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How to Become an
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

Reach new heights in nursing as an acute care nurse practitioner

Acute care nurse practitioners (also known as ACNPs) are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) who care for patients with sudden or severe illnesses or injuries.

Their patients may have complex diseases, acute illnesses, or chronic conditions.

Some ACNPs choose to focus on specialty areas, such as critical, trauma or emergency care, or with patients in a specific age group, such as pediatric or adult gerontology (adult and geriatric).

If you enjoy nursing and work well in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, becoming an ACNP may be a great career choice! Here are steps to help you on your path.

Take these steps

There are several requirements nurses must meet in order to become an acute care nurse practitioner. Below are five steps to take to become an ACNP:

What degree do I need to become an acute care nurse practitioner?

To become an ACNP, you must first earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). If you already hold an MSN, you will need to earn a post master’s certificate with a specialty as an acute care nurse practitioner.

When you have completed your MSN or post master’s certificate, you will need to obtain certification as an ACNP and obtain state licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). There are specialty organizations that will help guide you in the testing process, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

While you need to take these steps, there are different paths and great flexibility in pursuing your ACNP degree.

We offer several acute care NP program options in the adult gerontology specialty:

  • An accelerated RN to AGACNP option that allows students who have an associate’s degree in nursing to grow their acute care skills while still working. Online RN to MSN programs offer students the flexibility they need to continue working and helping patients while they prepare for a more advanced nursing role. This degree can be completed over the course of 28 months.
  • A BSN to Acute Care NP pathway (MSN program) for registered nurses who have their BSN and are looking to advance their skills and transition to acute care nursing. This degree can be completed in less than two years (as few as 20 months).
  • For nurses who hold an MSN and want to transition to a new career in nursing, a post-master’s AGACNP certificate is a smart, time-efficient way to prepare for a fast-paced NP role. The certificate can be completed in as few as 20 months.

Classes Start March 6th

Waived Enrollment Fee

What does an acute care nurse practitioner do?

ACNPs care for patients with sudden acute conditions, exacerbated chronic conditions, or complex diseases to help improve their health outcomes. In addition to performing basic nursing duties, ACNP responsibilities include:

  • Perform physical exams
  • Order and interpret laboratory tests
  • Diagnose medical conditions
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Develop follow-up care plans

Because ACNPs work with critically ill patients, they may also perform procedures such as:

  • Intubation and extubation
  • Casting and splinting injuries
  • Administering “conscious sedation” (anesthetics or sedatives)

ACNPs work in many clinical environments, including hospital emergency rooms, Intensive Care Units (ICU), urgent care clinics, medical-surgical units, and operating rooms, as well as nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities. ACNPs may assist doctors and work with a team, but they also have the flexibility to examine and treat patients as part of a healthcare team.

Additionally, some acute care nurse practitioners focus on one particular patient demographic. For example, an Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP or Acute Care AGNP) works with patients aged 13 or older. ACNPs may also focus on a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology, pulmonology, or neurology.

Where do acute care nurse practitioners work?

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), most ACNPs work in hospitals, in emergency departments or inpatient units. However, they may also work in nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, or wherever patients are in need of critical or acute care.

How much can you make as an acute care nurse practitioner?

ACNP salaries vary based on your employer, geographic area of work, level of education and experience. The average salary for nurse practitioners is $118,040 ($56.75 per hour), according to the BLS.*

Overall employment for nurse practitioners is projected to grow 52% from 2020 to 2030. Much of this is due to people retiring from the workforce or pursuing career changes.

ACNPs vs. Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) and Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (PCNP): What’s the difference?

Like ACNPs, family and primary care nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses.

However, ACNPs specialize in treating patients in an acute care setting who have complications with a chronic disease or patients with new, sudden or severe illnesses.

NPs, FNPs and PCNPs provide a wide range of whole-body health care services – including treating chronic conditions – to patients of all ages, from infants to seniors, to help them maintain their health throughout their lives in a clinical office setting.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Helping Medical Team Move Patient on Gurney

Start Your Career as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

The need for advanced skilled and specialty nurses is great, and demand continues to grow. As an ACNP, you can increase your earning potential and gain a great sense of fulfillment helping patients with challenging diagnoses and acute illnesses.

We’re here to help you take the next big step in your nursing career and become possible.

Learn more about our online AGACNP program options

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

Classes Start March 6th

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