An acute care nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in treating patients with short-term but serious conditions who need immediate assistance. They may be called on to treat a wide array of severe injuries and illnesses, from med-surg patients, to car accident victims, to strokes. Acute care nursing is a rewarding yet challenging career path due to the time-sensitive, critical situations they’re often thrust into.
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Acute Care Nurse FAQs
What does an acute care nurse do?
Acute care nurses provide advanced nursing care to patients with acute conditions, such as heart attacks, life-threatening diabetes complications, respiratory distress, heat exhaustion, or any other serious condition that suddenly appears. They may also care for preoperative and postoperative patients. Acute care nurses assess and monitor their patients’ conditions, develop ongoing care plans, and update these plans, as necessary. Common acute care nursing tasks include:
Monitoring patients and checking vital signs
Documenting treatment responses and changes
Implementing transitions in levels of care
Administering intravenous drips and medications
Managing patients’ pain relief and sedation
Administering blood and blood product transfusions
Entering orders for and reporting diagnostic tests results and screenings
Using specialized equipment like monitors and ventilators
Adjusting settings on assistive devices like temporary pacemakers
Performing life-saving interventions when needed
Educating and supporting patients and their families
Where do acute care nurses work?
Acute care nurses work in a variety of clinical settings where emergency or critical care is provided. Specific places acute care nurses may work include emergency rooms, ambulatory care units, intensive care units, trauma centers, long-term care organizations, and surgery centers, among others. They may also work with a travel nursing agency.
What skills make a good acute care nurse?
Because they deal with so many patients who present with a huge array of conditions, good acute care nurses have advanced practice clinical expertise in caring for diverse patient populations and work well under pressure. Acute care nurses often work with limited patient data, so they possess strong clinical judgment and critical thinking skills to determine care priorities. They thrive in high-stress situations and excel at observation and problem-solving, so they can quickly alter treatments as soon as adverse problems arise. Above-average acute care nurses also have excellent communication skills that allow them to convey data clearly to other medical professionals and relay important information to patients’ family members with compassion.
How to become an Acute Care Travel Nurse
To become an acute care nurse, either an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is required. Graduates of accredited nursing programs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and fulfill all state licensing requirements to become licensed RNs.
RNs wanting to become acute care nurses must obtain Basic Life Support certification and may need Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification. Critical Care Registered Nurse certification from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses is recommended for career advancement. Travel positions often require at least two years of med-surg acute care experience.