as influenza.

FNPs encourage patients to remain on top of their vaccinations and immunizations, explaining to them the consequences of not getting the appropriate shots. In some cases, such as a flu shot, they may be able to offer them inoculation during the visit.

Because FNPs’ scope of practice includes care delivery to infants, using the nursing role for patient education can be crucial to make sure an infant’s parents understand the risks of missed vaccinations. They inform them of the consequences of vaccine resistance or vaccine refusal, and they can also work closely with the parents to make sure that appropriate immunizations take place on an appropriate timeline.

The Importance of Patient Education in Nursing

By practicing patient education nursing, an FNP can help develop better-informed patients who are more inclined to make smarter choices about their own health. This can have positive long-term effects. People who take care of their health may be sick less often, and this could mean fewer doctor visits and lower patient costs. These benefits also align with the primary goal of the facility that employs the FNP: to build strategies that can improve patient outcomes.

An FNP educating patients can also mitigate the unfortunate impact of misinformation. In an era of social media and websites that medical professionals have not vetted, it can be easy for patients to come across a piece of misinformation about their health or a health condition and build a false narrative around what they found. An FNP who is ready to combat this misinformation with medically sound information, tools, and strategies can help steer patients clear of misconceptions that could be dangerous if left unchallenged.

Play a Vital Role in Patient Education

Every time FNPs use their role in nursing for patient education, they are giving patients the power to be a little healthier. It also allows them to play a key role in helping their facilities optimize their care delivery strategies. It is a potential win-win situation for everyone involved, in the short term and in the long term.

Duquesne University’s online Post-Master’s Certificate program and its Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner program can help you develop the knowledge you need to deliver smart, effective education to patients of all ages. Our program is designed to help you gain expertise on a wide range of subjects relating to care across the numerous stages of a patient’s life, giving you the confidence to build active care strategies that benefit your patient in the best way possible. Learn how we can help you become a trusted professional in the lives of others.

Recommended Reading

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Patient Cessation Materials

Healthline, “Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: What’s the Difference?”

JDRF, leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research

Johnson & Johnson, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) at a Glance

MedlinePlus, Smoking

State of Childhood Obesity, Adult Obesity Rates

StatPearls, “Practitioners and Prescriptive Authority”

WebMD, “Ways to Manage Stress”