The Importance of Acute Care Nurses and How to Become One

Nurse in blue scrubs wearing gloves and mask looking at a monitor.

It’s been over a year since the first reported COVID-19 case and our healthcare system has been pushed beyond its limits. Furthermore, our critical and acute care nurses and other clinicians have been at the forefront of this patient care. These heroes have shown extreme resilience during these tumultuous times. If you want a nursing career that’s challenging yet rewarding, consider a career in critical and acute care nursing, one of the most in-demand nurse fields. 

According to statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed registered nurses is expected to grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028, and that growth can be attributed to an increase in chronic conditions, the aging patient population, and a greater emphasis on preventative care. Compound that with the retiring nurse population and stressors causing an outflow of nurses, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are finding it extremely difficult to recruit additional staff. 

What is an Acute Care Nurse?

Acute care nurses are highly skilled and trained nurses that provide care for critically ill patients within an acute care or hospital setting. Acute care involves patients who have experienced severe illness or trauma, who require pre-and post-operative care, or other urgent medical conditions. Acute care RNs focus on improving a patient’s health with rapid intervention under time-sensitive conditions. Due to the nature of the critical care setting, acute care RNs typically work with fewer patients at a time but who require complex monitoring and continued vigilance, depending on the patient’s acuity.

Acute Care nurses often work in the following settings:

  • Emergency Room
  • Trauma Units
  • Sub-acute units
  • Intensive care Unit
  • Medical or Surgical Unit
  • Urgent Care Clinic
  • Operating Room
  • Outpatient or Inpatient Subspecialty Practice
    • Cardiology
    • Pulmonology
    • Neurology
    • Interventional radiology
    • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Nursing home or skilled nursing facility

The vital skills needed as an acute care nurse include critical thinking and decision-making in urgent situations. You’ll also need to be highly empathetic and compassionate, and be an advocate for your patients while being an excellent communicator and educator to them and their families.

How to Become an Acute Care Nurse?

Becoming an acute care nurse involves dedication along with coursework, training, and certification. 

Step 1. Earn your nursing credentials.

You must first earn a nursing credential, such as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license or certification. Earning these credentials, in turn, may call for a nursing degree like a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). 

Step 2. Gain experience

Typically, acute care nurses are required to have at least two years of experience working in acute care or hospital setting. This will allow you to build skills like critical thinking, communication, and quick response to help prepare you for a career in this field.

Step 3. Advance your learning 

Once you have received your nursing credentials, to become an acute care nurse you must receive a license or certification. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers 15 certifications for which to apply. 

Step 4. Get Certified

Now that you’re certified, it’s time to sit for your exam. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has you covered with prep tools and resources to help you prepare for the exam.

If you are interested in learning more about the profession, start by visiting the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses website with information on this career path and resources for helping you accomplish your career goal. Acute care nurses play a pivotal role in the care of acute and chronically ill patients. You can enjoy a competitive salary, according to acute care nurses earn an average of $75,119 depending on location, experience, and more. Explore this career today and search for acute care nurse job opportunities.

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