Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become an acute care nurse practitioner. Learn about education, licensing requirements, job growth and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Family Nurse Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

An acute care nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who has specialized in treating acutely ill patients. They may work in in-patient or out-patient settings including emergency departments and intensive care units.

Acute care nurse practitioners provide the specialized care needed to stabilize patients with critical needs and prevent further complications. This includes performing medical exams, operating medical machinery, and counseling and teaching patients. Nurse practitioners work with physicians and other healthcare personnel, and often have the authority to lead staff, create treatment plans, and autonomously administer treatment and medicines.

The following chart provides an overview about an acute care nurse practitioner career.

Degree Required Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Licensure or Certification All states require registered nurses to be licensed; some states require national board certification for advanced practice nurses, which includes nurse practitioners
Key Responsibilities Conduct physical examinations; assess and diagnose acute medical conditions and trauma; order diagnostic testing and analyze results; prescribe medication and treatments to stabilize patients
Job Growth (2014-2024) 35% for nurse practitioners*
Median Salary (2015) $98,190 for nurse practitioners*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Education Do I Need to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

A master's degree is currently required to be an acute care nurse practitioner. For admission to a master's program, you generally need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as well as a registered nurse (RN) license; however, some programs accept a bachelor's degree in another field, allowing you to first take the courses necessary to become an RN. You might be required to have some acute care experience as an RN prior to admission.

Master's programs typically include instruction in advanced physical assessment, nursing research, pathophysiology and pharmacology, among other topics. A nurse practitioner program specializing in acute care can take 2-3 years to complete. ACNP post-master's certificate programs are also available if you're already a nurse practitioner and desire training in acute care nursing.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (www.aacn.nche.edu), the minimum degree requirement to become an ACNP may soon transition to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Acute care DNP programs are 2-3 years in length and include coursework in differential diagnosis, mass casualty care, chronic healthcare management, economics of healthcare, biostatistics and other subjects.

What Would My Job Duties Be?

As an ACNP, you could work in trauma and intensive care units, as well as in departments such as cardiology, oncology and emergency care. Your responsibilities might include ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, educating patients and family members about acute or chronic illnesses, prescribing medications and managing care for critically ill patients.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), NP careers on the whole are projected to increase 35% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Particularly high demand is expected in underserved areas like rural and inner-city communities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many occupations with similar education requirements and a similar scope of responsibility as a nurse practitioner. These include physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists. All are healthcare professions that require completion of a master's degree or specific postgraduate program. Occupational therapists work with patients to build or improve skills for everyday living, while physical therapists help patients improve mobility and manage pain. Speech pathologists work with patients who have communication or swallowing disorders.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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