What Is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

Acute nurse practitioner helping patient with paper in hospital

Pursuing a career in the field of nursing can be very rewarding. Even within the career of a nurse practitioner, this field also offers many options for specialization.

Nurse practitioners are an essential part of the healthcare system and are integral in providing quality healthcare to all patients. These professionals hold high credibility and are seen not only as nurses but also as mentors and educators in their field.1

An acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) is one specialization for a nurse practitioner. An ACNP works with patients who experience sudden, critical illnesses and need acute care. They take on a variety of roles within this setting and must be ready for anything they may experience during their shift. Keep reading to learn more about acute care nurse practitioners.

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What Is the Role of an ACNP in Patient Care?

Acute care nurse practitioners play a critical role in patient care. These professionals are the link for communication and coordination between all aspects of patient care and the patients themselves. This means that an ACNP could find themselves making critical decisions for their patients that will determine patient outcomes.2

There is another, further specialization option for an ACNP: the adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP). These ACNPs still provide care to those in acute conditions, but specifically to young adults, older adults and geriatric patients.

ACNPs provide a spectrum of care to their patients while in acute care. Chiefly, they focus on providing treatment plans for patients and preventing further complications during care. This includes completing patient assessments, preparing for surgical patients expected to be admitted to emergency admissions and coordinating care between other primary teams to ensure quality care.2

Participating in an ACNP Degree Program

If you already have experience in nursing and aspire to take your career to the next level, enrolling in a master’s program for acute care nurse practitioners would be a beneficial next step. For example, if you want to specialize in adult-gerontology, finding an MSN degree with an emphasis in adult-gerontology would be ideal. 

In this kind of program, nursing students will learn advanced practice nursing care in complex, acute and critical care settings. This can include opportunities to perform skills in all-day skills lab performing tasks such as central line insertion, arterial line insertion, chest tube insertion, intubation, lumbar puncture, suturing, and incision and drainage. Students will also learn advance theory and practices related to all areas of direct acute care for patients.

Although this can be a rewarding career path to pursue, nursing students must be self-motivated and proactive in their learning while working toward this degree to succeed while earning a nursing degree. Participating in an ACNP degree program will prepare nursing students to make a difference in the lives of their patients and work in a variety of settings.

Additional Training To Become an ACNP

Although the ACNP certification offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has been retired, they now offer a certification for AGACNP. This entry-level advanced practice board certification, ACNPC-AG®, is offered to acute care nurse practitioners who are educated at a graduate level. It aims to ensure that ACNPs provide the best quality of advanced nursing care to acutely ill adult-gerontology patients. This includes patients experiencing episodic illness, exacerbation of chronic illness or terminal illness.3

In addition to having a graduate degree from an accredited school of nursing, those interested in earning this certification must also have a U.S. Registered Nursing (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) license in the state in which they are practicing. 

The AACN also offers a variety of initial certifications that those interested in acute care nursing can pursue to further specialize, such as an Acute/Critical Care Nursing Certification (CCRN) in adult, pediatrics and neonatal. While deciding what certification would be best for you and your career goals, it’s important to learn what employers require in the state you practice in and the setting that you wish to work in.

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Where Do Acute Care Nurse Practitioners Work?

There are a variety of settings that ACNPs can work in, although the most common is within a hospital setting. Within a hospital, you can find these professionals working in a variety of areas, such as in an emergency room, intensive care unit, cardiac care unit, trauma unit and acute care unit.

It is also possible for ACNPs to work in a setting outside of a hospital. Some may work in a specialty clinic or long-term care facilities4 or another type of skilled nursing facility. Another setting an ACNP can work in is critical care transport/flight.

What Hours Do Acute Care Nurse Practitioners Work?

Like other healthcare professionals typically found in a hospital, ACNPs often work long, non-traditional hours. This means that you will be working longer than the typical nine-to-five job as an ACNP, including weekends and nights.3 It’s also common to be on-call in this profession, meaning that you could be called in and must go to work at a moment’s notice.

How Much Do Acute Care Nurse Practitioners Make?

While nursing can be a demanding career path, it can also be a lucrative one. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners have a median annual wage of $117,670 as of May 2020.5

What Is the Job Outlook of Nurse Practitioners?

The future is bright for acute care nurse practitioners. Healthcare is an ever-advancing field, and nurses — especially acute care nurse practitioners — will always be an essential profession. As workers exit the nursing profession, new nurses must be equipped with the proper knowledge and skills to provide their patients with the highest-quality care they can offer.

As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to increase by about 45% from 2020 to 2030, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 121,400 jobs in the field.6

Grand Canyon University’s College of Health Care Professions offers a variety of on-campus and online nursing programs, including the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) MSN, to meet the demand for highly qualified healthcare professionals. To learn more about your options at GCU, click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen.

1American Association of Nurse Practitioners, What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)? in November 2021

2Nurse Practitioner Schools, A Day in the Life of an Acute Car NP — Interviews with Two Experts in November 2021

3American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, ACNPC-AG (Adult-Gero.) in November 2021

4American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner? in November 2021

5The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. They are not calculated using wages from GCU graduates but from workers across the country with varying levels of education and experience, and they reflect a national median wage for this occupation in 2020. This national data may not accurately reflect earnings of workers in particular parts of the country and may include earners at all stages of their career rather than solely entry-level wages. COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on May 2020.

6COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.

7 Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.

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.