How To Become an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

An adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner at work

People who choose to work in healthcare typically do so because they feel called to make a positive difference in their communities. Within the healthcare field, there are many different opportunities to explore, especially if you are interested in a career in nursing. Nursing offers a wide variety of specialization options, including becoming an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP).

Because AGACNPs hold advanced credentials, the process of becoming one of these professionals depends on your education and credentials. There are pathways for actively practicing RNs. Keep reading to explore the different pathways that can lead to a career as an acute care nurse practitioner.

What Is an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

An AGACNP is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who delivers acute care to patients suffering from sudden, severe illnesses or managing chronic conditions in a disease specific program. The APRN designation indicates that a nurse has received a graduate-level degree and advanced training in an area of specialization.

Because of their concentration, you will most often find AGACNPs working in emergency rooms, intensive care units (ICUs), urgent care centers, medical-surgical units of a hospital, and long-term care facilities. AGACNP may work in a specialized clinic delivering disease specific care to an adult population. In these settings, ACNPs provide highly skilled care that can save lives and improve patient outcomes.

Because of the focus on emergency services, the job of an AGACNP is often incredibly fast-paced. The main responsibilities generally include the following: 

  • Evaluating and diagnosing acute medical conditions as patients arrive in the ER or another setting 
  • Delivering life-saving medical interventions in collaboration with physicians and other healthcare professionals 
  • Prescribing medications and performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures 
  • Serving as patient case managers and departmental team leaders

This career is an ideal role for professionals who enjoy fast-paced work and critical thinking. People who become AGACNPs must be capable of thinking clearly and performing well in high-pressure situations.

Earning an Undergraduate Nursing Degree

If you’ve recently graduated from high school, the first step to become an acute care nurse practitioner is to earn your undergraduate nursing degree. Select a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program that aligns with the curriculum standards necessary for licensure. This will combine classroom instruction with hands-on labs that teach essential clinical skills you’ll need in the future.

If you’ve already earned an associate’s degree and are a practicing registered nurse (RN), you may want to enroll in an RN to BSN program. While earning a BSN isn’t mandatory if you’re a practicing RN, this accelerated program will build on your existing knowledge and credentials and prepare you for a graduate degree.

Completing a Bridge Program

If you are a licensed and actively practicing RN with a bachelor’s degree in another field, you will likely need to take a bridge program to apply to a master’s degree program. A bridge program is an accelerated course of study that will further your nursing knowledge and build upon your clinical skills. You can expect to take a blend of online and in-person courses.

The curriculum will vary, but in general, you may expect to study the following topics: 

  • Health assessments, including health patterns across the human lifespan, health promotion tactics and the referral of patients to community resources 
  • Analysis of epidemiological data in community and public health to guide initiatives in health promotion and disease prevention 
  • The pathophysiology of diseases in patients across their lifespans, with the consideration of environmental and biological risk factors 
  • Quantitative and qualitative nursing research methodologies and their applications in evidence-based practice

If you choose an area of specialization, such as adult-gerontology practice, you may take additional courses in that area as well. In addition, you’ll likely be expected to complete a capstone course. This is an opportunity to demonstrate everything you have learned. Your capstone course may involve developing an evidence-based solution to a real-world problem in clinical practice, with the possibility of clinical practice hours at the baccalaureate level.

Earning a Master’s Degree in Nursing

Every aspiring APRN must earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a curriculum specific to their intended area of expertise. In other words, you should look for a master’s degree that is intended specifically for future AGACNPs. You can also specialize further, such as in adult-gerontology.

The length of time it takes to complete an MSN with a focus on adult-gerontology acute care will vary depending on your school and your workload. Most students take between two and three years to complete their MSN.

The curriculum for a typical MSN-AGACNP degree can include: 

  • Principles of organizational science, leadership, and informatics within the healthcare setting, including designing innovative models of care and practice change proposals 
  • Evaluation of scientific findings from various fields and their application to improve the safety and quality of patient care 
  • Understanding normal functions and interpreting changes in physiology and pathophysiology, particularly the cellular environment, inflammatory changes, and fluctuations in immunity 
  • Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics principles, including the influence of physiological variables and pathological conditions on drug responses 
  • Analyzing common problems and developing solutions for acute care patients experiencing comorbidities

Many MSN programs offer the majority of the curriculum via online courses. However, because nursing demands hands-on, real-world experience, you should expect to maintain an on-campus presence for the classes that require labs or similar hands-on coursework. Because of this, you’ll want to choose a school that you can travel to during your studies.

Obtaining Certification and Further Licensure

After earning your MSN, your next step will be to obtain national certification through the American Nursing Credentialing Center or American Association of Critical Care Nurses. The ANCC and AACN administers national certification exams according to areas of practice. For example, the adult-gerontology acute care certification exam consists of 150 questions that test your knowledge of across the lifespan including acute and chronic disease management.

The process of applying for national certification is straightforward; simply create an online account, submit proof that you meet the eligibility requirements, pay the application fee and schedule your exam at an approved testing location. You can retake the test up to two times per calendar year if you do not pass the first time. You’ll also need to recertify every five years to keep your national certification active.

Next, in addition to holding an active, unencumbered RN license, you’ll need to apply for an APRN license via the licensure board in the state in which you plan to practice. Different states have differing requirements for obtaining an APRN license, but in general, you can expect to need: 

  • Official transcripts from your MSN degree 
  • An official letter sent from your graduate school to the state board explaining the focus of the degree program 
  • Verification of a certain number of clinical practice hours in your area of focus 
  • Proof of your national certification

The final step to becoming an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner is to earn your specialty certification in acute care. Different certifications are available based on the focus you’ve chosen. For instance, consider the following options: 

  • A certified pediatric nurse practitioner-acute care (CPNP-AC) credential administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) 
  • An acute care nurse practitioner for adult-gerontology (ACNPC-AG) credential administered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) 
  • An adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner certification (AGACNP-BC) credential administered by the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Although the specific procedures can vary from one professional association to the next, you can generally expect to need to submit proof of your eligibility to the organization before scheduling your certification exam at an approved testing site. Be sure to make a note of the length of time that your certification will remain valid before you need to re-certify.

Finding Work as an ACNP

The most recent American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Sample Survey was conducted in 2016 with a random stratified survey of 40,000 nurse practitioners. Data was collected bimodally, by internet and by mail surveys. Out of the 40,000 surveyed, there were 3,970 responses. 335 respondents reported ACNP or pediatric acute care specialization.

Out of this specific population, most ACNPs specialized in cardiovascular care (20.5%), while others worked in critical care (12.1%) and hospitalist positions (6.3%). Notably, the vast majority of ACNPs reported that they were pleased with their roles.1

Grand Canyon’s University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions offers a wide variety of online nursing programs as well as nursing programs that combine online education with campus experience to help prepare students on their educational journey. Click on Request Info at the top of the page to learn more about your options at GCU. 


1Retrieved from National Library of Medicine, Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, American Association of Nurse Practitioners National Nurse Practitioner sample survey: Update on acute care nurse practitioner practice in August 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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