Online Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs (PACNP)

Pediatric acute care nurse practitioners, also known as PACNPs or ACPNPs, are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that works specifically with children suffering from acute or severe health conditions. Their daily responsibilities can include stabilizing pediatric patients in intensive care settings, ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic tests, and discussing acute health conditions with patients and their families. Unlike pediatric primary care nurse practitioners, who often work in outpatient settings, PACNPs tend to work primarily in inpatient care settings, such as pediatric emergency care departments, pediatric intensive care units, and other hospital areas that care for children afflicted with serious health problems–for example, pediatric cardiac, pulmonary, or trauma clinics.

To become a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, registered nurses must complete a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner program at an institution that has been accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). After completing such a program, RNs should seek APRN certification from one of the following organizations:

  • The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • The American Association of Critical Care Nurses
  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center

After earning certification from one of the organizations listed above, registered nurses must apply to their state’s board of nursing for licensure or certification as a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner.

Overview of Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs

Online pediatric acute care nurse practitioner programs are available for registered nurses who have completed different levels of nursing education, from an associate degree or diploma in nursing to a master’s in nursing. Such programs include:

  • Online BSN to MSN PACNP Programs only accept candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited institution. In general, these types of programs take between 50 and 60 credits to complete, and can require 12 to 24 months of study.
  • Online Bachelor’s to MSN PACNP Programs accept registered nurses who have either a BSN or a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field from an accredited institution. For students who hold a BSN, this type of program is equivalent to a BSN to MSN program. Students without a BSN typically need to complete certain undergraduate-level bridge or prerequisite courses before beginning their graduate course of study, and thus Bachelor’s to MSN programs for this type of student generally take 24 to 30 months and require 60 to 75 credits.
  • Online RN to MSN PACNP Programs admit RNs who hold either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing from an accredited program. This type of program generally allows students to earn their BSN and MSN together through one concentrated program. While some RN to MSN programs only accept ADN graduates, others admit RNs with either a diploma or an ADN. This type of program generally takes between 24 and 36 months to complete, and requires the completion of 120 to 150 units.
  • Online Post-MSN PACNP Certificate Programs accept individuals who have already earned their MSN in a field other than pediatric acute care, and who wish to transition into a career as a PACNP. Post MSN certificate programs tend to be shorter than other types of PACNP programs, often requiring 25 and 40 credits and taking 12 to 15 months to complete.
  • Online BSN to DNP PACNP Programs give registered nurses with a BSN the most direct path to earning their DNP. They are designed for licensed RNs who want to pursue a DNP without first completing a separate MSN program, and can consist of anywhere from 65 to 95 credits. Full-time BSN to DNP PACNP programs typically take three to four years to complete, while part-time programs can take up to six years. These programs involve both MSN and DNP-level coursework, and may grant students both degrees or simply culminate in a DNP.
  • Online Post-Master’s to DNP PACNP Programs are for master’s-educated nurses looking to pursue both a DNP degree and APRN certification. Essentially the combination of a DNP program and a post-master’s PACNP certificate program, MSN to DNP PACNP programs typically take one to two years of full-time study to complete, and may have different admission requirements based on their particular structure. MSN to DNP PACNP new specialty programs are designed for students who possess master’s degree in a non-APRN nursing field (such as clinical nurse leader or nursing education), and want to earn APRN certification along with their DNP. MSN to DNP PACNP second specialty programs, on the other hand, are for students who have already earned APRN certification, but want to pursue a second certification as a PACNP in addition to their DNP.

Admission Requirements for Online PACNP Programs

Accredited online PACNP programs generally have rigorous admission requirements. In addition to the degree requirements explained above, applicants to online graduate programs in pediatric acute care must be registered nurses with an active, unrestricted license in their state of residence. In addition, candidates may need to meet a minimum overall undergraduate and/or graduate GPA, complete certain key prerequisite courses (such as Statistics, Chemistry, or Health Assessment), and complete at least one or two years of professional experience in pediatric acute care nursing.

Application materials for online graduate PACNP programs generally include any and all college transcripts, a professional resume, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.

Curriculum Details for Online PACNP Programs

Online pediatric acute care nursing programs are generally comprised of a combination of core courses in advanced practice nursing, and courses that focus specifically on pediatric acute care. Online PACNP programs are offered in both full-time and part-time formats. Full-time programs generally require students to take more classes per term, enabling students to earn their degree in fewer months, relative to part-time programs. Part-time programs generally allow students to maintain a more flexible schedule, as they enable students to take fewer classes per term. Part-time programs can thus be a helpful option for students who have other professional or personal commitments.

Clinical Hours Requirements for Online Pediatric Acute Care NP Programs

In general, online PACNP programs require students to complete between 600 and 1000 clinical hours over the course of their enrollment. DNP students will need to complete at least 1000 clinical hours before qualifying for their doctorate, and some schools require more hours on top of that. Clinical hours, also known as clinical practicums, are defined as the time a student spends completing real nursing tasks in an actual medical environment, while under the guidance and supervision of a preceptor (a medical professional that mentors and evaluates students during their practicum).

Students typically complete their clinical hours concurrently with practicum courses, where they meet with faculty and fellow students to discuss and possibly present on their clinical experiences. Some online pediatric acute care NP programs match students to clinical sites and preceptors, while other programs require students to find their own clinical locations and supervisors, while providing support to students during their search.

Campus Visit Requirements for Online PACNP Programs

The majority of online APRN programs, including PACNP programs, require students to participate in a minimum number of campus visits, also known as on-campus intensives. During these visits, students generally engage in such activities as in-person lectures with program faculty, networking events with fellow students, group projects, and clinical simulation experiences. OnlineFNPPrograms.com defines an online nursing program as one that requires three or fewer visits to campus annually, and only lists programs that meet this criterion on the site.

Sample Courses for Online PACNP Programs

As mentioned previously, online pediatric acute care NP programs are typically comprised of a combination of fundamental APRN classes and classes that focus specifically on pediatric acute care nursing. DNP programs in the specialty will contain both these course sets, as well as DNP-specific courses designed to provide training in the eight core competencies outlined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. These courses are standard across all DNP programs, regardless of specialty, and cover topics such as organizational leadership, health care technology, interprofessional collaboration, health care policy, and evidence-based practice.

While course titles and material may vary across programs, typical classes found in an online PACNP program include:

Core Courses for Online PACNP Programs:

  • Advanced Health Assessment: How to evaluate the health of individuals across the lifespan, combining principles of empirical observation, clinical interviews, and knowledge of human physiology to take accurate medical histories.
  • Advanced Human Pharmacology: Common medicines and treatments and how they address ailments at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organ systems levels. How to determine the appropriate dosage for patients of different ages and physical conditions, and how patients’ age, physiology, metabolism, and genetic makeup can affect the efficacy of certain treatments.
  • Advanced Human Physiology and Pathophysiology: The structure and function of the human body across the lifespan, at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organ systems levels. How the different systems within the human body work in concert to maintain homeostasis. How diseases and other health conditions disrupt homeostasis in the human body by impacting different organs, tissues, and cells in the body.

Pediatric Acute Care Concentration Courses:

  • Pediatric Palliative Care: The principles and methods of caring for children suffering from life-threatening diseases. The emphasis of this course is not on curative treatments, but rather on treatments and practices that enhance patients’ comfort and quality of life. How to counsel families with children who suffer from life-threatening conditions.
  • Pediatric Pathophysiology and Management of Symptoms: Common acute illnesses and ailments that children may face across their development, and how these conditions affect children’s health. How PACNPs can recognize and address these medical challenges, and counsel families in the proper management of acute pediatric health conditions.
  • Infant, Child, and Adolescent Health and Wellness: The health care needs of infants, children, and adolescents throughout their development, and how APRNs can support children’s health and well-being through a combination of advanced health assessment, patient counseling, preventative care, and treatment recommendations.