Acute care nurse practitioner vs. family nurse practitioner
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are authorized to diagnose and treat patients across a range of health care settings, from primary care to more specialized practices. As you consider your options for entering health care and making a tangible difference in patients’ lives, you may find it useful to assess the different concentrations available for NPs.
For example, what are the similarities and differences between acute care nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners? Though both roles allow you to directly interact with patients, as well as to develop and implement treatment plans, they have some notable differences. Take a moment to weigh the acute care nurse practitioner vs. family nurse practitioner roles.
What is an acute care nurse practitioner?
Let’s consider these two roles one at a time, beginning with the acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP).
Defining acute care
The term “acute care” refers to active but short-term treatments that are administered to address an injury or illness. Acute care can also encompass the services offered to patients who are recovering from surgical intervention. One way to think about acute care is as the opposite of chronic care; in other words, nurse practitioners in this field typically treat temporary health conditions rather than help their patients manage long-lasting illnesses or pathologies. Because of this focus on acute conditions, nurse practitioners who choose this field will often work in emergency rooms and ambulatory care facilities, though some may work in public health clinics or private practice.
2 types of acute care nurse practitioners
Nurse practitioners who pursue acute care will need to choose between two certification options, each one denoting a different population served. The two options for acute care nurse practitioners are adult-gerontology acute care and pediatric acute care. (A more general certification for acute care nursing was retired in 2014, meaning that if you aspire to become an acute care nurse practitioner today, you must choose between the two fields.)
● An adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) works with adults, including the elderly, and provides them with disease prevention as well as treatment for acute injury and illness.
● Meanwhile, nurse practitioners who specialize in pediatric acute care provide the same kinds of services but focus on infants, children, and adolescents.
Acute care nurse practitioner duties
The specific responsibilities of acute care nurse practitioners can vary not only by their area of clinical focus but also by their work environment, such as whether they practice in a hospital, private practice, or public health clinic. With that said, their duties will generally encompass the following:
● Evaluating patients who are experiencing sudden or acute symptoms
● Performing physical exams and ordering diagnostic tests to develop a diagnosis
● Designing and implementing a treatment plan, sometimes autonomously and sometimes in collaboration with a physician
● Prescribing medication as needed
● Following up with patients to ensure that their recovery is going as expected and addressing any complications from treatment
What is a family nurse practitioner?
To better understand acute care nurse practitioner vs. family nurse practitioner roles, let’s review the latter.
What does a family nurse practitioner do?
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who receive additional training and education, empowering them to diagnose and treat patients with much greater independence and autonomy.
FNPs will generally focus more on promoting a healthy lifestyle, providing basic health education, and helping their patients prevent disease. Unlike an acute care nurse practitioner, an FNP may see patients over many years, functioning as their general provider. FNPs may also play a more active role in managing chronic conditions. An FNP may see patients of all ages, from children to older adults.
Family nurse practitioner duties and responsibilities
An FNP is likely to see patients in private practice, a hospital setting, or a public clinic. The specific duties involved with this role may vary but will generally encompass the following:
● Performing routine evaluations and checkups to ensure that patients are healthy
● Promoting healthy lifestyle choices, from sound nutrition to regular exercise
● Advising patients about how to prevent disease or injury
● Developing and implementing treatment plans, whether for short-term or chronic conditions
● Prescribing medications as needed
Similarities and differences between acute care nurse practitioners vs. family nurse practitioners
Ultimately, both acute care nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners allow you to provide direct patient care and work with a high level of autonomy. The level of independence afforded to NPs can vary by state; however, this is a reflection of state-level nursing guidelines, not of any distinction between the two roles.
The salary range for these two roles may also be fairly comparable. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners in general can anticipate a median annual salary of $117,670; PayScale reports a slightly higher average salary for acute care nurse practitioners vs. family nurse practitioners ($104,385 as compared to $96,478). Be aware that the family nurse practitioner job field is growing rapidly, meaning those looking to get into the field have a lot of opportunity. The acute care NP job field is also growing but more slowly. Employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45% from 2020 to 2030.
One of the great differences will be in the type of care provided to patients. Acute care nurse practitioners will more often work in high-stress environments, such as emergency rooms, and address one-time patient concerns. By contrast, family NPs are more likely to work in a slower-paced private practice or clinic setting and see regular repeat patients.
Choosing a nurse practitioner career path
As you decide between the acute care nurse practitioner vs. family nurse practitioner career paths, think about whether you would find it more satisfying to solve problems and address issues in a more short-term or emergency setting or form more lasting relationships with your patients. Either career path will allow you to directly administer patient care, enjoying an autonomous practice as well as some collaboration with physicians and other NPs.
An important step toward either role is ensuring the right formal education. To learn more about programs for advanced practice nursing, you can compare programs or use the Pathways recommendation engine.