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How to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

An  acute care nurse practitioner works to provide care to patients that are critically ill or are suffering from a chronic condition. Those who choose this profession must keep up with the fast paced environment that comes with a lot of responsibility and variety.

Acute nurse practitioners can work in an emergency or operating room, critical care unit, doctor’s office, or rehabilitation center. They often care for patients who are pre-and-post-operative, and for those who have suffered an acute condition such as a heart attack, respiratory distress syndrome, or shock.

Job Duties

Acute care nurse practitioners have many day-to-day activities. They include performing invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, interpreting test results, educating patients and family members about acute or chronic illnesses, prescribing medications, and managing care for those who are critically ill.

Acute Care Nurse PractitionerEducation

Your education begins by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once you graduate and earn your license, you need to work as an acute care nurse before you can return to school for an advanced degree, which in this case is a Doctor of Nursing degree. This program takes two to three years to complete and coursework includes bio statistics, economics of healthcare, chronic healthcare management, differential diagnosis, and mass casualty care.


There are several universities from which you can obtain your degree. They include:

  • Georgia Health and Sciences University
  • Pace University
  • Southern Adventist University
  • Walden University


The Acute Nurse Practitioner certification awards the ACNP-BC credential. It is given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and is recognized by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing certification and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

The exam takes 3.5 hours to complete and has 175 multiple-choice questions. Twenty-five of which will not count toward your score because they are pre-test questions. The exam consists of five categories:

  • Assessment and Diagnosis
  • Clinical Management
  • Health Care Delivery
  • Nurse Practitioner/Patient Relationship
  • Professional Responsibility

Questions can be similar to the following:

1. To improve the health of a population, an acute care nurse practitioner’s intervention is to?

2. Which medication is used cautiously with older adults due to the risk of confusion and delirium?

3. An acute care nurse practitioner performs a cardiac assessment on a patient who has confirmed mitral valve prolapse. During which activity does the nurse expect the patient’s murmur to diminish?

4. When irrigating a wound, what irrigation pressure is needed to effectively cleanse the wound while avoiding trauma?

5. A patient who receives several transfusions with citrated blood products needs to be monitored closely for?

6. A patient presents with sudden onset shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Her tongue is swollen and she is dizzy. What medication would you likely give her?

7. When preparing to remove an endotracheal tube you should not?

8. What is the leading cause of acute tubular necrosis?

9. In end stage renal disease, what lab value should be monitored in relation to bleeding?

Depending on where you live, you may need state authorization in order to prescribe medications. Advance Cardiac Life Support certification may also be required.

In order to keep your certification current, you must re-certify every five years. In order to do this, you must have worked in this specialty for at least 2,000 hours within the last five years, with a minimum of 400 of those hours being in the one year before renewal.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for all nurse practitioners looks to grow faster than the other career fields with an increase of around 34% until 2022. The Bureau also reports the average median salary for nurse practitioners was $92,670 in 2013. Your salary may vary based on location and specialty.

If you would like to learn more about this rewarding career, contact us.