You’ve decided to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing, with your sights set on earning your Nurse Practitioner certification. But before you get too far, you need to decide whether to specialize as a Family Nurse Practitioner or a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner (a.k.a. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, or AGNP).


These two concentrations may look similar on the surface, but they set you up for advanced careers working with different populations in varied settings. Here’s what you should know:

The Basics: What’s an FNP? What’s a GNP?

Both brands of nurse practitioners concern themselves with optimizing the health of their patients through interventions and preventative care. But while FNPs care for patients of all ages—infants through elders—GNPs are exclusively focused on the aging adult population. 

As nurse practitioners, FNPs and GNPs conduct patient exams and assessments, make diagnoses, keep patient health histories, and develop treatment plans for patients. They also have the ability to prescribe medications and can work in collaboration with doctors and other medical personnel or independently in their own practice (these independent practices have the potential to become more common in places that are experiencing shortages of medical providers). 

The Difference: Is Treating the Elderly That Different from Treating the Young?

The short answer here is, yes. Elderly patients have a higher likelihood of experiencing multiple health challenges at the same time. GNPs may work closely with, for example, diabetic patients who also suffer from Alzheimer’s and hypertension or heart problems. GNPs must be especially mindful of the ways any medications they prescribe interact with their patients’ other conditions or medications. 

On the other hand, FNPs often choose to work in high-need settings, where they serve populations who lack health literacy. Their patients may need a higher level of interaction in order to understand how to support optimal health. FNPs may work with entire families in these contexts. FNPs are encouraged to understand the communities where their patients live, so they can better serve their patients and address the environmental health concerns specific to their patients’ communities. The work of these FNPs overlaps significantly with the realm of public health. 

Both NPs must be skilled communicators with strong emotional intelligence. 

GNPs may have to gather health histories from noncompliant elderly patients, who either don’t understand why they are being asked particular questions or don’t immediately remember the information they’re being asked for. GNPs also often have to communicate health diagnoses and treatment plans with patient caregivers and family members. The ability to navigate complicated family and caregiver relationships is a must.

In contrast, FNPs must be adept at interacting with people of all ages, from infants and young children to teens and adults. They may need to communicate serious health concerns to parents of young children and must be able to employ tact while exercising empathy and being straightforward in their communication.

These interpersonal skills layer on top of the practical scientific and diagnostic knowledge that enables NPs to effectively care for patients. 

Education for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse Practitioners must have experience as registered nurses (RNs) and pursue additional education in nursing at the master or doctorate level before earning their nurse practitioner certification from a certifying organization. States have varying regulations for nurse practitioners, and experience requirements vary by organization.

Work Settings: Family vs Geriatric Nurse Practitioners

While both NPs are educated to practice independently, whether or not they can actually do so is dependent on their state’s regulations. Some states allow NPs to practice independently, others still require an overseeing physician. NPs can also work as part of larger organizations.

FNPs are not typically found in high-stress critical care environments, but serve more in primary care settings, often as primary care providers. They may work with the same patients through many life stages. You may find FNPs in:

  • Doctor’s offices
  • Clinics (ambulatory, community, private practice)
  • Private homes
  • Schools
  • Hospitals

GNPs must take into special consideration the unique challenges that patients face with increased age, such as blindness, hearing loss, or various forms of dementia. Recognizing the onset of these conditions, as well as how they may add challenges to patient interactions, is key for effective GNPs as they seek to support optimal patient health through the aging process. You may find GNPs in: 

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Senior centers
  • Retirement communities
  • Elderly people’s homes
  • Primary care offices

Nurse Practitioner Salaries

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track data for specific Nurse Practitioner specialties, it reports the median annual wage of NPs across the U.S. as $107,030. In the meantime, PayScale.com reports the average FNP salary to be $93,351 and the average GNP salary as $89,636, though these rates are based on vastly different numbers of survey respondents. 

The job market currently has a high demand for Nurse Practitioners in general: BLS estimates a 28 percent growth in the number of Nurse Practitioner jobs from 2018 to 2028. With the Baby Boomer population aging into elder care, GNPs in particular will likely see an increased demand for their specific expertise and services. 

Which Will You Choose?

Ultimately, the choice of whether to pursue a family or geriatric concentration depends on the sorts of challenges you’d like to face in your daily work and the population you would like to interact with the most. If you prefer little kids to elderly people, pursuing the FNP certification is probably a better option. If you get excited about the challenge of prescribing treatments for patients with complex comorbidities, GNP may be your cup of tea.

To learn more about either concentration, request information on the MSN program.

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