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What Is the Difference Between Acute Care and Primary Care Nurse Practitioners?

What is the difference between acute and primary nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioner scope of practice is derived from their educational preparation, the validation of their education via the attainment of board certification, and licensure that grants the legal authority to practice. Scope of practice is further delineated by the patient's needs and is not setting specific.

According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (ACNP), are educated, certified, and licensed to care for those individuals who are physiologically unstable, technologically dependent, critically ill, highly vulnerable to complications, have rapidly changing conditions or have an illness which is chronically complex. Since scope of practice is defined by the patient's needs an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner may care for patients who fall within their scope of practice in any setting.

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties in collaboration with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, defines the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner as one who is educated, certified, and licensed to provide comprehensive, chronic, continuous care characterized by a long-term relationship with the patient. They can provide care for most health needs and are responsible for coordinating additional healthcare services, which are beyond their area of expertise. A Primary Care Nurse Practitioner may work in almost any setting provided that the needs of the patients for whom they are providing care, do not require the expertise of an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner due to acute onset physiologic instability.

How Do Acute Care and Primary Care Nurse Practitioners Differ?

Similarities in the scope of practice of Acute Care and Primary Care Nurse Practitioners exist; however, the major differences lie in the population for whom they provide care. Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are educated, certified, and licensed to provide care to patients who are experiencing chronic complex illness, critical illness, are physiologically unstable or technologically dependent. Often the care provided by Acute Care Nurse Practitioners is episodic in nature and limited to an exacerbation of a chronic disease or an acute traumatic event. The Primary Care Nurse Practitioner is one who is educated, certified and licensed to provide comprehensive, chronic, continuous care characterized by a long-term relationship with the patient. Primary Care Nurse Practitioners screen, diagnose, and treat common acute and chronic medical diseases and conditions. They are more involved in health promotion, screening, and education about primary prevention than Acute Care Nurse Practitioners. Each nurse practitioner is recognized as an expert in their respective specialty and works collaboratively to provide evidence based care and to optimize patient outcomes.

What is the Role of an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in Patient Care?

An Acute Care Nurse Practitioner is an independently licensed provider, who works in collaboration with physicians, registered nurses, other advanced practice registered nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, chaplains, and nutritionists to optimized patient outcomes. As an independent provider, the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner may lead interprofessional teams, evaluate and diagnose medical and nursing conditions, develop treatment plans and monitor the response to treatment. They are educated, certified, and licensed to provide restorative care in emergent and non-emergent situations.

Which practice settings are most appropriate for an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner to Work?

Acute Care Nurse Practitioners may work in any of the following settings:

  • Emergency Room
  • Intensive care Unit
  • Medical or Surgical Unit
  • Outpatient or Inpatient Subspecialty Practice
  • Nursing home or skilled nursing facility

What Hours do Acute Care Nurse Practitioners Work?

Work hours for an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vary and are highly dependent upon the job. A traditional Monday through Friday work schedule may be available with some organizations. Many hospital-based positions require Acute Care Nurse Practitioners to work nights and weekends. Twelve to fifteen-hour shifts are sometimes available, which minimizes the total number of days that one has to work.

What is the Role of a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner in Patient Care?

A Primary Care Nurse Practitioner is an independently licensed provider, who works in collaboration with physicians and other disciplines to provide evidence based care. As an independent provider, the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner may lead interprofessional teams, evaluate and diagnose medical and nursing conditions, develop treatment plans and monitor the response to treatment. They are educated, certified, and licensed to provide comprehensive, chronic, continuous care characterized by a long-term relationship with the patient.

Which practice settings are most appropriate for a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner to Work?

Primary Care Nurse Practitioners may work in any of the following settings:

  • Fast Track portion of the Emergency Room
  • Urgent Care
  • Family Practice Clinics
  • Internal Medicine Clinics
  • Women's Health Clinics
  • Jail Health
  • Nursing home or skilled nursing facility
  • Rural Health and underserved communities
  • Public Health Clinics

What Hours Do Primary Care Nurse Practitioners Work?

Primary Care Nurse Practitioners traditionally work a Monday through Friday schedule; however, hours may vary depending on the type of practice.

What Is the Median Salary for Primary Care Nurse Practitioners and Acute Care Nurse Practitioners?

According to PayScale.com data from May 2018, the annual median income for Primary Care Nurse Practitioners is $89,806 and $97,413 for Acute Care Nurse Practitioners.

What is the Job Outlook for Nurse Practitioners (NP)?

Primary Care Nurse Practitioners are well placed in today's healthcare market to acquire well paying, secure jobs. Furthermore, they are in the best position to operate their own practice. There are countless employment opportunities for primary care nurse practitioners and the number continues to increase. Given the growth in access to healthcare, limited resident work hours, and increases hospital census Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are fortunate to enjoy the abundance of employment opportunities as well. Nearly 100% of all our graduates, who want to be employed in their new role, are employed within 6 months of graduation.

What Kind of Preparation Do You Need to become an Acute Care or Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?

All nurse practitioners are required by the Texas Board of Nursing, National Professional Nursing Organizations, National Certifying Boards, and third-party payors to have a minimum of a graduate degree in nursing. The minimum acceptable graduate degree required to become a nurse practitioner is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Nurse Practitioner students at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) are all prepared at the Masters level; however, upon completion of an MSN, one may return to complete their Doctorate of Nursing Practice.

What MSN Nurse Practitioner Specialty Tracks Are Offered at UTA?

The College of Nursing and Health Innovation offers five online nurse practitioner tracks. Each track prepares the student to provide primary or acute care for patients in their selected track. All tracks require the completion of an MSN or a post master's certificate. The following nurse practitioner tracks are available in a 100% online format:

What Age Ranges May Each of the Primary and Acute Care Nurse Practitioners treat?

Each nurse practitioner is prepared to provide care for patients within their defined population. The age ranges which each may treat vary and are located below:

  • Family Nurse Practitioners are prepared to provide primary care across the lifespan. They may provide care for patients from birth through the end of life.
  • Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioners are prepared to provide primary care from birth through age 21.
  • Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioners are prepared to provide acute care from birth through age 21.
  • Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners are prepared to provide primary care across the life span of the adult. They provide care for patients ages 12 through end of life.
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are prepared to provide acute care services to patients ages 18 through the end of life.

Learn more about MSN in Adult Gero Acute Care NP Online.


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