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Information on the Acute Care Nurse Qualifications

Higher Education Articles August 28, 2013

Health care professionals who meet the acute care nurse qualifications can expect an engaging career full of hands-on patient care in a variety of practice settings. Acute care nurses usually provide short-term care for patients that have a chronic disease or those in need of a surgical procedure. Acute care specialties may include:

•Pediatrics and Neonatal
•Oncology
•Cardiology
•Respiratory
•Surgical
•Intensive Care
•Gerontology
•Home Healthcare
•Emergency Room Services

The website, Minority Nurse, reports that acute and critical care nursing is in the frontlines of patient care. There are currently over half a million nurses in this specialty who provide patient care, research, teach, and manage departments.

Acute Care Nurse Educational Requirements

There are several ways to become a registered nurse (RN). Students may take the route of earning a diploma or associate’s degree in nursing, or they may choose to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Depending on the program, these degrees may include courses in human anatomy, nursing science, communication, nutrition, psychology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and physiology.

After completing the educational process, the prospective nurse must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to prove basic competency. This exam was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and is administered by Pearson VUE.

Individual state requirements may vary and can be researched through the individual state’s Board of Nursing where the nurse is planning to practice. After completing the acute care nurse qualifications, a nurse may enter the critical care field immediately or may gain experience in another area first before transitioning into this area.

After practicing in their chosen field, most nurses also choose to obtain additional education and become certified in acute or critical care. This is a voluntary credential offered in various specialties that can be obtained by taking an examination offered through the AACN (American Association of Critical Care Nurses) Certification Corporation.

Another step a nurse may choose to take is to become an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP). These nurses are qualified to make more complex clinical decisions related to patient care. After completing additional educational requirements at a master’s degree level, the nurse is required to sit for another advanced examination through the AACN Certification Corporation or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association.

Being an Acute Care Nurse

In addition to the standards of care delineated in the Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, the AACN has outlined specific Scope and Standards for Acute and Critical Care Nursing. The Standards of Professional Performance include:

•Quality of Practice: improving the effectiveness of acute care nursing
•Professional Practice Evaluation: evaluation of performance against practice standards
•Education: maintaining current knowledge
•Collegiality: works with others to build the profession
•Ethics: applies ethical standards to all levels of care
•Collaboration: works with patients, family and other healthcare providers
•Research/Clinical Inquiry: conducts research into the field of acute care
•Resource Utilization: uses available resources to deliver the highest level of care
•Leadership: sets an example for others

CollegeAtlas.org shows that as of 2010 acute and critical care nurses earned salaries averaging $60,000 – $70,000 per year depending on location, experience and specialty. An acute care nurse practitioner may earn $70,000 – $90,000. Outside factors that affect the salary include the nursing shortage, which may be especially pronounced in the acute care field.

The AACN has noted increased advertising for acute care nurses, with employers offering additional incentives such as signing and relocation bonuses or reimbursement for continuing education classes and certification. To provide nurses with the skills necessary to fill some of these openings the AACN offers a web-based program called Essentials of Critical Care Orientation. This program is divided into nine modules and includes sixty-four contact hours of education.

It may take some time to obtain all of the acute care nurse qualifications, but the rewards are worth it when it comes to the ability to provide intensive patient care in the most critical nursing situations.

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