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10 Hardest Classes in Family Nurse Practitioner School and Effective Ways to Survive Them


Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Nurse practitioners are in demand! This is partly due to the projected physician shortage over the next 10-12 years—specifically, a shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 in primary care. The physician shortage, accompanied by the growing and aging population, further supports the need for nurse practitioners to meet the healthcare needs of the people.

Are you considering a career as a family nurse practitioner? Is one thing holding you back in your concern about what are the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner school? Below you will find the 10 hardest classes in family nurse practitioner school and ways to survive each one.


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Why Are Family Nurse Practitioner Classes Hard?


Family nurse practitioner classes are hard because they prepare you to practice as a nurse practitioner. This should not be easy—the responsibility to assess, diagnose, and treat people’s health concerns and problems, along with knowing appropriate health promotion and disease prevention recommendations for each age group.


Are All Family Nurse Practitioner Classes Hard?


Not all FNP classes are challenging—the difficulty of a course will vary for each student. The difficulty level for each course may differ on the student's undergraduate education, years of experience as a nurse, and areas/departments worked as a nurse.

Regardless, resources are available to help the FNP student—as long as they are willing to seek these resources out!


WHAT ARE THE HARDEST CLASSES IN FAMILY NURSE PRACTITIONER SCHOOL?


The following are 10 of the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner programs. These courses may fall under a different name depending on the program selected or even be combined with other classes—regardless, these topics will come up throughout most, if not all, FNP programs.

These courses are in no particular order, and again, the name of the course may vary among programs.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #1: Advanced Pathophysiology


What is the Class About:

Advanced pathophysiology builds upon the information learned in your undergraduate anatomy and pathophysiology courses. The course emphasizes the application of pathophysiology, which will educate the NP and allow them to understand better the whys and hows of the clinical manifestations of various diseases. This, in turn, will lead to an increased understanding of appropriate treatment plans due to understanding the pathophysiology behind them.

What Makes it Hard:

This course is typically one of the first courses FNP students take when beginning their program, and it is also a course that many FNP students have not taken in 10 years or longer. There is an abundance of information taught which can be overwhelming, plus many are re-learning how to study, making this course one of the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner programs.

How to Survive this Class:

To survive advanced pathophysiology, I recommend reviewing the syllabus and getting organized for the class before the first day. You should also attend and actively participate in all live or in-person class sessions. Most importantly, ask questions! You also need to focus on the objectives for each chapter when studying for exams. Lastly joining a study group may be beneficial depending on how you learn best.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #2: Pharmacology


What is the Class About:

Pharmacology provides knowledge regarding the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics principles of various drug categories. This includes the indication for the medication, mechanism of action, response to the medication, usual dose, possible adverse effects and interaction, contraindications, and routes of administration—for drugs that treat both acute and chronic illnesses.

What Makes it Hard:

This class is challenging as it contains a lot of information about different medications and drug classes. While nurses know their medications, this course can be challenging because you may be learning about medications you have little experience with and more in-depth knowledge about them than you learned in nursing school.

How to Survive this Class:

Attend class, actively participate, and ask questions. These are three critical steps in surviving pharmacology while attending FNP school. You must also study daily, meet with your teacher as needed and form a study group.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #3: Health Assessment and Clinical Skills


What is the Class About:

Health assessment and clinical skills will teach the NP student the skills necessary to perform a comprehensive and focused exam based on the patient’s symptoms. This course will teach you to appropriately and accurately assess patients across the lifespan, including infants and pediatrics. You will also learn clinical skills needed as an FNP, including suturing, performing a gynecological exam, or collecting a skin biopsy.

What Makes it Hard:

This class can be challenging because it is a lot to learn in only a semester. While you know how to perform an assessment, this will build on that foundation to teach you to complete a more in-depth exam. You must master performing a solid assessment as it will help you formulate differential diagnoses and determine which additional tests if any, need to be completed when diagnosing your patient in practice.

How to Survive this Class:

Practice, practice and practice some more. To become efficient in completing a thorough and good assessment is to practice on another person as often as possible. This can be your clinical partner or a family member at home. Ask for help early on if you need help understanding how to correctly perform an aspect of the assessment, as this is the foundation for accurately diagnosing a patient.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #4: Graduate Statistics


What is the Class About:

Graduate statistics will focus on interpreting statistical tests used in data collection to draw conclusions—and used frequently in research studies. You will learn about the different statistical tests, when to use them based on the type of data being collected and how to interpret these results and apply them to the situation.

What Makes it Hard:

A lot of people find statistics challenging. Many new terms and formulas are utilized that can become overwhelming and confusing—especially if it is not applied to real-life situations. It also requires many different types of math—so if you do not have a solid foundation in math, you may find statistics difficult. This combined makes it one of the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner programs.

How to Survive this Class:

If you don’t understand something—ask questions! Do not hesitate to ask questions because the topics/units typically build on each other, so if you don’t fully grasp a concept early on, it may lead to difficulty later in the course.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #5: Health Promotion


What is the Class About:

Health promotion focuses on health promotion and disease prevention across the lifespan. This includes knowledge of vaccines/immunizations, cancer screenings, and wellness screening for each age group.

What Makes it Hard:

This class may be challenging for some students because of its content. Health promotion and disease prevention are a significant part of the role of the family nurse practitioner—making this information incredibly important to learn! In many programs, it is also one of the first courses that are FNP-specific making it one of the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner programs

How to Survive this Class:

To survive this class, I recommend reviewing the rubric before the first day of class. Stay up on readings and assignments—do not procrastinate! If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask your instructor and attend office hours as needed.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #6: Primary care for the Child and Adolescent


What is the Class About:

Primary care for the child and adolescent focuses on content specific to the primary care of this population—newborn to adolescent (up to age 21). This includes growth and development, health promotion, and common health problems of this age group. Learning to identify, diagnose and manage these problems is a primary part of the curriculum.

What Makes it Hard:

This course may be challenging due to many nurses not having much experience caring for an infant or child. The content may be new to many FNP students, including immunization schedules, routine health screenings, and management of common simple health problems.

How to Survive this Class:

Review the rubric before the start of class, including the course calendar. Complete the weekly readings, stay up on assignments and ask questions! Also, focus on objectives when studying for exams, as many instructors will select the test questions based on the unit/chapter objectives.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #7: Primary care for the Older Adult


What is the Class About:

Primary care for the older adult is another one of the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner school. The course focuses on disease prevention, health promotion, and management of common acute and chronic diseases in the older adult. This includes assessment, diagnosis, and management, including pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods, of many disease processes and health concerns.

What Makes it Hard:

This course is challenging as new guidelines, and the use of certain medications need to be considered when caring for the older adult. This includes the immunization schedule, routine screenings, and normal values. Knowing which medications are appropriate or may need a dose adjustment based on BEER's criteria or lab values is also challenging.

How to Survive this Class:

Review the rubric before the first day of class and ensure you have all the required textbooks and resources suggested. Read the assigned readings, don't procrastinate, and use the objectives for each chapter/unit to help prepare for the exams. Ask questions right away if you need help understanding a concept or topic. Joining a study group to prepare for exams may also be beneficial to succeeding in this course.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #8: Transition to Practice


What is the Class About:

This course will prepare the NP student to transition to practice as a family nurse practitioner. It will discuss preparing for the board certification exam, selecting which exam you will take, and signing up to take the exam. It is common for the course to provide detailed information regarding the blueprint for the board certification exam(s) and to provide practice/sample questions to start preparing the student.

What Makes it Hard:

This class can be challenging because it can be overwhelming. This course prepares students for the biggest test of their careers, as you must pass your board certification exam to practice as a family nurse practitioner.

How to Survive this Class:

Follow the steps and instructions provided by the instructors. All the instructors have gone through this process before and are there to provide guidance, support, and knowledge to prepare you for your board certification exam as best as possible. Ask questions, participate in class and soak up as much information and advice as possible.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #9: Research for Evidence-Based Practice


What is the Class About:

This course emphasizes learning to translate evidence into practice. This includes learning different approaches to evidence-based practice to improve overall health outcomes.

What Makes it Hard:

This course can be challenging for many students as it involves a lot of research, interpretation, and understanding of the research and applying it to healthcare through writing papers and/or presentations. Some students need help with the interpretation or application of research which will make this course challenging. Other students struggle with writing papers which tends to be the method used by many schools to evaluate the knowledge gained in the course.

How to Survive this Class:

Review the rubric and calendar for the course before the first day of class. This will allow you to seek clarification regarding assignments or due dates for the semester. You must also not fall behind or procrastinate—there is a lot of research needed in this course, and if you procrastinate, you may not be able to submit the quality of work you desire.


HARDEST FNP CLASS #10: Leadership and Healthcare Policy


What is the Class About:

Some programs combine these topics into one course while others separate, and there is one course that covers each topic. Leadership typically examines different types of leadership and how they can be applied to the healthcare setting. It will also explore why leadership is essential and how NP leaders can impact healthcare.

Healthcare policy will examine different approaches and the factors that can impact decisions made in healthcare—ie. Political, ethical, economic, and social aspects. You will learn more about advocacy, proposals, and policy development.

What Makes it Hard:

These courses can be challenging due to their content—the content does not directly teach you how to provide patient care but focuses on the content that impacts how we deliver patient care.

How to Survive this Class:

Read the rubric before the start of class and get a grasp of the assignments that will be required. Ask questions, stay up on assignments, and don’t fall behind in class.


My Final Thoughts


I hope you can now answer the question, what are the hardest classes in family nurse practitioner school? Nurse practitioners are in-demand. Yes, FNP school may be challenging—which should not come as a surprise due to the NP's responsibility regarding managing people's health. After reading about the 10 hardest classes in family nurse practitioner and ways to survive each one, I hope you feel more comfortable regarding becoming an NP and what to expect with 10 of the hardest classes and how to be successful in each.


Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!