Acute care nurses and nurse practitioners can work in a multitude of clinical areas. They can work in hospitals, specializing in areas such as intensive care, emergency rooms, and medical/surgical departments.

Some nurses and nurse practitioners start off in the ambulatory, or clinic, setting. Nurses, as with others in varying career fields, sometimes want a change of pace or a new set of professional challenges. So, how can a nurse or nurse practitioner gain acute care experience outside of school?

The answer is that it depends - on the facility and department as well as the title (nurse or NP). For nurses, some departments only hire those with acute care experience, and often set a time frame for experience, such as "six months of acute care experience in the last five years required." However, some employers offer cross-training programs for nurses. Cross-training programs are set up similar to new grad programs, although they may be shorter in duration. Off-site as well as on-the-job training is commonly seen, depending on the department. For example, those cross-training to a telemetry floor may be required to take an EKG interpretation class or a class on cardiac rhythms.

Nurse practitioners looking to gain acute care experience may have a longer path to their career goal, depending on their background and certification. In most states, specialty certification is required for licensure as a nurse practitioner. NP graduates can become certified in family medicine, women's health, acute care, etc. Those looking for a career change may be required to complete another NP program in their new area of interest. For example, a nurse practitioner who holds certification in family medicine is trained in caring for patients of all age groups, but with a preventive care approach. An FNP looking to work in acute care may need to complete an NP program to become certified as an acute care NP.

The beauty of nursing is that there are countless career options and roles. Nurses and nurse practitioners often feel burned out and many seek change in their career. Luckily, the opportunity for change is plentiful as nurses and NPs are in great demand.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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