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FNP-C vs. FNP-BC: Differences and How to Choose

by Carson-Newman … on October 17, 2023
A group of medical professionals stands together at the hospital.

Becoming a skilled nurse practitioner can be a challenging but incredibly rewarding career path. In high demand across the country, experienced nurses can make a positive impact on our health care system and its ability to offer quality care for patients nationwide. Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) requires advanced skills and knowledge and takes several years of dedicated training and education.

Choosing the right path to certification is a crucial step in a nurse's advanced education. By taking the time to learn about the differences between the FNP-C vs. FNP-BC certifications and pursuing an accredited program such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), future nursing leaders can choose the program that is right for them and their professional goals.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Salary and Career Outlook

Family nurse practitioners (FNP) are in high demand. Multiple extenuating circumstances are driving the need for skilled nurses, from members of the current nursing workforce retiring or changing careers, to the nation's aging population and a shortage of primary care physicians. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 46% from 2021 to 2031.

Additionally, as highly skilled and highly trained medical professionals, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $120,680 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. While individual salaries can vary with a nurse's level of education, workplace experience, job location and certifications, the outlook for both FNP-C and FNP-BC graduates is expected to continue to rise over the coming years.

FNP-C vs. FNP-BC: What's the Difference?

FNP exams and certifications are a key part of nursing licensure. FNP certification exams are a benchmark for excellence within the nursing workforce, standardizing nursing education and ensuring that graduates enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to provide quality care to patients.

For registered nurses (RNs) who have already earned their RN license and are looking to advance their career to become an FNP, there are two avenues for certification: the FNP-C, offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), or the FNP-BC, offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The FNP-C and FNP-BC exams both certify nurses as family nurse practitioners but comprise different exam formats that can influence a nurse's professional goals.

FNP-C Overview

The FNP-C certification is offered by the AANPCB and can be an excellent option for those looking to focus on the clinical side of nursing practice. The FNP-C exam is a multiple choice exam focused on assessment, diagnosis, planning and evaluation in nursing.

It also has questions that pertain to patients of different age groups and covers topics such as mental health assessment, clinical decision making, anatomy and physiology and more.

FNP-BC Overview

Administered by the ANCC, the FNP-BC is a more extensive examination than the FNP-C and covers assessment, diagnosis, clinical management and professional role within nursing. As it is not restricted to multiple choice questions, the FNP-BC exam can be more challenging for some test takers. It may also touch on the research and policy side of nursing as opposed to focusing solely on clinical care.

The FNP-BC exam also has questions for every age group and covers topics such as health care ethics, technology, coordination of care, resource management and more.

FNP-C vs FNP-BC: Which Should You Choose?

While FNP certifications may be mentioned interchangeably, the choice between an FNP-C vs. FNP-BC can influence the course of a nurse's career.


The ANCC and AANPCB are nationally recognized certification boards offering licensure to future FNP graduates. The AANPCB is the certifying body for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). The ANCC is part of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and is the nation's largest advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) certification body.

The ANCC's FNP-BC certification's scope is broader than the FNP-C certification. While it covers in-depth aspects of clinical care, it also prepares prospective FNPs for roles in administrative leadership, policy or research. For those who want to pursue more administrative or academic nursing positions, the FNP-BC may be a better fit.

On the other hand, the AANPCB's FNP-C certification focuses more specifically on assessment, diagnosis, evaluation and other clinical aspects of nursing. Prospective FNPs looking to focus on clinical care may prefer the FNP-C.


Prospective NPs may also want to consider the membership details between the AANP and the ANA since they will be credited by each organization's respective certification bodies.

AANP membership costs $150 annually for nurse practitioners and includes a $75 application discount for AANPCB certification and recertification. Some of the other benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Free subscription to The Journal for Nurse Practitioners (JNP) and the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (JAANP) online
  • Discounts on clinical tools including DynaMed Plus®, UpToDate® and VisualDx®
  • Discounts of continuing education (CE) activities and free access to one CE activity per month
  • Ability to access professional funding in AANP grants and scholarships
  • AANP Student Education and Training (AANP SET) study and education tools for nurse practitioner students
  • Registration discount for AANP conferences
  • Access to the AANP JobCenter

ANA membership costs vary based on factors such as position and location and membership includes a $100 discount on certification and recertification. Other benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Access to free quarterly nursing seminars
  • Discount on online independent CE study modules and other CE activities
  • Access to the American Nurse journal and OJIN—The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
  • Access to professional nursing tools, such as Drug Name Error Finder Tool, CINAHL® and Global Disease Alert Map
  • Access to the ANA Mentorship Program
  • Access to ANA's Career Center
  • Personal benefits such as auto and home insurance, travel discounts and more

FNP Certification Exams Overview

FNP certification exams demonstrate to employers that a nurse is equipped with the skills they need to enter the workforce and provide quality care. Certification lasts for five years before renewal, and testing fees can vary if a nurse is a member of the ANCC or the AANP.

Exam Requirements

To take the examination, nurses must have already earned their RN license, completed an advanced degree such as an MSN to FNP or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and completed 500-750 hours of supervised clinical work.

How Are the Exams Different?

The ANCC exam for the FNP-BC credential and the AANP exam for the FNP-C credential vary in testing format and cost. In terms of exam format:

  • The AANP exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions. Of these, 135 are scored and 15 are pretest questions.
  • The ANCC exam is both multiple choice and a selection of other question types such as drag and drop and comprises 175 questions. Of these, 150 are scored and 25 are pretest questions.

The costs to take the AANP vs. ANCC exams are:

  • The ANCC exam costs $395 for non-members and $295 for members of the ANCC.
  • The AANP exam costs $315 for non-members and $240 for members of the AANP.

How are the Certifications Different?

The FNP-C and FNP-BC certifications vary in terms of which certifying body administers the exam, the focus of the exam, the testing format, and the terms of renewal.

While both examinations are valid for five years upon successful completion, the AANP allows nurses to renew their certification through a combination of continuing education and clinical hours or by retaking the exam. 100 clinical hours are required and at least 25 of these must focus on pharmacotherapy.

In contrast, the ANCC can be renewed through completing 75 clinical hours, a third of which must be focused on pharmacotherapy, as well as completing at least one of 8 professional development certification renewal categories.

Which Should You Choose?

Choosing between the FNP-C and FNP-BC comes down to a nursing graduate's long-term professional goals and desired area of specialization within nursing. If a graduate is passionate about focusing on clinical care in nursing, the FNP-C is a great option.

Those who are passionate about research, nursing administration or leadership may want to pursue the FNP-BC option. The FNP-BC is also recognized across the United States as well as in Canada, Puerto Rico or with the CMS and the Veterans Administration.


3 Ways to Prepare for an FNP Exam

Depending on their chosen certification and exam, the information that graduates will need to review between the FNP-C and FNP-BC certifications can be extensive. By preparing for your FNP exam with a strategy and schedule, you can increase your chances of success. Many certified FNPs have taken the following steps to prepare.

1. Create a Study Plan

FNP-C and FNP-BC exams are challenging and can cover a multitude of theories and best practices in nursing. By planning ahead and making a study plan, students can ensure they review as thoroughly as possible, taking some of the guesswork out of the examination process.

2. Practice the Exam

Understanding and having experience with an exam format can make you more comfortable with the testing process. Both the FNP-C and FNP-BC exams include multiple test formats, and the FNP-BC features other question types, such as drag and drop and hotspot.

3. Start Studying Early and Arrive at the Exam Rested

Starting early can allow for adjustments in a study plan and ensure that students cover all the exam material. Additionally, students should ensure they get a good night's sleep and take the exam well-rested, giving themselves the best possible opportunity to succeed.

Pursue a Meaningful Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner

From large urban centers to small communities, nurse practitioners are playing an increasingly integral role in providing quality care for patients nationwide. Whether pursuing FNP-C or an FNP-BC certification, nurse practitioners can gain the advanced skills needed to increase access to comprehensive and primary care for those that need it most.

The online MSN-FNP program from Carson-Newman University can be a key step in building the valuable knowledge and skills required to become a certified family nurse practitioner. An accredited program focused on preparing skilled, holistic nurse practitioners, Carson-Newman University's online MSN-FNP program is an affordable and accessible option for aspiring nurse leaders. Discover how you can make a meaningful impact as a nurse practitioner.

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