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What does an Acute Care Nurse do?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The duties of an acute care nurse are similar to those of a doctor in many cases. An acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) has a master's degree in nursing and gives much of the same primary care to patients as a doctor does, within limits. When his or her limit of skills and knowledge in acute care surgery is reached, a physician completes the operation.

Acute care is short term medical treatment that takes place in a hospital on an in-patient or out-patient basis. In-patient hospital care refers to patients staying at least overnight, while out-patients have appointments at hospitals for day surgery only and return home after. Acute care patients need medical services that can't be performed in a doctor's office. An acute care nurse treats patients in hospital emergency rooms, rehabilitation units, or mental health centers.

This type of nurse gives patients physical exams and orders diagnostic tests. He or she supervises the testing staff and interprets test results. Nurses make diagnoses and discuss conditions and treatment options with patients. They may be involved in patient instruction modules or teach medical interns at teaching hospitals.

ACNP duties at teaching hospitals tend to be quite extensive due to the advanced levels of nursing associated with this credential. A nurse often conducts research in the teaching hospital setting as well as providing full time leadership. He or she also often leads both research teams and patient care procedures.

Helping patients manage their symptoms, as well as their overall medical situation, is a main duty of an ACNP. Acute care nurses prescribe medicine and instruct patients in their use. They monitor patients' progress and direct them to community physical or mental health programs when appropriate. Nurses can prescribe a course of treatment and do follow up care; a doctor may complete some treatments, however, such as complex surgical procedures.

A general surgery acute care nurse practitioner assists surgeons, using his or her knowledge of the particular surgery to plan the appropriate patient care. A pain management ACNP may assist anesthesiologists as well as prescribe pain-relieving medication for patients.

Many ACNPs first work as a registered nurse (RN) before achieving a graduate degree and acute care certification. Some nurse practitioners work on earning their bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing at the same time. Due to their high level of training and knowledge, ACNP salaries are usually much higher than those of other types of nurse.

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Discussion Comments

By JaneAir — On Jul 04, 2011

@JaneAir - Actually, doctors do have a higher education level than nurse practitioners. A doctor has a doctorate degree while an NP typically has a masters. However they do practice medicine at about the same level with the doctor being able to do slightly more than the NP.

I agree with you that nurse practitioners tend to have a better bedside manner. I think this is because a lot of nurse practitioners start at the bottom and work their way up. Some of them even start out as CNAs which basically do all the "grunt work" of patient care. So by the time someone is an NP they have a lot of experience working with patients and a pretty broad knowledge of the medical field.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 03, 2011

I'm pretty sure I was treated by a acute care nurse practitioner when I was in the hospital for my asthma the last time. She basically handled my whole overnight visit from start to finish and I never even saw an M.D.

Honestly I tend to prefer nurse practitioners over doctors. They have about the same education level but I find that NPs have a much better bedside manner than most doctors. Yes, there are great doctors out there but I've dealt with a lot more great NPs.

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