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Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Programs

Ready to enhance your nursing career and income potential? Discover the advantages of an online acute care nurse practitioner program, see what schools stand out, and start advancing your career today.


Chalice Blinick
Chalice Blinick

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Chalice Blinick is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with 12 years of experience in hospital and outpatient settings including renal care, ortho-neuro-trauma, medical-surgical, family medicine, and urgent care. She also runs a blog

2020’s Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

With so many acute care nurse practitioner programs now available, some prospective students may feel overwhelmed when it comes time to pick the one that meets their needs the best. To help, we’ve identified the top online schools and degrees for future acute care nurse practitioners, with special emphasis on affordable and comprehensive programs. We’ve also highlighted three top programs with extended profiles so you can begin to visualize your path from day one to graduation and beyond.

Duke University


From its home base in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University’s School of Nursing offers an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner MSN with a specialization in Acute Care. This degree requires 48 credits alongside 840 clinical hours, the latter of which allows students to immerse themselves in real-world learning situations that help build experience and confidence along the way.

Available via distance learning, applicants to Duke’s program are expected to possess at least one year of clinical acute care nursing experience and a valid Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification. Required core course account for 12 hours and cover topics such as evidence-based practice, population health in a global society, and transitioning into advanced nursing practice from registered nursing. Students then enter a sequence known as the “Four Ps” which covers pathology, physiology, physical assessment, and pharmacology and accounts for 11 hours. The final 25 credits relate to acute care and cover topics exclusively related elderly patients facing acute illness. Four of the classes directly correlate to required clinical hours.

The School of Nursing offerss start dates in the fall and spring and requires applicants to provide transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, updated resume, and official GRE scores.

Rush University

Vanderbilt University

Featured Programs

Online Acute Care Program Types & Degree Levels

For nurses interested in acute care nurse practitioning, there are two main decisions to make. First, which patient groups do you want to work with? Adult-gerontology and pediatrics are the most common, but some programs have neonatal and women’s health tracks, as well. Second, which degree level do you need? The MSN may be all you need now, but a DNP could open doors in research and academic down the road. Get the skinny on the various options below, and begin to chart your path to becoming an acute care NP.

Acute Care Patient Groups

  • Acute Care Adult-Gerontology:
    Students who pursue this concentration have a passion for serving elderly patients as they face acute illnesses. Unlike working in pediatrics or neonatal, NPs who follow this path must possess a nuanced set of knowledge and skills that relate to health issues more common to this stage of life, e.g. arthritis, heart disease, and dementia. Understanding the complex needs of this population serves as the foundation for effective care.
  • Acute Care Pediatric:
    While gerontology focuses on end-of-life health issues, pediatrics concentrates on those presenting themselves during the first few years of life. During the course of a standard shift, an acute care pediatric NP may treat children for allergic reactions, broken bones, fevers, ear aches, dermatological issues, or hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Possessing the competencies and knowledge needed to recognize and treat such a wide range of issues requires an advanced education.

Degree Levels

It’s quite common to find ACNP programs at both the master’s and doctoral level. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees first became available in mid-2000s after the American Association of Colleges of Nursing called for an advanced graduate degree that built on MSN programs and offered further training in leadership, evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and research. Since then, approximately 350 DNP programs have been added to course offerings at institutions across America. Many schools offer both MSN and DNP programs to meet the varied needs of future acute care nurse practitioners.

1. MSN:
These degrees typically take two years to complete and prepare students to sit for their state’s required acute care nurse practitioner exam. Coursework and clinicals focus on assessing acult patients via interviewing and diagnostic techniques to determine risk for life-threatening conditions. The master’s also introduces students to advanced critical thinking in healthcare environments, creating individualized care using established research methods, and how to function as a member of a healthcare team.

2. DNP:
The DNP can take four years to complete and builds upon many of the knowledge and skills learned at the MSN level. DNP candidates often further research into a single area of interest, such as interprofessional team care for the critically ill, or focus on managing acute care across a large healthcare facility, such as an individual practice, an urgent care center, or a hospital). For students interested in advanced teaching at the post-secondary level, a PhD in nursing may be a better fit.

In Detail: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs Online

  • Synchronous learning:
    Synchronous learning refers to a style of online education that requires students and professors to login to the designated learning platform at specific times to participate in live lectures, discussions, and assignments. This style of distance learning appeals to students with flexible schedules who want to feel more connected and involved with their cohort. It may especially appeal to registered nurses who work night shifts but can participate in classes offered at standard times during the day. On the other hand, individuals with busy schedules may find it difficult to commit to being online during specific hours multiple times per week.
  • Asynchronous leaning:
    Asynchronous learning makes it possible for online students to watch lectures, communicate with their peers and professors, and turn in assignments that fit with their unique schedules. So long as students meet deadlines, it does not matter when/where the work is completed. This appeals to students who need flexibility to juggle personal, professional, and academic responsibilities. This could be a great option for ACNP students who have little flexibility due to their rotation hours or shift irregularities.
  • Hybrid:
    For many degree seekers, hybrid programs combine the best of both worlds by allowing students to complete some coursework online but also visit campus and have face-to-face sessions with others in their program. This option appeals to students with flexible enough schedules that they can visit campus for weekend/weeklong intensive learning sessions without using too many personal days at work. Students living far away from school, however, may find it too financially burdensome to drive lots of hours or buy a plane ticket every few months.

ACNP Admissions & Accreditation

To earn admission to an acute care nurse practitioner program, you must hold an active RN license. While the majority of programs are geared towards learners who already hold a BSN or MSN, some also accept ASN, ADN, and diploma holders. Regardless of education level completed, almost all programs look for students with at least six months of acute care registered nurse experience prior to offering admission. Other prerequisites and admission criteria are reviewed in the following sections.


Both PNP-AC and AG-ACNP programs are available at the master’s and doctoral level. To earn admission to graduate NP programs, candidates will generally need:

  • Official transcripts from a CCNE or ACEN accredited BSN program
  • Undergraduate prerequisite courses
  • 3.0 GPA minimum
  • One year of acute or critical care experience
  • Letters recommendation
  • GRE or MAT test scores
  • Purpose statement


Proper accreditation for acute care programs signals the quality of education in general, and ensures that a program keeps its curriculum up to date. In addition to making it easier to get hired, accreditation facilitates credit transfers and the licensing process in each state. When vetting schools and programs your population of choice should dictate the accrediting and certification body that you will work with to gain your credentials. Candidates who have graduated from an accredited NP program will then test to gain their acute care status.

Curriculum for Online Acute Care Programs

Acute care nurse practitioner curricula are designed to provide graduates with the advanced skills in patient care, organizational leadership, research, and teaching needed to thrive in numerous healthcare settings. Whether working under the demands of an emergency room or giving lectures to educate the next generation of nurses, these individuals need a wide and varied set of skills to meet the demands of the role. ACNP programs rise to the challenge and provide students with the theoretical and practical knowledge needed for this industry. Take a look at some of the common courses in pediatric and adult- gerontology acute care programs below.


Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Courses

Designed specifically for nurses who want to provide acute care services to pediatric patients, these curricula – whether designed as MSN or DNP programs – help students learn how to offer family-centered, culturally sensitive services that employ the latest research and techniques in the field of child and adolescent nursing. Students divide their time between classroom sessions and clinical rotations to adequately serve patients and families of many different backgrounds. Programs require between 42 and 68 credits, depending on the type of degree awarded at commencement.

Current Issues in Advanced Pediatric Acute Care Delivery

Students in this course delve into some of the emerging topics within the discipline, with specific emphasis on how to develop effective strategies when working with diverse populations. Learners also cover topics in communication techniques and new healthcare regulations, policies, and trends.

Psychopathology for Children and Adolescents

APN in Pediatric Acute Care

Advanced Health Assessments in ACNP- Pediatrics

Advanced Management of Acute Care in Pediatrics


Acute Care Adult-Gerontology

Registered nurses, after working in adult-gerontology settings for a time, sometimes feel they can do more with their skills and career. If this sounds like you, pursuing an ACNP credential focused on adult-gerontology care could be the ticket. These programs combine studies in population-appropriate assessments, diagnoses, and treatment plans alongside hands-on opportunities to build skills and confidence in your new role. Offered at both the MSN and DNP levels, these programs usually take between two and four years to complete, depending on if you study on a full- or part-time schedule. Check out some common coursework below.

Foundations of Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Management:

Typically taken in the first year, this course looks at some of the age- and culturally-appropriate methods of evidence-based care for this population. Students consider questions of family involvement, patient privacy, right to die legislation, and other conditions that affect how care is managed at this stage of life.

Specialized Pharmacology within Adult-Gerontology Acute Care:

Building upon previous generalized knowledge of pharmacology, this course examines some of the specialized needs of the aging population. Topics include prescriptions based on existing conditions, cost-effective pharmacotherapeutics, appropriate communication with medical staff and family, and legal and regulatory considerations.

Advanced Health Assessments for Adult-Gerontology Acute Care:

Students in this class learn how to provide health assessments in a variety of clinical settings, how to appropriately take medical histories, and how to perform physical assessments that fit the needs of this population. Proper documentation of all steps taken is also emphasized throughout.

Collaborative Management in A-G Acute Care:

Often, patients at this state of life experience multiple acute, critical, and/or chronic health issues. With this in mind, students learn how to manage acute care across various disciplines by working and communicating with health practitioners across the care spectrum.

A-G ACNP Practicum:

Stepping out of the classroom and into a clinical setting, this course requires students to spend a set number of hours using their theoretical skills and applying them in real-world cases. Along the way, students and their teachers continue meeting virtually or in-person to discuss their cases.

ACNP Certifications

After finishing your ACNP coursework and graduating, the next step is certification. Depending on the type of ACNP you want to become, several credentialing centers provide specialized exams. To meet the requirements, you need to provide proof of an unencumbered and active license, completion of an advanced degree, and successful passage of certain prerequisite courses. Students can learn more about these mandates by reviewing eligibility requirements for each credential.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Certification (ACNPC-AG)

The American Nurses Credentialing Center provides the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC) for eligible students who possess an active RN license and a graduate degree from an accredited program. Students must also show that they completed graduate-level coursework in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology, as well as content in health promotion/maintenance and differential diagnosis and disease management. Applicants take a four hour, 200 question exam and pay $395 as a non-member or $295 as an ANA member. The certificate remains valid for five years.

Pediatric Acute Care Certification (CPNP-AC)

The Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (CPNP-AC) Certification exists through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and requires applicants to meet a number of requirements before sitting the exam. In particular, they must possess an active RN license, an MSN or DNP with a specialization in pediatric ACNP from an accredited program, at least 500 supervised direct care clinical practice hours, and completion of graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology. The exam costs $385 initially and individuals must be recertified annually.

How Much Does an Acute Care NP Program Cost?

The cost of an acute care NP program can vary by school type, program length, and the amount of aid available. In addition to ensuring your program has all the right accreditation and academic boxes checked, you also need to make sure it fits your budget. Whether online or on campus (or both), a two-year program can run between $15,000 and $50,000. For example, Mount Carmel College of Nursing’s master’s program is two years and 48-credit for $27,988. A similar program at the Goldfarb School of Nursing is 52 credits for $46,612.

The numbers can be tough to look at, but know that you have financial options available. Use as many as you can to knock down that price as far as you can. To learn more about financial aid for your ACNP program, read our comprehensive guide to financial aid in healthcare.

Grants & Scholarships for ACNP Programs

Nothing beats free money for college. If you’re serious about becoming an acute care nurse practitioner and want to explore scholarships, grants, and everything in between, check out the resources below.


Conway Scholarship. Learners enrolled at Johns Hopkins University and pursuing an MSN in ACNP can apply for this award if they’re able to demonstrate financial need and meet eligibility requirements. The award pays for half of all tuition during the degree.


MSN Student Scholarships. Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing offers one partial and six full tuition awards to accepted MSN students working towards an acute care nurse practitioner program. Students must meet all eligibility requirements.


CVS Minute Clinic Scholarship. CVS provides 20 awards each to MSN and DNP learners working towards nurse practitioner degrees who possess a 3.2 GPA or higher and can demonstrate community and leadership engagement. Awards total $2,500 each.


Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation Endowed Scholarship. Together with Proctor & Gamble, NPHF offers an $1,000 award to NP students in MSN or DNP programs who can demonstrate that they made positive contributions to their school, their community, or their patients.


Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners & Nurse Midwives Scholarship. RNs pursuing an MSN or DNP degree to become an ACNP can apply for this $1,500 scholarship.