How to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Job Duties and Responsibilities
What Are the Education Requirements for an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?
What Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification is Needed?
6 Common Steps to Becoming an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
We’ve explored educational requirements and certifications. Now, let’s review common steps on how to become an acute care nurse practitioner. But before we do, there’s some preliminary information you should know. Given that every state’s licensure requirements are different, no two journeys toward an ACNP career are exactly alike. However, here are some common steps you may reference to help you kickstart your career as an ACNP.
- Get Your ADN or BSN
The path to becoming an ACNP begins at the undergraduate level. Although a number of students most commonly choose to enter a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, others opt for a two-year Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) program.
Like most undergraduate programs, a BSN usually takes about four years to complete. The BSN program prepares students to become RNs and lays the foundation for graduate-level advanced practice coursework. The BSN program usually consists of two years of general education, pre-requisite classes and other core university requirements followed by two years of in-depth nursing classes and clinical rotations.
- Take the NCLEX-RN Exam
After obtaining your ADN or BSN, the next step is to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
The NCLEX-RX exam is a pass/fail exam which covers four areas: safe and effective care environment, health promotions and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.
Before registering for the NCLEX-RN, prospective ACNPs must obtain their authorization to test (ATT) from their state’s regulatory commission. The ATT is typically sent out by email.
Once the exam is scheduled, it’s important to devise a test plan in advance—make sure you know when and where to show up, make sure you have the required ID on you, and study for the test ahead of time.
The actual questions change year to year, but broadly speaking, they’ll be mostly multiple choice with a mix of other formats like fill-in-the-blank questions.
- Gain Relevant Clinical Work Experience
Before entering an MSN or other postgraduate program, acute care nurse practitioner candidates are generally required to gain one or two years of experience working as a registered nurse. However, some programs allow a candidate to gain their work experience as an RN while in the program.
RNs often gain their experience working in a hospital, but can also work in private practice offices and other clinical settings.
It may be helpful to think of this step not as a requirement, but as an opportunity to get hands-on experience treating acute and chronic conditions. Time in the field may help a prospective ACNP decide if that career path is right for them. Furthermore, it may give candidates the opportunity to decide if they want to narrow their focus even further, by working as an adult gerontology acute nurse practitioner or a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner.
Once you are accepted into a postgraduate program, you can expect to gain even more clinical experience for an acute care nurse.
- Obtain Your Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree
Once you’ve obtained your undergraduate nursing degree, taken your NCLEX-RN exam and successfully become an RN in your state, and completed your relevant clinical work experience, the next step entails enrolling into an acute care nurse practitioner program. This can be either an MSN in acute care nursing practice or a DNP. You can expect to complete two or three years of schooling, depending on whether a candidate chooses a master’s or doctoral program. It could take a little longer, depending on if the prospective ACNP is going to school full-time or part-time. Of course, each program is different and some offer expedited paths to obtaining your degree. Take time to investigate the specifics of each program you’re considering. Learn more about applying to nursing school.
As part of your program, you’ll gain hands-on experience by completing faculty-supervised clinical hours related to the acute care nursing role you’re aiming for. Many programs require a minimum of 500 hours.
- Become a Board-Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
After earning your MSN or DNP, it’s time to get board-certified. Certification ensures that a prospective acute care nurse practitioner has the required knowledge to safely treat patients. Aspiring nurse practitioners seek certification in the area in which they’d like to practice. As previously detailed, there are two national credentialing bodies for ACNPs.
An ACNP’s certification must be renewed every five years to prove their continued competence1. While renewal requirements vary by certification body and the type of certification, ACNPs generally need to complete a certain number of continuing education (CE) hours, which can vary according to each state’s requirements.
In addition to seeking renewal through the board, you may need to also seek renewal through your state.
- Commence the Search for Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Once you’ve completed your graduate-level program and completed your required clinical experience, and passed your certification exam, it’s time to start looking for a job.
This task may seem daunting, but there are a number of resources available to help you on your journey. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) maintains a database of open ACNP positions, which you can search based on location, specialty, and other criteria. The AANP job center enables you to upload your resume, allowing prospective employers to find you.
The AANP job center also provides resources on how to conduct a successful job search, including tips on how to write an effective resume, ace a job interview, or improve your networking skills.
You may search for open acute care nurse jobs elsewhere, namely on job search boards like LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed. Finally, your MSN program may offer career counseling opportunities or job leads—so be sure to check if these services are available to you and make use of them. Discover ACNP career and salary outlook and learn more about other nursing degree salaries.