What Is an Acute Care Nurse? 5 Reasons to Become an AGACNP

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An AGACNP takes notes on a clipboard while seated next to a senior patient.For many passionate graduates, nursing is not simply a job, it’s a calling. With the rise in demand for qualified nurses across the country, and the ability to specialize in the area of nursing they’re most passionate about, it’s a fantastic time for prospective nurses to begin shaping a fulfilling career.

Nursing specializations allow graduates to build an advanced understanding of a particular area of nursing. Among those areas, the specialty of adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) is a challenging but rewarding field centered on the care of adult patients’ acute and chronic health conditions.

Unlike adult gerontology primary care nurses, AGACNPs encounter urgent and complex cases. These involve more than one chronic condition or the interaction and management of multiple symptoms, as opposed to primary or long-term patient care.

By pursuing an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), future nursing leaders are able to build a better understanding of what an acute care nurse is, what they do, and if the AGACNP specialty is right for them. Equipped with advanced skills and a thorough knowledge of nursing, acute care nurses help patients manage and overcome challenging illnesses.

What Does an AGACNP Do?

Earning a nursing specialization allows graduates to take the next step in their career, allowing future nursing leaders to develop an in-depth and advanced understanding of their chosen field of nursing. This focus allows an AGACNP to assess, diagnose, prescribe medication, and create treatment plans for adult patients suffering from complex, chronic and acute conditions.

AGACNPs often work in hospitals and intensive care units, trauma departments or acute care facilities. What an acute care nurse is likely to encounter can vary from one institution to the next, requiring them to be prepared to treat young adults aged 18 or older, middle-aged patients, and geriatric patients of all backgrounds.

Additionally, with many AGACNPs treating patients in emergency care, acute care nurses gain experience providing post-treatment and post-surgical therapeutic care strategies. This requires nursing leaders to think on their feet while closely monitoring their patients’ recovery. With the advanced knowledge and skills gained from a higher education, AGACNPs can help their patients cope with the ebb and flow of disease management and work toward a healthy future.

5 Benefits of Becoming an AGACNP

Pursuing a nursing specialization is a logical step for nurses looking to pursue leadership roles, earn additional job autonomy or take their career to the next level. Choosing a specialty, however, may not always be perfectly clear. Depending on their desired concentration, nurses may find themselves pursuing job opportunities that look very different from each other. Following are five common reasons to become an AGACNP.

1. Professional Development Opportunities

Becoming an AGACNP opens a multitude of doors for nursing graduates. Nurses can choose to pursue the clinical side of nursing or focus on advancing nursing research, policy or administrative roles. To compete for senior-level roles, earning an advanced degree is crucial, allowing nurses to make a difference in shaping standards of care, improving patients’ lives and meeting their professional goals.

Additionally, what acute care nurses are able to deliver in terms of developing care plans, prescribing medication, diagnosing patients or conducting tests is contingent on their earning full practice authority. Full practice authority requires an advanced degree and certification to meet national and state-specific standards.

2. Increased Salary Potential

While job location can play a role in their salary, specialization is a key aspect of advancement for nurses. With additional experience, higher education and specialized skills, AGACNPs can compete for coveted roles, often earning a higher salary and additional benefits. AGACNPs earned a median annual income of $113,000 in 2020, inclusive of their base salary, productivity bonuses and incentive payments, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

3. Job Outlook

Across the United States, the healthcare system is struggling with a shortage of qualified nurses. With the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) reporting a possible shortfall of over 510,000 nurses by 2030, nurses are in high demand. This represents a bright opportunity for advanced care nurse practitioners to seek employment in the locations, fields, and facilities that are right for them.

Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a massive 46% increase in overall employment for nurse practitioners between 2021 and 2031. This means nurses can be assured of graduating into a growing industry.

With the added advantage of pursuing additional certifications or specializations, skilled nurse practitioners are better able to leverage their experience toward coveted roles, job locations, and achieving their personal and professional goals.

4. Opportunity for Collaboration

The acute care nursing field is complex, with many illnesses or diseases requiring the collaboration and cooperation of not only multiple healthcare professionals and sub-specialties, but also an integration of medications, treatment plans and patient support systems. What an acute care nurse is able to contribute to a patient’s case relies heavily on their medical foundation and skillset. With an advanced education, nurses can better influence care strategies and work toward innovation.

5. Strong Personal Satisfaction

Healthcare careers can be challenging, but they can also be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling for these professionals who dedicate their lives to helping others. The patients treated by AGACNPs are often suffering from acute, complex or emergent illnesses. It is the job of acute care nurses to assist their patients through difficult diagnoses, unfamiliar treatment plans and sometimes harsh new realities.

AGACNPs can find great satisfaction in the healthcare and emotional support they deliver. From disease prevention and acute care management, to helping patients regain function and mobility, AGACNPs are able to work with their patients to achieve a healthier, wellness-focused lifestyle, providing them with the skills to take their future into their own hands and improve the quality of life.

The Future of AGACNP Practice

Nursing is constantly growing and adapting to meet the rising challenges of our healthcare system. With the Association of American Medical Colleges predicting a shortfall of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034, a key solution according to nurses and policy makers is to allow advanced practice nurses full practice and prescriptive authority in every state.

Allowing advanced practice nurses to offer more comprehensive and advanced patient care is a step forward for both nurses and their patients. With full practice and prescriptive authority, nurses are better able to bridge the gap between nurse practitioners and physicians, enabling nurses to deliver a wider range of care services and begin their own private practices in both cities and underserved rural communities.

Without these privileges, the duties an acute care nurse is permitted to perform is often limited, or requires the referral or assistance of a physician. These limitations can hinder patient care delivery, causing longer wait times or adding steps to the process.

With AGACNPs often treating acute illnesses, time is of the essence. By allowing full practice authority, nurses can provide more effective and comprehensive care, positively impacting their communities and improving patient outcomes.

Pursue a Role in Acute Care Nursing

Nursing care can change patients’ lives for the better. Acute care nurses can make all the difference in treating, managing and supporting recovery from acute or chronic illnesses. Through an advanced education and dedication, AGACNPs are able to provide quality care to people when they need it most.

Pursuing an advanced degree program that delivers an in-depth understanding of the nursing practice and advanced practical skills can be a key step for future nursing leaders to reach their goals. One such program is the Duquesne University online Master of Science in Nursing program and its Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner concentration.

A fully online program taught by industry experts and featuring both a dedicated support team and access to a full array of educational resources, the Duquesne University program is designed to provide students with the practical skills to succeed.

Explore how you can build a career that makes a difference as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.

Recommended Readings

The Importance of Leadership Skills in Nursing as the Industry Evolves

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners Treating COVID-19 Patients

Deborah Dillon: Charting a Course to Becoming an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Medical Association, “Doctor Shortages are Here – and They’ll Get Worse if We Don’t Act Fast”

Association of American Medical Colleges, “Hospitals Innovate Amid Dire Nursing Shortages”

Association of American Medical Colleges, “AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortage”

Healthline, “Should You Become a Nurse Weighing the Pros and Cons”

National Rural Health Association, “The Benefits of Being a Rural Nurse Practitioner”

Payscale, Average Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Salary

Rural Health Information Hub, Demographic Changes and Aging Population

Society for Human Resource Management, Acute Care Nurse

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners