We breakdown the main points of what you need to know about the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner career and education needed to decide if it's a career option for you.

What is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

The acute care nurse practitioner is a vital source of care for patients that have suffered a severe traumatic illness or injury. These nurses typically work in emergency room or critical care facility settings and are prepared to deal with life-threatening and tense medical situations.

NPs in this specialty are a vital piece to productive operation of fast-paced health centers that treat patients suffering from acute illness or injury daily.

School Level Program Admissions
Fairleigh Dickinson University Master MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner Website
George Mason University Master MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner Website
Campbellsville University Master APRN with FNP Track Website
Benedictine University Master Master of Science in Nursing Website
Rivier University Master MS in Nursing: Family Practitioner Website
Sacred Heart University Master MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner Website
University of West Florida Master Nursing, M.S.N. - Family Nurse Practitioner Website
Saint Xavier University Master Master of Science in Nursing Website
Seton Hall University Master Master of Science in Nursing - Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner - Acute Care Website

Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

The online acute care nurse practitioner degree program involves a standard Master's of Science in Nursing with focus on acute and critical care. The curriculum involved with this degree programs includes the standard courses for graduate level nurses as well as specialty courses designed for those entering into a critical care environment. Since this specialty deals with critical and fragile clientele, it is important that students are exposed to real-life scenarios via online learning and in person clinical experience.

Online specialty programs are also available for individuals wishing to pursue specific care in gerontology acute care nursing, adult acute care nursing, and pediatric acute care nursing. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) provides accreditation to online programs that fit the national standards for nursing education. Students should always check the accreditation status of schools prior to enrolling.

Typical Acute Care FNP Curriculum

The credit hour requirement for this online degree program ranges from 60-62 overall. Some universities offering this program state that the online program can be completed in 2-3 years at a full-time rate, which can be longer depending on a student's needs. In addition to the educational requirement, this degree also requires learners to take part in clinical visits and residencies in order to graduate.

This clinical requirement is typically integrated into the regularly schedule class work, but can vary by university. Coursework is conducted through an online interface, but students are responsible to set up clinical visits and residencies through local channels. The classes required in this major address the general nursing requirements as well as those catered to acute care nursing.

Top 5 Sample Classes for Online Programs

  • Advanced Human Physiology
  • Clinical Pharmacology and Intervention
  • Common Acute / Emergent Problems
  • Acute Care Residency
  • Advanced Technologies for Acute Care

Acute Care vs. Primary Care

Acute care nurse practitioners are responsible for the urgent care of individuals that have suffered a severe illness or injury. Although these may be short-term, acute care nurse practitioners play a large role in the future health of their patients, depending on their level of knowledge and skill at the time of treatment. On the other hand, primary care nurse practitioners provide everyday health and wellness services to their patients.

Primary care nurse practitioners are more likely to be involved with preventative measures as well as general health care than acute care nurse practitioners. Our team has analyzed the difference in these two subclasses of nursing practice in an effort to help our prospects better understand the benefits of each in comparison to each other.

Acute Care

  • Requires a minimum of a Master’s degree in Nursing in Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of patients that have suffered acute illness or injury
  • Handles a clientele of patient from the moment they are admitted until they are discharged
  • Typically works in inpatient hospitals, clinics, E.R.s, intensive care, or specialty clinic

Primary Care

  • Requires a minimum Master’s degree in Nursing Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Conducts initial health assessments for patients of all ages
  • Helps patients with management of injuries or chronic illness
  • Typically works in private practice, ambulatory health centers, clinics, or home care

Acute Care versus FNP

Acute care nurse practitioners are related to other nurse practitioners in that their educational requirements up to a certain point contain the same curriculum. Acute care focuses on immediate need of care from patients with unforeseen accidents or illness, so these professionals are needed in places that house these types of patients such as hospital emergency rooms or acute care facilities. Family nurse practitioners have a more broad scope of practice, since their care is primarily base around general health care for individuals and families.

Acute Care

  • Requires a minimum of a Master’s degree in Nursing Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Assesses symptoms and recommends treatment for acutely ill patients
  • Manages patients from admission to discharge in hospital or emergency room settings
  • Typically works in inpatient hospitals, clinics, E.R.s, intensive care, or specialty clinic


  • Requires a minimum Master’s degree in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Flexible career options can work in primary, ambulatory, or urgent care facilities
  • Provides health screenings to patients, helps patients manage chronic illness or injury
  • Typically works in hospitals, physician’s offices, and clinics, but have the opportunity to have private practice

Career Options and Salary

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: $104,740 per year on average (BLS;, 2015).
  • Critical Care Nurse Practitioner: $104,740 per year on average (BLS;, 2015).

What is the working environment and work responsibilities?

Since the work of an acute care nurse practitioner is based around immediate care, the work environment can present itself as fast-paced and demanding. Acute care nurse practitioners may find that the ability to manage multiple things at once while working alongside a staff of doctors and other nurses is critical to success in this field. Critical care units and emergency rooms consist of large amounts of medical technology and are often filled with the voices of medical personnel working tirelessly to help a large number of patients.

While the environment can be stressful, most find that the work itself provides benefits that greatly outweigh the pressure that surrounds the environment, so it is a great fit for professionals that have a strong desire to be a potential lifesaver for those with critical illness and injuries.

During a typical work day, acute care nurse practitioners may see multiple patients with a wide variety of health issues. From the moment that a patient is admitted, the ANCP examines the patient, orders diagnostic studies, prescribe necessary medications, and administers direct treatment.

While some patients may recover quickly and be discharged, some patients that require further hospitalization will sometimes be managed by their original ANCP until they are well enough to be discharged. It is not uncommon for ANCPs to follow up with their discharged patients if further referral is needed for additional care.