Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Programs

Last Updated/Verified: Aug 19, 2020

What Is an Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program Like?

Love tending to acute medical needs? Stepping up your nursing career by enrolling in an online acute nurse practitioner program is a smart move. The need for acute care nurse practitioners is growing fast, and earning your education online is an efficient and cost-effective way to get the training you need to move forward in your career. When you choose an online program, you’re getting the benefit of a flexible schedule that allows you to do your work on your own time. While all online nursing programs require some visits to campus, you’ll have far greater flexibility than if you chose a program that was held in a typical classroom setting.

Choosing an Appropriate Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program

The right acute care nurse practitioner degree pathway will rely heavily on the prior education of the student. To see what your options are based on your current nursing degree level, see the chart below.

If I Currently Have…Option 1Option 2
BSNBSN to MSN ProgramsBSN to DNP Programs
MSNPost-Master’s CertificateMSN to DNP Programs

To see programs at each degree level, click the buttons below:

Your long-term career goals will also influence which ACNP degree program you choose. This is a decision that should be thoughtfully considered, taking into account where you might want to work and what kind of roles you wish to pursue.

If you are still stumped on the right acute care nurse practitioner degree route, it might be helpful to think more abstractly about goals and match your degree type to them. Follow to table below to figure out which degree type aligns with your passions.

MSN Post-Master's Certificate DNP
My passion is working directly as an acute care nurse practitioner X X X
I already hold a graduate degree, but I wish to move into advanced acute care practice X X
I feel called to teach and guide students clinically at the university level X X
I want to advocate for acutely ill patients and be a leader in my facility X X X
I have ideas for clinically relevant research projects to improve acute care outcomes X
My passion is to create and improve national health policies X
I seek to understand population-based health in order to improve healthcare outcomes for all people X
I want to influence healthcare law and ethics X

It’s key that you choose an accredited program, as this lets future employers know that you went through a program that has been approved by a legitimate nursing organization. This will ensure that you’re getting all of the information you need to be successful in your future career, and that your clinical hours are in line with licensing requirements. During your training in your online acute care nurse practitioner program, you’ll study topics including advanced practice care of adults throughout the lifespan, pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, health assessment and reasoning, and societal factors that affect healthcare quality. Check out our Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program guide below.

  1. Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program Admissions & Requirements by Degree Type
  2. Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program Classes and Curriculum
  3. Clinical Requirements and Certification

Online Acute Care NP Program Admissions

While it can be nerve-wracking to apply for admission to your online acute care NP program, doing so means that you’re taking the necessary steps to move forward in your career and provide even more patients with excellent care. While many programs have stringent requirements, it’s a good idea to apply even if you can’t check every box. Many programs are willing to make exceptions for nurses who show promise, even if they don’t meet every requirement. If you’re significantly lacking in one of the areas considered by the admissions committee, you may want to think about including an addendum with your application to explain how you’ve made up for these discrepancies. MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP programs can usually be completed in less time than you may think (this will fluctuate based on program type and what level of education you come into the program with). You may be able to complete the courses in an accelerated manner if your program allows. Many students prefer to go through graduate school on a part-time basis, working through classes as time permits. Your school may allow you additional time to complete your program in this way – many schools allow up to seven years to complete all the required coursework and clinical experience for a degree.

MSN-Level Acute Care NPPost-Master’s Certificate Acute Care NPDNP-Level Acute Care NP
Prior Education/GPABSN with a GPA of at least 3.0MSN with a GPA of at least 3.0MSN with a GPA of at least 3.0, some programs may permit entrance with a BSN and a GPA of at least 3.0
RN LicensureCurrent, unencumbered RN licenseCurrent, unencumbered RN licenseCurrent, unencumbered RN license, some programs may require APRN certification
Professional ExperienceAt least one year as an RNAt least one year as an RNOne to two years as an RN, may require additional professional experience within acute nursing
Written Requirements Personal statement, three letters of recommendationPersonal statement, three letters of recommendationPersonal statement, resume, three letters of recommendation

Online Acute Care NP Curriculum & Classes

Program degree levels will depend on the RN’s prior experience and future goals. An MSN can generally be completed in around two years, while a post-master’s certification can be completed in around a year. Doctoral-level DNP programs will take the longest to complete – around 3-5 years is usually the norm. Acute care nurse practitioner programs are typically focused on either pediatrics or adult-gerontology. Regardless of whether you choose an acute care pediatrics or acute care adult-gerontology option, MSN, post-graduate certificate, and DNP programs differ in both the number of course credits and the number of clinical hours required.

DegreeMSNPost-Master’s CertificateDNP
Average Credit Requirements503568

Both MSN to DNP and BSN to DNP programs are common, with the latter essentially combining MSN and DNP credit requirements. Many nurses choose to take classes part-time, allowing them to continue focusing on patient care. Coursework for acute care MSN and post-graduate programs are similar in that the focus is primarily on nurse practitioner core classes and concentrated acute care courses. MSN and DNP students can also expect courses focusing on:

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Health policy
  • Leadership

DNP students will complete additional advanced courses focusing on:

  • Epidemiology
  • Ethics
  • Research
  • Biostatistics

During your online acute care NP education at any degree level, some of the classes you’re likely to take include:

  • Advanced practice care of adults
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced care of frail elders
  • Advanced assessment and reasoning
  • Pathophysiology of adults

MSN students often produce a final thesis highlighting their understanding of patient-level acute care issues, integration of evidence-based standards of care, and promotion of healthy outcomes. A DNP scholarly project is an ongoing effort in which students assimilate concepts related to population-based health, technology, evidence-based clinical practice, and health care policy. The most important aspect of the DNP scholarly project is the focus on a clinical question relevant in the real-world.

Acute Care NP Clinical Requirements

In acute care nurse practitioner programs, students are required to complete between 600 and 800 hours of clinical practice. BSN to DNP programs can require up to 1100 clinical hours over the course of the program. It’s important to check with your school before you enroll. Some schools allow you to complete your clinical hours in any area in which you’re licensed to practice, while others require you to complete your hours in the same state that the school is located. If you’re struggling to figure out how to make your clinical hours work with your busy schedule, be sure to talk with your program advisor. They understand the needs of a nurse dealing with tough work hours, and they’ll be able to help you get the experience you need to earn your degree.

Some acute care NP students may be able to complete clinical requirements at the medical facility they already work in. Otherwise, they will generally be matched with an experienced Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, an MD who works in acute care, or in a clinic or facility which deals with acute patients. Students may also be able to complete their clinical requirements in a specialty area of acute care, such as adult-gerontology or pediatrics.