What Is Acute Care Nursing?

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse answers the question; What is acute care nursing?

Differentiating between the many options nursing has to offer is necessary to navigate your professional path. You’ve likely heard of acute care nursing, but what does it mean? Below, we’ll clarify this specialty for you so you no longer have to ask yourself, “What is acute care nursing?”

What Is an Acute Care Nurse and What Do They Do?

Acute care nurses are responsible for patients who have short-term acute illness, such as broken bones or respiratory infections. When most people think of nurses, they often think of RNs working in acute care because this includes nurses who work in hospitals. Examples of acute care nursing tasks include:

  • Administering oral, rectal, and IV medications
  • Monitoring vital signs and symptoms
  • Communicating changes to other members of the healthcare team
  • Inserting urine catheters
  • Responding to medical or psychiatric emergencies
  • Applying wound dressings

Acute Care vs. Critical Care Nurse

What is acute care nursing versus critical care nursing? Acute and critical care are related, but not the same. Critical care is a form of acute care, but not all acute care nurses practice critical care. Patients in critical care are recuperating from severe illness or injury. For example, nurses who work on medical-surgical floors work in acute care. Nurses who work in any intensive care unit work in both acute and critical care.

Acute Care vs. Post-Acute Care

Patients enter post-acute care when they still need medical attention after hospital discharge, yet not enough to remain in acute care. Here are a few examples of post-acute facilities:

  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Long-term care hospitals
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities

What Is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

Acute care nurse practitioners are any nurse practitioners who practice in an acute care setting. Inpatient hospitals are a common example of where you would find acute care nurse practitioners.

What Is an Acute Care Facility?

Inpatient hospitals — with ICU and ER units — are just one of many examples of acute care facilities. Other acute care nursing examples include:

You might be scratching your head as to why long-term care was included. Long-term care nurses must address health issues that arise when residents become ill, yet not to the point in which they need inpatient care. These nurses must practice acute care nursing while also tending to the usual needs of healthy residents.

Acute Care Nurse Education Requirements

All acute care nurses must successfully complete nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. If you enter nursing school immediately after graduating high school, this should take approximately four years. The amount of time it takes could be longer if nursing is your second career, you’re attending school part-time, or other factors unique to your path.

Advanced practice nurses in acute care must also receive their master’s or doctoral degrees. Most programs prefer students to already have hands-on experience before entering these programs. If you are a full-time student, obtaining advanced practice education can take between two to six years.

Acute Care Nurse Salary

The average salary for a registered nurse in the U.S. is $94,480 per year. This number can vary based on your location, the facility in which you work, and your years of experience. For example, RNs that work in outpatient care centers earn an average of $102,640 per year while RNs that work in general medical and surgical hospital earn an average of $96,830 per year.

Pros of Acute Care Nursing

You Likely Won’t Be Bored

Expect plenty of variety on the job as an acute care nurse. You’ll be caring for people of different backgrounds with a multitude of illnesses. On top of that, each patient’s unique comorbidities impact your care. No two patients are the same even if you’re treating the same disease.

In addition, you never know who is going to walk through the door. In many acute care settings, you don’t know who or what conditions you’ll be caring for until shortly before you meet them.

You Make a Significant Impact

You’ll be a huge help to your patients whether it’s for just one day or for the rest of their lives. As an acute care nurse, you can save lives by providing CPR during a code. If you work in urgent care, you can help improve someone’s day by treating a painful rash. As a psychiatric nurse, you can help a suicidal patient see that life is worth living. After every shift, you can be assured that you made a positive difference.

Your Skills Stay Fresh

Due to the unpredictable nature of acute care, you may have to complete tasks that you’ve never done or haven’t done in a while. Although it may feel nerve-wracking at the moment, these learning experiences can expand your competency.

Cons of Acute Care Nursing

Work Days Can Be Draining

Acute care nursing can be incredibly rewarding, but that may come at a cost to you over time. It’s no secret that nursing is often physically and emotionally taxing. Spending all day on your feet can wear down your energy. Repeated exposure to vicarious trauma and patients in grave situations can be a heavy burden on your mental health.

Your Hours Can Be Long

Considering all acute care nurses do over the course of a typical workday, 8–12 hour shifts can be a lot. On top of that, sometimes you stay late to catch up on documentation. That extra work is exacerbated when you’ve participated in a code or any other situation requiring extra documentation.

What Is Acute Care Nursing? Now You Know

Is acute care nursing one of your career goals, or do you already have experience? Either way, there are plenty of options within acute care waiting for you. We’re here to support you as you search for acute care nursing jobs on IntelyCare.