Look inside some of the best online acute care nurse practitioner programs, learn about cost and accreditation, and see how the online component really works.
Kathleen Curtis is an American writer currently living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has developed content around education for more than a decade for both domestic and international clients.
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 nursechalice.com
Online acute care nurse practitioner programs give advanced nursing students the chance to earn a degree in a flexible setting. Although the hands-on portions of the programs must be done on campus or at an approved third-party location, much of the academics can be taken virtually. But when it comes to the schools building these programs, which ones have the best combinations of accreditation and flexibility at a cost you can afford?
Leveraging data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and hand-collected data from thousands of accredited colleges across the country, EduMed.org has researched, analyzed, and ranked today’s best online ACNP programs. Review and compare schools and their programs below.
Base Methodology for EduMed’s Best Online College Rankings for the ’23-’24 school year.
One: Create list of Eligible Schools and Programs
To be eligible, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on data pulled from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which was self-reported by the schools themselves.
Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
At least 1 online component in a program within the ranking-subject area.
Two: Assign Weighting
After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of metrics, which were all self-reported by the schools themselves to the U.S. Department of Education and IPEDS.
The metrics are listed below in order of most- to least-heavily weighted.
Online Programs – Number of online programs in the relevant subject area.
Online Student % – Number of total students who are enrolled in at least 1 distance-learning course in the relevant subject area.
Tuition – The average in-state tuition for undergraduate students studying full-time, as self-reported by the school.
Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
Career Placement Services – Existence of this service on campus or online.
Maryville University's Online Master of Science in Nursing -- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner allows students to find a career where they can provide holistic care for adult patients in a variety of settings including intensive care, cardiovascular, oncology, and emergency care. The 100% online format provides a flexible and convenient 24/7 online learning model. Students complete clinical hours at a location local to their area.
Online Master of Science in Nursing -- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Length: 32 months
Cost: $838 per credit hour
Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Winona State University's Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Doctorate program teaches students to care for adult patients with acute, critical, or chronic illnesses in a variety of settings as an advanced practice provider. Clinical practicums under the supervision of qualified acute care provider preceptors will focus on acute care in a variety of specialty areas. Graduates will be prepared for a variety of advanced nursing roles.
Ohio University's Online Post-Graduate Adult Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate allows students to obtain an advanced degree and maintain flexibility in their lives. Graduates will be prepared to provide advanced care to older adult patients, managing and treating common and complex health problems. Students will experience working hands-on in a clinical setting, applying their knowledge and skills to improve patient outcomes. Students will work closely with faculty mentors, learning how to optimize their career opportunities.
Online Post-Graduate Adult Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
Length: 3 semesters
Cost: $775 per credit hour (Ohio resident); $794 per credit hour (non-resident)
Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Anyone looking at ACNP programs, especially online programs, will have questions. How does the online component work? How much does the program cost? Is it accredited? The best way to answer these questions is with research. To help you get a handle on what an online ACNP program entails, we’ve unearthed some of the key details of today’s most popular advanced nursing programs online. See how these programs stack up.
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 offers 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.
Operating as a private university in Chicago, Rush University was founded in 1972 as the teaching division of the Rush University Medical Center. The institution offers an Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Doctor of Nursing Practice for pediatric BSNs and MSNs with advanced experience to meet the needs of acutely ill children from birth through young adulthood.
Rush’s program exists online and is offered on a part-time basis to accommodate the busy schedules of working nurses. Most students need between 24 to 43 months to complete all requirements, depending on whether they enter with a BSN or MSN. Courses taught throughout the program include diagnostics for the APRN, leadership in an evolving healthcare environment, advanced primary care of the child, pediatric acute care, and applied pharmacology for pediatrics. All told, post-BSN learners take 62 credits and post-MSN students take 30 credits.
Rush University accepts applications in the summer for MSN-DNP students and in the fall for BSN-DNP learners. Applicants must possess a GPA of 3.0 or higher, provide answers to personal essay questions, supply three letters of recommendation, and include a resume, active registered nurse license, and GRE scores. They must also possess at least six months of inpatient pediatric nursing experience.
Nashville’s Vanderbilt School of Nursing offers a hybrid format Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner DNP program with specializations in areas of cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, nephrology, pulmonology, oncology, neurosurgery, critical care, endocrinology, transplantation, trauma, and rehabilitation. Students can also select from optional focus areas in hospitalist or intensivist tracks. Given that the School of Nursing sits next door to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, students living nearby can take advantage of excellent opportunities for completing clinical hours.
The curriculum uses in-person lectures, live streaming, online activities, clinical training, and simulated experiences – all available in small classroom settings – to create an educational experience that graduates well-rounded and confident learners. Specific course topics include advanced health assessment applications in adult-gerontology acute care, pathophysiology and collaborative management, and application of evidence in healthcare environments. Students also take part in several practica and a preceptorship.
Students with no prior nursing experience must relocate to Nashville, while registered nurses with an ASN, ADN, or diploma take part in a modified distance learning format. Those with a BSN or MSN also participate in a modified distance learning format that includes intensive block visits to the Nashville campus over long weekends. Interested students can follow the AG-ACNP Instagram account to learn more.
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.
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
GRE or MAT test scores
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
Students look at major childhood disorders and how they affect mental health risk factors. Learners cover modalities such as individual, cognitive-behavioral, and family-based therapies alongside trauma-based and psychopharmacological interventions.
APN in Pediatric Acute Care
Acting as a sequence of courses, these classes help students understand some of the general methodologies and evidence-based practices used in caring for acutely, critically, and/or chronically ill children. Students learn about proper assessment and management techniques for common problems and how to provide family-centered care.
Advanced Health Assessments in ACNP- Pediatrics
Building upon the previous class, this upper-level course provides both clinical and laboratory experiences to help NPs in training build the skills and techniques needed to assess childhood and adolescent wellness. In particular, students learn how to take medical histories, collaborate with other medical professionals, and provide sensitive care.
Advanced Management of Acute Care in Pediatrics
In addition to learning skills in areas of intubation, lumbar punctures, and suturing, students also build the communication skills needed when talking to families about invasive testing, ethics, palliative care, end-of-life services, and the decision on whether to donate organs.
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.
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.
Shannon Lee has been a freelance writer, editor, and novelist for over 25 years. Her work has appeared on Fox Business, Forbes, MSN, Bob Vila, Modernize, Nashville Scene, MoneyGeek, MVP Parent, and many other outlets; her writing on home improvement led to an editorial position with The Spruce in 2021. She's written extensively on higher education, relationships, and the intersection of technology, health, and medicine. When she's not freelancing, Shannon also writes fiction novels.