The Importance of Acute Care Nurses and How to Become One

Last Updated on May 13, 2024

female acute care nurse in blue scrubs with gloves, mask, and headwear taking notes on clipboard in an operating room

Even before the first reported COVID-19 case, our healthcare system has been pushed beyond its limits. Furthermore, nurses within critical care units, acute care units, and others 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!

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. In addition, these 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 nurses 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/Surgical Unit
  • Urgent Care Clinic
  • Operating Room
  • Outpatient or Inpatient Subspecialty Practice
    • Cardiology
    • Pulmonology
    • Neurology
    • Interventional radiology
    • Cardiothoracic surgery

However, acute care nurses can often work in other settings, such as nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, too!

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.

Acute Care Nursing Outlook

According 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. 

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.

Explore Acute Care Nursing with CareerStaff

Acute care nurses play a pivotal role in the care of acute and chronically ill patients. Ready to get started? Complete a quick application to get connected with a recruiter today and acute care nurse job opportunities! Or, jumpstart your acute care search and explore travel, local, and per diem nursing jobs across the country.