How to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

An acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) provides care for patients with sudden illnesses or injuries, or aggravated chronic conditions. Acute care nurse practitioners’ scope of practice differs from family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and other primary care NPs in that they care for patients with acute conditions rather than managing a patient’s health over the course of their lifetime. ACNPs work in a variety of emergency and inpatient settings, and they can specialize in care for adults, children or emergency patients.

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Earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University.

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  • Preparation to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner
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4 Steps to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

There are several common requirements nurses must meet before becoming an acute care nurse practitioner. Below is an overview of the common steps to take to become a certified ACNP:

1. Become a registered nurse (RN).

Before pursuing an acute care nurse practitioner program, you must have completed an approved nursing program, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and become an RN. Passing the NCLEX-RN exam is also required to pursue RN licensure. Most graduate programs will require experience as an RN as well. RNs must also obtain basic certifications, such as Basic Life Support (BLS).

2. Complete a graduate nursing program. 

Nurses who hope to become ACNPs should enroll in master’s or doctoral programs with tracks that focus on acute care.

3. Obtain certification as an ACNP. 

Certifying organizations such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offer board certification for ACNPs in acute care specialties.

4. Apply for and obtain state licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). 

Certified nurse practitioners can become licensed as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in their state with a graduate degree from an accredited program, national board certification and an active and unencumbered RN license. 

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Overview 

While all acute care nurse practitioners care for patients with acute conditions, their specialties and work settings may vary. 

What is an acute care nurse practitioner? 

Acute care nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in caring for patients with new acute conditions or exacerbated chronic conditions. ACNPs work in a variety of environments—from hospital emergency rooms to urgent-care clinics to operating rooms—and may focus on adults or children. ACNPs do not provide primary care for patients across their lifespan, like family nurse practitioners do. 

Should I become an acute care nurse practitioner? 

ACNPs help patients with acute illnesses improve their health outcomes. In addition to the opportunity to serve patients, becoming an ACNP may offer nurses the chance to develop their skills as clinical leaders, pursue a high-growth job field, increase their earning potential and become further integrated into interdisciplinary health care teams.

Why are acute care nurse practitioners so important?

The number of nurse practitioners in the U.S. jumped from 248,000 in March 2018 to more than 270,000 in January 2019, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). And demand for NPs continues to grow, particularly for those who specialize in adult-gerontology. 

NPs are expected to help meet the increased need for preventive and acute care among older adults, while also stepping in to replace nurses who are retiring. Overall, the employment for nurse practitioners is projected to grow 52 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Sponsored Online Nursing Programs

Sponsored

Earn an MS in Nursing online from Georgetown University.

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University.

  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Preparation to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Part-time, full-time, and extended plans of study

Earn your MSN online from USC’s Top-Ranked School of Social Work.

  • Prepares RNs to pursue board certification as family nurse practitioners
  • Earn a CCNE-accredited MSN in as few as 21 months
  • Choose from part-time and full-time study options

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Career Options

There are a number of specialties acute care nurse practitioners can pursue, including pediatrics, adult-gerontology and emergency care. 

  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC): PNP-ACs care for acutely, critically and chronically ill children, from newborns through age 21. They may work in pediatric emergency departments, community clinics, pediatric intensive care units and other inpatient specialty clinics.
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP): AG-ACNPs provide care for adult and elderly patients with severe illnesses, acute injuries or exacerbated chronic conditions. They typically work in inpatient hospital settings and emergency rooms. 
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP): ENPs are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in emergency care. They usually work in emergency departments and other urgent-care settings.

Roles and Responsibilities 

Before pursuing a career as an acute care nurse practitioner, it’s important to know what will be expected of you in the workplace.

In addition to basic nursing duties, acute care nurse practitioners are tasked with taking patient histories and completing physical examinations, ordering lab tests, diagnosing and treating patients with acute conditions, prescribing medications and other therapies, stabilizing critical-care patients, performing bedside procedures and collaborating with patients’ health care teams to manage patient care. ACNPs may have to work nights or weekends depending on their workplace, as well as their patients’ needs  

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Salary 

Salaries for ACNPs vary by state, specialty and workplace. The median salary for nurse practitioners in 2019 was $109,820, according to the BLS. Top-paying states for nurse practitioners include California, Washington, Hawaii, New Jersey and Minnesota. 

Acute Care Nurse Certification 

According to the AANP, 5.5 percent of all NPs are certified in acute care. The following certifications are among those available for acute care nurse practitioners:

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification – Adult-Gerontology (ACNPC-AG) from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

  • Eligibility requirements: 
    • U.S. RN or APRN license
    • Graduate degree from advanced practice education program as an adult-gerontology ACNP at accredited nursing school, including supervised clinical and instructive coursework consistent with adult-gerontology ACNP practice
  • Fees: $260-$370
  • Renewal requirements for ACNPC-AG: There are three options for renewing certification every five years: practice hours and continuing education (CE) points; practice hours, an exam and pharmacology CE; or CE points and an exam
    • Practice hours and CE points
      • Unencumbered, current license
      • Practice as APRN for 1,000 hours during five-year certification renewal period
      • Completion of 150 CE points
      • Fees: $180-$260
    • Practice hours, exam and pharmacology CE
      • Unencumbered, current license
      • Practice as APRN for 1,000 hours during five-year certification renewal period
      • Completion of 25 pharmacology CE points
      • Passing ACNPC-AG exam
      • Fees: $200-$305
    • CE points and exam
      • Unencumbered, current license
      • Completion of 150 CE points
      • Passing ACNPC-AG exam
      • Fees: $200-$305

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

  • Eligibility requirements: 
    • Current, active U.S. RN license
    • Master’s, postgraduate or doctoral degree from an accredited adult-gerontology acute care NP program, including at least 500 supervised clinical hours in adult-gerontology ACNP role.
    • Three graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and advanced pharmacology
    • Content in health promotion or maintenance, differential diagnosis and disease management
  • Fees: $295-$395 
  • Renewal requirements for AGACNP-BC: 
    • Renewal required every five years
    • Current, active U.S. RN license
    • Complete 75 continuing education hours (CH), including 25 CHs in pharmacotherapeutics
    • Complete one or more of eight ANCC renewal categories (academic credits; presentations; evidence-based practice, quality improvement project, publication or research; preceptor hours; professional service; practice hours; and/or assessment) 
    • Fees: $275-$375 

Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP) from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)

  • Eligibility requirements: 
    • At least 2,000 direct, emergency care clinical practice hours as certified NP, 100 hours of emergency-related continuing education credits and at least 30 continuing education credits in emergency-related procedural skills in past five years;
    • Or, completion of an approved academic emergency care graduate or post-graduate NP program;
    • Or, completion of an approved emergency fellowship program
  • Fees: $290-$365
  • Renewal requirements:  
    • Renewal required every five years.
    • Current FNP certification.
    • At least 100 hours of CE applicable to advanced practice emergency care, including 25 hours of advanced practice pharmacology credits. Precepting of an NP or other advanced practice health care interdisciplinary student in emergency care may replace up to 25 CEs outside pharmacology.
    • At least 1,000 hours of clinical practice as an emergency NP during the five-year certification period.

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (CPNP-AC) from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

  • Eligibility requirements: 
    • Current, active, unencumbered U.S. RN license
    • Graduation from an accredited nursing master’s program, doctoral program with a concentration in pediatric acute care as an NP or a dual primary/acute care program, or graduation from an accredited postgraduate pediatric acute care NP certificate program
    • Passing of Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (CPNP-AC) exam 
  • Fees: $385 exam cost, including $130 non refundable registration fee
  • Renewal requirements for CPNP-AC: 
    • Annual recertification required, plus seven-year cycle requirements
    • Current, active, unencumbered U.S. RN or APRN license
    • 15 contact hours annually
    • 15 hours of accredited pediatric pharmacology over seven years
    • Four PNCB Pediatrics Updates modules over seven years
    • Fees: $65-$170

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Resources

The following organizations offer additional information for ACNPs. 

FAQs

Want to know more about the acute care NP profession? The following paragraphs provide answers to common queries, such as acute care nurse practitioner responsibilities, work settings and more.

What is an acute care nurse?

An acute care nurse cares for patients with sudden or severe illnesses or injuries. These advanced practice registered nurses treat patients who develop new acute conditions or have exacerbated chronic conditions.

What does an acute care nurse practitioner do?

An acute care NP’s scope of practice includes caring for patients with complex diseases, acute illnesses, or exacerbated chronic conditions. Many ACNPs focus on specialty areas, such as critical care, trauma or emergency care, cardio-pulmonary care, neurosurgery or oncology.

Where does an acute care nurse practitioner work?

Acute care nurse practitioners typically work in inpatient hospital settings, where they care for patients who are acutely ill. Other work settings include hospital emergency rooms, intensive care units (ICUs), trauma units and specialty clinics.

What are the differences between the AANPCB and ANCC NP certification exams?

The AANPCB offers a certification for primary care NPs, as well as an exam for Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP), a credential for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) specializing in emergency care. The ANCC offers a number of nurse practitioner certifications, including an examination for the credential Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC) for ACNPs who specialize in treating acutely ill adults. 

What are the differences between an acute care nurse practitioner and a primary care nurse practitioner? 

Acute care nurse practitioners specialize in treating patients with sudden or severe illnesses, or chronic diseases with new acute complications, whereas primary care nurse practitioners help patients maintain their health and treat chronic conditions throughout patients’ lives. 

Information on this page was last retrieved in August 2020.