Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP): Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP): Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

Are you contemplating a career as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) but find yourself uncertain about its suitability? We’ve compiled comprehensive information that prospective ACNPs need to make an informed decision, covering duties, responsibilities, salary details, and the necessary steps to guide individuals in determining if this specialization aligns with their career aspirations.

ACNP Job Description

An ACNP is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specializing in delivering immediate and critical care to severely ill or injured patients. Possessing graduate-level training, ACNPs excel in managing complex medical situations, including acute illnesses, injuries, and worsening chronic conditions.

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Operating within healthcare teams, ACNPs play a pivotal role in diagnosing, treating, prescribing, and managing both acute and chronic illnesses. They collaborate closely with physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals to formulate and implement treatment strategies. ACNPs exhibit excellent communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, essential for swiftly identifying and managing medical emergencies in high-pressure and fast-paced environments.

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ACNP Responsibilities

Primary responsibilities of ACNPs in acute care settings include:

– Managing patient care during acute and critical illnesses
– Conducting assessments and evaluations
– Making diagnoses and implementing treatments
– Ensuring care consistency
– Interacting with patients and family members
– Planning for patient discharge
– Providing education to patients, families, and the healthcare team

ACNPs may also receive training to perform diagnostic exams and invasive procedures, such as arterial or central line placement, intubation, chest tube insertion, bronchoscopy, and electrical cardioversion of heart rhythms.

ACNP Places of Work

ACNPs can specialize in various patient populations, including Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (PACNP) or Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNP). They predominantly operate in hospital settings, including critical care units, progressive care units, trauma units, emergency rooms, and long-term acute care hospitals. However, ACNPs are not limited to hospitals and can also provide services in urgent care centers and specialty clinics.

Benefits of Becoming an ACNP

ACNPs play a crucial role in delivering immediate and high-quality care during health emergencies, significantly impacting patient health and wellness. Choosing to become an ACNP offers more autonomy in applying critical thinking skills, the opportunity to work in a dynamic and challenging environment, the ability to specialize in serving specific patient populations, and the potential for higher salaries compared to other nursing roles.

ACNP Salary

The average annual salary for an ACNP is $132,094, with variations based on experience, specialty, and location. Salaries increase with experience, with ACNPs having 1-3 years of experience earning $107,568, those with 7-9 years earning $124,652, and those with 15+ years earning $143,422. The average salary can also differ based on specialization, with Adult-Gerontological Acute Care NPs earning $117,854 and Pediatric Acute Care NPs earning $132,180.

Salary for an ACNP grows with experience:

  • 1-3 years ACNP experience:$107,568
  • 7-9 years ACNP experience: $124,652
  • 15+ years ACNP experience: $143,422

The average salary of an ACNP can differ based on their area of specialization:

  • Adult-Gerontological Acute Care NP:$117,854
  • Pediatric Acute Care NP: $132,180

States paying ACNPs the most:

  • New Jersey:$123,700
  • Tennessee: $123,653
  • Hawaii: $121,398

States paying ACNPs the least:

  • North Carolina:$85,326
  • Florida: $83,513
  • Georgia: $81,570

It’s important to note that these figures vary due to different sources, with state pay data from ZipRecruiter and other aggregate data from Glassdoor.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

While specific data on the job outlook for ACNPs is unavailable, it is predicted that the employment of APRNs, including ACNPs, will grow by 40% from 2021 to 2031, resulting in approximately 112,700 new NP job openings. The demand for ACNPs is particularly significant in hospital and acute care settings, given the rising need for specialized care in complex medical conditions, especially during health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. As the population ages, the demand for ACNPs with specialized training to manage complex medical conditions associated with aging will further contribute to the growing demand for ACNPs in acute care settings.

How to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

Embarking on the journey to become an ACNP involves five straightforward steps.

1. Nursing Education and RN Licensure

Initiate your ACNP journey by completing fundamental nursing education, obtaining either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Upon finishing an undergraduate nursing program, you become eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

2. Gain Registered Nursing (RN) Experience

After securing your RN license, accumulate relevant RN experience before applying to an MSN or DNP-level program for ACNP. Typically, a minimum of two years of current bedside nursing is required, although certain ACNP programs may stipulate additional experience. While most ACNP programs recommend acquiring acute care or critical care nursing experience as a foundation, this is more of a suggestion than a strict requirement.

3. Complete Advanced Nursing Education

Becoming an ACNP offers various pathways based on your educational background.

MSN ACNP Pathway:

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the standard entry-level degree for all Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), including ACNPs. Multiple pathways are available for nurses with different educational levels—BSN to MSN, RN to MSN, or Bridge RN to MSN for those with an RN and a non-nursing-related bachelor’s degree. Admission criteria, course load, and program duration vary depending on the chosen pathway, typically ranging from two to four years.

DNP ACNP Pathway:

Accessible to BSN RNs and MSN RNs interested in pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a concentration in ACNP. The program’s duration spans from three to seven years, contingent on prior education and the choice between full-time or part-time studies.

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Post-Masters ACNP Pathway:

RNs who have completed an MSN program can opt for post-master ACNP Certification to specialize in the field. Certificate programs generally take one and a half to two years to complete, depending on whether you start as an MSN RN or an MSN APRN.

It’s crucial to note that the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) has mandated doctorate-level education for APRNs, with the aim of making the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) the standard entry-level credential for APRNs by 2025.

Ensure that your chosen graduate-level nursing education program is nationally accredited by one of the following: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). This ensures adherence to ACNP education and future practice standards. All graduate-level education pathways for NP students necessitate a minimum of 500 direct patient care clinical hours, with specific clinical hour requirements varying among ACNP programs. Meeting these requirements is essential for eligibility to undertake the ACNP certification exam.

4. Pass the National APRN FNP Certification Exam

Similar to the NCLEX-RN for RNs, attaining ACNP status involves passing a certification exam, available through either the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

5. APRN Licensure

Apply for state APRN ACNP licensure in the state where you intend to practice.

Transitioning from an RN to an ACNP can be a rewarding career shift, providing opportunities to deliver advanced patient care, collaborate within interdisciplinary teams, and assume greater autonomy and responsibility in your nursing practice.

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