Online MSN Acute Care NP Programs – Selecting the Best Program

Last Updated/Verified: Aug 19, 2020

Nurses interested in the acute care pathway have many degree options to choose from. Many decide on the Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) route to achieve their professional goals and earn higher salaries. Before attaining an acute care nurse practitioner MSN, nurses must typically earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). In some cases, a college might offer a bridge program that is intended to assist students in making this transition.

Why Get an MSN Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree?

One of the key reasons for getting an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) MSN degree is the flexibility it provides for your career. With this type of degree, you can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Trauma centers
  • General surgical units
  • Emergency departments
  • Specialty care centers

Due to the continued aging of the population, an acute care nurse practitioner who holds an MSN will be in a leadership role no matter where their employment journey takes them. Graduates can opt to work hands-on with patients by providing them with direct care, or work behind the scenes in policymaking, education, compliance, and more. Let’s take a closer look at the MSN pathway for a prospective acute care nurse practitioner.

Pros

  • Students will have many online program options available to them at the MSN level in a variety of sub-specialization areas (pediatrics, adult-gerontology, etc.)
  • The MSN is the fastest route to this nurse practitioner specialty, and one of the least expensive
  • ACNP MSN programs tend to focus on clinical practice and care

Cons

  • Nurses who already hold an MSN save time and money by opting for an acute care nurse practitioner post-master’s certificate instead
  • Those seeking research, academic, or administrative roles may find the ACNP-DNP route more advantageous
  • If you think you may eventually wish to pursue the DNP pathway, it may make sense to wait rather than spend too much time/money on an MSN

How to Choose an Online MSN ACNP Program

Many schools that offer options for an acute nurse practitioner to obtain their MSN provide their programming entirely online. Some offer a hybrid schedule that combines both in-person classes and virtual courses. In either case, choosing an accredited school/program is a must.

The length of time can vary widely as well. While it matters if you pursue the program full- or part-time, there are other factors to consider as well. Some programs require 50 or more credits while other programs have a credit requirement in the upper 30s. If you choose to sub-specialize in an area such as adult-gerontology acute care, be sure that your school of choice offers that specific pathway and be sure you are aware of its requirements.

The clinical hours matter too. The fact that some programs require 800 clinical hours and others just 500 could mean that you’ll be attending school for longer if you opt for the first school you find.

MSN ACNP Curriculum

Most programs that provide an acute care nurse practitioner with an MSN degree divide their course into those that are core and those that allow you to specialize. Some examples of core courses that you might be required to take include Essentials of Evidence-Based Practice and Policy and Advocacy for Improving Population Health. In general, you must take and satisfactorily pass all the core classes.

The specialization classes typically include your practicum hours. Advanced Pharmacology, Advanced Practice Care of Adults in Acute Care Settings and Advanced Pathophysiology are some of the specializations you can choose to take.

Around 630 clinical hours are typically required for an ACNP program. These hours will typically take place in the area of sub-specialization a student chooses to pursue (for example, with the pediatric population, etc.). Clinical rotations for online programs are typically arranged in the student’s local area, but the program’s clinical coordinator can also help students find the proper placement.

List of Online MSN Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Think the ACNP-MSN pathway is for you? Check out available online and hybrid programs below to get started.