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Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner: What’s the Difference?

With a shortage of physicians and an aging population in need of medical care, the United States is facing a healthcare crisis. Fortunately, qualified nurse practitioners (NPs) are caring for patients in increasing numbers. Consumer Reports calls NPs the “best-known alternative clinicians.” In 2018, the international healthcare research foundation Cochrane conducted a review of 18 scholarly studies that focused on how patients fared when their primary healthcare services were delivered by nurses, rather than doctors. The review determined that when nurses provided primary care, the outcomes were similar to — or better than — the results of care provided by doctors. Furthermore, the cost was comparable, and patient satisfaction was improved.

An acute care nurse practitioner in the emergency room
In addition to fulfilling some common duties — such as diagnosing, treating, and managing health concerns — nurse practitioners may specialize in specific areas of healthcare. They can work in pediatrics, gerontology, mental health, and more. Two types of nurse practitioners are acute care nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners. This article will explore the similarities and differences between these specialists and how to move your career in either professional direction. The ideal place to begin on either path is with a focused adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner or family nurse practitioner program.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Overview

Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) work in settings such as emergency rooms, inpatient facilities, and intensive care units. They care for patients with acute, life-threatening conditions. Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners care exclusively for older adults, whose health concerns are often multifaceted. For instance, a patient may require treatment for heart disease while also battling cancer and chronic pain. ACNPs holistically evaluate their patients to develop treatment plans that manage multiple conditions.

Among the duties of an ACNP are communicating with doctors and other nurses, collaborating with colleagues on diagnoses, and educating and interacting with patients and their families. ACNPs may work nontraditional hours or be on call on evenings and weekends.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Salaries and Job Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not distinguish between types of NPs when it comes to salary or job outlook, it reports the median annual wage for all nurse practitioners in 2018 was $107,030. Furthermore, according to October 2019 PayScale data, the median salary for certified ACNPs is $101,000. Factors such as geographic location, workplace setting, and experience impact income. The BLS notes there were 240,700 positions for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives in the U.S. in 2018, and it projects 62,000 jobs to be added by 2028.

Family Nurse Practitioner Overview

While ACNPs work in hospital environments, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are primarily in outpatient settings, such as community health clinics, health departments, private practices, or urgent care centers. FNPs offer primary care to patients from infancy through adulthood. While they may treat patients with acute conditions, they specialize in caring for patients in stable and non-life-threatening conditions.

FNPs generally keep traditional working hours. Their duties include diagnosing patients, performing health checkups, treating ongoing conditions, giving immunizations, testing for illnesses, and educating patients and their families. They often collaborate with physicians and may refer patients to specialists, mental health counselors, and social service professionals.

Family Nurse Practitioner Salaries and Job Outlook

The BLS indicates the median annual wage for nurse practitioners of all types was $107,030 in 2018. The median FNP salary is around $93,000, according to October 2019 PayScale data. The income of an FNP depends on years of experience, work environment, and region. As a result of the value they offer patients, the demand for FNPs is growing rapidly. The BLS anticipates a 26% growth in the employment of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists between 2018 and 2028.

How to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner

Both ACNPs and FNPs must have advanced education and training. Specifically, they must hold a postgraduate degree, as well as national certification and state licensure. While licensing requirements vary among states, national requirements include a registered nurse (RN) license, an assessment, supervised clinical hours, and continuing education after certification.

The Benefits of Earning a Master of Science in Nursing

A graduate degree is mandatory for all nurse practitioners, and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) sets the standard for advanced education for those in this field. The curriculum traditionally covers evidence-based practice in nursing, disease prevention, ethics for advanced nursing practice, and advanced healthcare policy. In addition, specialty courses are available in such subfields as adult-gerontology, pediatric/family, and acute care diagnosis and management. Through coursework and guided clinical practice, students gain the in-depth knowledge necessary to thrive in their chosen specialties. Some nurse practitioner specialties, including acute care and family nursing, are further detailed below.

  • Acute care: Acute care is delivered when a patient requires rapid, time-sensitive intervention for a life-threatening illness or injury. Patients receiving acute care require proactive support. Acute care NPs generally work in emergency rooms, trauma centers, and similar settings.
  • Family nursing: Nurse practitioners who specialize in family nursing approach families as a whole, considering the needs of patients and their loved ones, according to healthcare media outlet MedCrave. They offer comprehensive care, no matter a patient’s age, gender, or health concern. They work in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other settings.
  • Mental health: Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners work with patients with psychiatric disorders and mental health concerns. They may assess and diagnose patients and treat them with both medication and psychotherapy. They may work in a variety of settings, such as private practices, clinics, and hospitals.
  • Gerontology: As patients age, they face new physical, mental, and social challenges. Gerontological nurse practitioners help aging patients manage their health by diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medicine, conducting checkups, performing medical tests, and developing chronic disease management plans. They work in nursing homes, home health services, private practices, and more.
  • Pediatrics: From infancy through adolescence, children require pediatric care, and pediatric NPs are highly qualified to offer ongoing and preventive care. Their work can take place in pediatric offices, hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers, and even schools.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner: Which Is Right for You?

Nurse practitioners are an essential part of the healthcare ecosystem, providing much-needed care to patients of different ages with varying needs. When deciding whether to specialize as an acute care nurse practitioner or family nurse practitioner, it’s important to consider the type of work environment you prefer and what demographic you’d like to work with.

Earning an advanced degree, such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing, is a vital step toward becoming a nurse practitioner or other advanced nursing professional. To prepare for your career as a gerontological nurse practitioner, consider specializing by enrolling in Maryville’s online adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner MSN program. On the other hand, if you’re considering a future as an FNP, explore Maryville’s online family nurse practitioner MSN program. Regardless of the path you choose, Maryville University’s robust curriculum can prepare you to make a greater impact in the field of nursing.

Recommended Reading

DNP vs. MSN

Nurse Practitioner Specialties: 5 Ways to Choose the Right Career Path

States Granting Full Practice NP Authority

Sources

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, ACNPC-AG

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses

Cochrane, “Nurses as Substitutes for Doctors in Primary Care”

Consumer Reports, “The Nurse Practitioner Will See You Now”

MedCrave, “Importance and Recognition of the Family in Health Care: A Reflection for Nursing”

PayScale, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

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

World Health Organization, “Health Systems and Services: The Role of Acute Care”