What is an Acute Care Nurse?

The title of "acute care nurse" may refer to several different things. This type of nurse can work in acute care settings, often short term settings like hospitals where they give nursing care as needed for injured or very ill patients. The term could be mean acute care nurse practitioner, which requires much greater training and might be geared toward a specific population, like pediatrics. The steps to become an acute care nurse are different depending on what is meant, though most nurses in this field will begin down the same path.

The person who would like to become an acute care nurse attends nursing school or a university that offers a bachelor's degree in nursing. While it is true that licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN or LVN) work in acute care settings, they normally are not referred to as acute care nurses. They might be considered LPNs or LVNs working in a department that offers acute care, but less training means they can perform fewer procedures and are supervised.

As stated, the initial step is nursing school, and nurses have opportunities while in school to train in the different areas of nursing. Many decide which area they like best, and depending on training, grades and job availability, once they receive an RN, they may get work in acute care. A lot of nurses stay at this level of degree and provide wonderful healthcare interventions for people who are acutely, as opposed to chronically, ill. Though hospitals might be one area someone who wants to become an acute care nurse could work, other areas could include doctor's offices, where many of the day's cases are people who have suddenly become ill with a transient condition. In a doctor's office setting, there can be some blurring of the lines between chronic and acute care, since even family doctors may treat patients with chronic conditions.

If a nurse decides to become an acute care nurse practitioner (NP), she/he will have more ability to make medical decisions about the acutely ill. These could include diagnosing illnesses, determining a treatment course, performing more complex surgical procedures, or prescribing medications. Typically, after a few years' work as a nurse, though this isn't always necessary, nurses will go back to school and obtain either a master's or doctorate in nurse practitioner training. Many schools specifically offer NP training in acute care and some schools have programs specializing in pediatric acute care.

With a completed graduate school education, the acute care NP also has to choices as to where to pursue work. He/she may do work in acute care or hospital settings or might work in doctor's offices, medical clinics, or other places, depending on interest. Mostly this work would involve treatment of serious/acute illnesses that can be resolved with NP care, but sometimes people with this designation, especially in pediatrics, may work with patients in hospitals that are chronically ill, and in danger of acute fluctuations in illness. //Amy Smart