Acute Care Nurse

Acute Care Nurse, Acute Care Nurses, Admission Nurse, Admission Nurse Coordinator   More Names
Care Transitions Manager, Care Transitions Nurse, Charge Nurse, Charge Nurse, Cardiac Interventional Care, Chronic Condition Nurse, Clinical Educator, Clinical Nurse Educator, Clinical Staff Educator, Nurse Manager, Nursing Director, Pediatric Acute Care Unit Nurse, Preceptor, Progressive Care Manager, Progressive Care Unit Registered Nurse, Screening Unit Registered Nurse, Staff Nurse, Supervising Nurse

Provide short-term specialized nursing care for patients with acute conditions such as heart attack, stroke, shock, or severe injury. Acute care is for a brief, but severe episode of illness, injury, or other trauma.

Acute care nurses are licensed professionals who work in consultation with physicians and surgeons and have highly specialized life-saving training. They almost always are registered nurses who specialize in short-term, fast action stabilization, pain reduction, and treatment of patients suffering from severe, often life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, or auto accident injuries. They often are found working in emergency rooms and also in pre- and post-surgery units, but also can be found wherever their specialized life-saving skills may be needed.

Once the short-term, severe crisis condition that required acute care is treated, patients are transferred to the hospital critical care unit or department that specializes in each patient's illness or injury for longer-term treatment and recovery. Critical care units or departments may include adult intensive care units (ICUs); pediatric ICUs; newborn (ICUs); emergency departments; cardiac care units; infectious disease units; and surgery recovery rooms.

Once transferred to a unit or department, the nursing responsibilities for the patient are handed-off from acute care nurses to critical care nurses. In addition to hospitals, acute care nurses also can be found in some managed care facilities, nursing homes, and outpatient surgery centers and clinics.

The primary role of acute care nurses is to work alongside physicians, surgeons, and other hospital professionals as needed to help provide immediate patient treatment for severe illnesses or injuries plus actions to ease pain and discomfort. They are part of a highly specialized medical team and must remain alert for any sudden changes in a patient's vital signs and condition. In addition to their specialized skills, they also need traditional nursing values such as careful listening, clear thinking, and patient understanding and empathy.

As acute medical care procedures and technology continues to improve, acute patient care has become more complex, requiring more specialized knowledge and skills for acute care nurses. This includes the ability to properly use a wide-range of special care and monitoring technology including - cardiac ultrasound and echo units, cardiac defibrillators and monitoring units, diagnostic and intervention catheters and sets, and more.

In a typical hospital, a little over one-third of the registered nursing staff work as critical care nurses, and a smaller percentage as acute care nurses. Within many hospitals throughout the U.S, there is a shortage of qualified acute care nurses.

Throughout the entire U.S. healthcare industry, registered nurses are the largest healthcare occupation holding more than 2.6 million jobs. Of this total, the AACN reports over 500,000 - about 20% - are critical care or acute care nurses.

Credentials Needed: Once an individual completes their education and training, they are eligible to take the registered nurse national licensing exam which must be passed before an individual can seek to be licensed as an RN and train to become an acute care nurse.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia (plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) require that registered nurse candidates must first graduate from an accredited nursing program and then pass the National Council Licensure Examination. After passing this national licensing exam, candidates are ready to seek licensure by the state in which they intend to practice.

Information concerning what your state may require regarding licensing for registered nurses is available from State Boards of Nursing which are listed under "Find Programs" for this career as well as from the website.

An RN that trains and then practices as an acute care nurse does not have to meet any further state licensing, registration, or other certificate requirements. Although certification is not required to practice as an acute care nurse, many choose to become certified through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The AACN sponsors a number of specialty certifications for acute care nurses, including adult, neonatal, and pediatric specializations.

The AACN is the principal voluntary professional association for critical care nurses, acute care nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses. This organization reports that it represents the interests of over 50,000 nurses and is the largest specialty care nursing organization in the world.

Some Key Things to Remember: Acute care nurses provide short-term specialized nursing care for patients with severe episodes of illness, injury, or other trauma. They treat acute conditions such as heart attacks, difficulty breathing, and shock or severe injuries as from an auto accident. Acute care is usually given in a hospital under the specialized direction of physicians or surgeons. These specialized nurses usually receive their training through on-the-job experience and certification. There is a shortage of acute care nurses in many communities throughout the United States.

Reviewed for content and accuracy by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and South Dakota State College of Nursing on behalf of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, February 6, 2012 and February 23, 2012.

More Details
Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
16% - Faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $56,190 - $83,770    Hourly: $27 - $40
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Acute care nurses spend long hours (12 hour shifts) on their feet and need to be able to lift patients using good body mechanics and lifting techniques. Acute care nurses need stamina and many hospitals have specific weight lifting requirements for their nurses.

Legal Requirements
Similar Careers

Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician
Typical Education: Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
Salary (National): $37,690 - $73,050

Critical Care Nurse
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree (High School + 4 or more Years)
Salary (National): $56,190 - $83,770

Critical Care Nurse
Typical Education: Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
Salary (National): $56,190 - $83,770

(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
Find Programs

Percent Job Growth:

16% - Faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $56,190 - $83,770

Hourly: $27 - $40