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Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner: Choosing a Career for Care

March 5, 2020  |  Category: Nursing

Family nurse practitioner providing care to elderly woman patient.

As the new decade begins, the nationwide shortage of nurses and physicians persists, creating many opportunities for nursing professionals. Aspiring nurses may be considering which specific role or career they want to pursue, acute care nurse practitioner versus family nurse practitioner, while practicing RNs may be thinking about becoming nurse practitioners. Regardless of the path they choose, current and future nurses can earn a Master of Science in Nursing from AdventHealth University Online to help them pursue their professional goals.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the U.S. Of these nurse practitioners, 66.9 percent work as family nurse practitioners (FNPs), while 4.8 percent work as acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs). When considering a career as an acute care nurse practitioner versus a family nurse practitioner, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities of the roles.

Both FNPs and ACNPs hold a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice. However, FNPs and ACNPs receive education and training tailored to their specific areas of specialization. FNPs are trained to work directly with patients as primary care providers and conduct research on topics related to disease prevention. ACNPs are trained to make important and life-altering decisions for patients in critical conditions. This means FNPs are more likely to focus on long-term plans for patients for whom they will provide extended medical care, while ACNPs are responsible for diagnosing and treating patients in fast-paced environments.

The patient populations each specialization serves are also different. FNPs can provide care for patients of all ages and backgrounds, working in pediatrics to geriatrics and everything in between. ACNPs, on the other hand, see patients who require acute care and often hold certifications in adult gerontology.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: Roles and Responsibilities

Acute care nurse practitioners have an important position in the medical field. They work with patients who may be suffering from severe illnesses or who may be in critical condition. Nurses considering a career in acute care nursing need a clear understanding of the responsibilities, work environment, education requirements, and job outlook for acute care nursing positions.

Responsibilities and Specialties

Acute care nurse practitioners provide immediate assistance to patients in acute care. Alongside physicians, they are responsible for diagnosing and treating patients. Given the immediacy of some acute medical conditions, decisions made by ACNPs can significantly impact the lives of patients. Their specialties range from treating serious injuries to conducting invasive procedures. ACNPs can also serve as nurse case managers or nurse leaders. They can conduct a wide variety of tasks, from handling patient records to performing diagnostic procedures. ACNPs are also typically responsible for taking care of patients before and after operations.

Work Environment

ACNPs can work in a variety of places, such as a hospital or a doctor’s office. More specifically, they can work in an emergency room or operating room, providing advanced medical care for patients in critical conditions. ACNPs also hold positions in intensive care units or ambulatory clinics.

Education and Training

Aspiring ACNPs must first complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and become registered nurses. BSN graduates can then pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). During an MSN program, nursing students complete around two years of courses, as well as several hundred hours of nursing clinicals, before taking a test to become certified as ACNPs. To better prepare for ACNP certification, nursing students can earn a post-master’s certificate in acute care. After earning the certification, they can practice as ACNPs, having completed the necessary education, training, and certification.

Salary and Career Growth

According to PayScale, ACNPs earn a median annual salary of approximately $101,000. Nurses in this role have the opportunity to increase their salary earnings with more experience and additional certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there continues to be a demand for nurse practitioners in all specialized positions. The BLS projects the employment of NPs, which includes ACNPs and FNPs, to grow 26 percent by 2028.

Family Nurse Practitioner: Roles and Responsibilities

Family nurse practitioners hold a unique position in the medical field. They work with patients of all ages as their primary care providers. There are many differences in the roles, work environments, and required education for family nurse practitioners versus acute care nurse practitioners:

Responsibilities and Specialties

Because FNPs are highly educated and trained in advanced practice nursing, they can take on responsibilities similar to those of physicians. FNPs work with individuals of all ages and in all stages of life to promote health and prevent diseases. They can conduct physical exams and perform diagnostic procedures, as well as screen patients and perform minor surgeries. Since FNPs develop relationships with their patients, they create long-term health plans to oversee medical wellness. They also offer important medical guidance and can refer patients to specialists for necessary procedures or operations.

Work Environment

Since FNPs can serve as the primary care providers for families and patients, they often work from private offices. FNPs can work in clinics or, in some states, have their own practice. They can also work in other primary care settings or in hospice centers.

Education and Training

Aspiring FNPs must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and become RNs. BSN graduates can then earn a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice. While earning an MSN, nursing students complete around two years of courses, as well as several hundred hours of nursing clinicals. They then must take a test to become certified FNPs. To prepare for FNP certification, nursing students can earn a post-master’s certificate in family practice. After earning the certification, they can practice as FNPs, having completed the necessary education, training, and certification.

Salary and Career Growth

According to PayScale, FNPs earn a median annual salary of approximately $93,000. Nurses in this role have the opportunity to increase their salary earnings with more experience and additional certification. As of 2018, there were 240,700 positions for APRNs. According to the BLS, there continues to be a demand for nurse practitioners in all areas, including FNPs, and positions in the field are projected to grow 26 percent by 2028.

Start Your Nursing Career

There are many differences between roles as an acute care nurse practitioner versus a family nurse practitioner, but both FNPs and ACNPs have the ability to improve their patients’ quality of life. From treating chronic illnesses and creating long-term healthcare plans to screening and diagnosing patients, FNPs and ACNPs have an important impact on the medical field. Prospective nurse practitioners can earn a degree from AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Nursing which is designed to help nursing professionals advance their careers no matter which path they choose.

Recommended Readings
BSN vs. MSN: What’s the Right Path for You?
Nursing Career Paths: What You Can Do with a BSN or MSN Degree
The Fastest-Growing Healthcare Careers

Sources

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, “ACNPC-AG (Adult-Gero.)”
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “NP Fact Sheet”
Houston Chronicle, “Family Nurse Practitioner Role & Responsibilities”
The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, “Family Nurse Practitioner Residency for Recruiting and Retention”