Acute Care Nursing

Nursing is a rewarding profession with many challenges; nurses care for a diverse group of patients with different types of diagnosis in various types of settings. Acute care nursing is an area of the nursing profession that involves the care of individuals who have sudden and short-term illnesses. This is different from chronic nursing, which involves patients with long-term illnesses that follow a predictable disease process. Caring for individuals that have an acute onset of an illness is difficult, since their symptoms can be the result of a number of illnesses. A level of expertise is needed in this area of nursing since the patients are sicker with complex disease processes.


Nurses who have a bachelor’s degree are able to transfer credits to a university that offers an acute nurse practitioner’s program. There are accelerated programs for registered nurses that have an associate’s degree that makes the transition from undergrad to graduate level easier. Working as a registered nurse for a few years before applying to a master’s level program is recommended. It is wise to get experience to become familiar with patients and the many types of disease processes. After completion of the program, a candidate must sit for the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam, which is administered by the American Nurse Credentialing Center. (ANCC)


Physicians rely on the expertise of acute care nurses who care for their patients; therefore careful assessment of a patient experiencing an acute episode is crucial for these nurses. Nurses constantly communicate pertinent medical information about patients to physicians; if a symptom is overlooked or misinterpreted, it can be dangerous for the patient’s outcome. Acute care nursing is a skill practiced in most medical settings. These nurses work with physicians in their offices, providing a high-level of care at lower cost to insurances.


Patients who go to the hospital with a sudden onset of symptoms usually present first to the emergency room. Many acute care nurses now practice in the emergency room at hospitals after a patient is assessed in triage by a registered nurse. An acute care nurse is able to assess, diagnose and treat patients within her scope of practice, and admit patients under a doctor’s care if necessary. These nurses will order a series of blood work and other diagnostic tests needed to provide the best level of care for patients. They will also interpret the result and relay the information to the doctor on call at the hospital. Every hospital policy differs, some acute care nurses can work independently or under the care of a physician.

Nursing Homes

Nurses who work in a nursing home usually care for residents who have chronic illnesses. Many of the residents’ illnesses are pretty much the same and care can become routine because of this fact. An acute care nurse has to be aware of any resident who may suddenly present with symptoms that are out of the ordinary, which may indicate an acute illness. A nurse who is experienced in acute care nursing will recognize the symptoms and make the necessary arrangements for the residents to get the immediate care they need. The health of the elderly population is compromised with multiple health problems, which make it difficult to identify when an acute episode is present. Careful assessment by attentive acute care nurses will help keep patients of the geriatric population healthy.

Intensive Care Units

Acute care nursing is practiced on Intensive Care Units. Patients are usually admitted to the ICU for an acute flare-up of an illness or are post-operative from emergency surgery due to an acute episode, requiring immediate intervention. Acute Care Nurses who have worked on intensive care units for a certain length of time are eligible to sit for an exam that will certify them in this specialty. Certification for Adult Acute Care Nurse Practitioners serves as an entry-level practice certification for nurses who have graduated from a master’s or Ph.D program. This certification is approved by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Hemodialysis Clinics


Hemodialysis clinics accommodate patients who have are in end stage renal disease, which means their kidneys are no longer able to function to sustain life. These patients require a procedure called hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis several times a week to clean their blood and have nutrients replaced that their kidneys are not able to do anymore; these patients are chronic. Sometimes a patient’s decreased kidney function may be due to an acute illness, physical accident or accidental overdose of a medication. Dialysis will give their kidneys a rest until their kidneys regain function. These patients are acute dialysis patients and require special care by trained nurses. Acute care nurses who work in dialysis out-patient centers are able to assess, diagnose and order the type of dialysis treatment they will need.

Research and Teaching

Acute care nurses teach conduct research at hospitals and other places of employment.

Home Care Agencies

Some home care agencies hire acute care nurses to monitor patients in their homes. With governmental and insurance cuts, patients are sent home sooner from the hospital. Having an acute care nurse on staff assures patient safety, health and well-being.