How to Choose an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree

This article contains information about how to choose an acute care nurse practitioner (NP) degree. Also, we will offer helpful information about quality, online MSN degrees you may want to consider in this rapidly growing profession. We also offer details about the type of accreditation you should look for with nursing programs.

What Is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree?

An acute care nurse practitioner degree is a Master of Science in Nursing degree that is intended for experienced nurses who already have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and have several years of clinical nursing experience.

With this advanced, highly in demand nursing degree, you will have the skills to provide advanced acute care largely to adults and older adults, but children as well.

This degree will teach you how to conduct complex patient monitoring, properly order and interpret dozens of diagnostic tests, and also have the knowledge and skills to devise complicated medical treatment plans. These plans are based upon modern evidence based practice to get the patient stabilized and to provide optimum health outcomes.

Depending upon the online MSN program you select in acute care, you may be able to specialize in areas that most interest you. Common specializations in acute care include:

  • Cardiology (hypertension, heart failure and myocardial infarctions)
  • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Nephrology, including end stage renal disease
  • Pulmonology, including COPD
  • Oncology, including hematological and solid organ tumors
  • Neurosurgery, Neurology, including CVAs
  • Critical Care, including SICU, MICU and CCU
  • Endocrinology, including diabetes
  • Trauma
  • Rehabilitation

An acute care NP program will teach you to develop highly tuned diagnostic reasoning abilities, evaluate complex therapeutic interventions and to work in collaboration with a possibly large health care team.

The curriculum also will provide in depth knowledge of pathophysiology and the ability to manage complex acute care issues with many serious illnesses.

To be admitted into an acute care nurse practitioner program, you will need to have a current RN license. Also, you should have a bachelor of science BSN in nursing, as most of these programs are designed for experienced nurses.

You may be able to find a ‘direct entry’ MSN program that allows you entry into the program if you have a bachelor’s in another field. But note that you will need to earn your BSN first, and then obtain two years of nursing experience before completing the MSN.

Why Earn an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree?

The biggest reason to earn a degree to become an NP today is the demand for these advanced practice nursing professionals is sky high and will only increase in the coming years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports that the demand for nurse practitioners in all specialities will skyrocket by 35% by 2024. Specifically, there were 126,900 NPs working in 2014, and there will be 171,700 working by 2024. This is a shocking amount of increase, and it means that most NPs will be able to have their pick of acute care positions.

Nurse practitioner demand is growing quickly because the population is living longer and is wanting more healthcare services to enjoy a more productive life. As health care costs are rising, this is leading to more NPs being used for roles that only doctors occupied a generation ago.

The higher demand is also leading to great salaries for NPs; BLS reports that the median salary for all NPs in 2016 was $100,910.

Another excellent reason to become an acute care NP is in some states, you have the possibility of working in a fully independent practice, without doctor oversight.

As of 2014, the following states allow NPs to work in fully independent practices:

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Washington
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Utah
  • Masschussetts

The ability to work in a fully independent fashion as a nurse practitioner has a great amount of appeal for many nurses. Many other states also allow NPs to work in a reduced practice without doctor oversight.

Online Degree Options

A solid choice for an online, acute care NP program is the MSN in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care program that is offered by Drexel University.

This CCNE-accredited program is made to train experienced nurses in how to manage in an acute care situation for seriously ill adults who have chronic medical conditions. Most graduates of this 30 month program work in hospital settings; they often work as hospitalists, ICU nurse practitioners and in surgical and medical practices.

This program offers fully synchronous, live classes that you will view at the same time as your other classmates. After you complete this program, you will be eligible to site for NP acute care certification that is administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Your required courses will include these:

  • Confronting Issues in Contemporary Health Care Environments
  • Advanced Ethical Decision Making in Health Care
  • Quality and Safety in Healthcare
  • Research Methods and Biostatistics
  • Evaluation and Translation of Health Research
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Clinical Assessment & Diagnostic Reasoning Across the Lifespan

For admission, you need to have a bachelor of science in nursing that is accredited by either the National League of Nursing or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Also, you must have at least  3.0 GPA from your bachelor’s program and have two years minimum of acute care nursing experience. It is preferred to have critical care experiences, such as in an ICU, CCU or ER.


A critical point for all online degree programs, including nursing, is whether the program has been fully accredited by a respected education accreditation body in that field.

Accreditation is extremely important in online education because it indicates that the nursing degree program is of high quality and will give you the knowledge and skills to succeed in your work.

This is even more important in nursing because, obviously, you will be in a life or death situation with many patients. Your knowledge and skills in nursing also must be excellent for you to provide exemplary treatment to all types of patients in your care.

In the nursing profession, the most respected accreditation body is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE. This body’s seal of approval on a nursing program online informs you that your education meets very high quality standards.


There is simply a huge level of demand for nurse practitioners today, in both acute care and family practice. Nurse practitioners can offer the same level of care as doctors in many situations, and the price is much lower. With a master’s degree in nursing in acute care, you will have ample jobs available with excellent salary potential. NPs also receive a level of respect that most regular nurses do not.