Question: What is the difference between an acute care NP program and a primary care NP program?

Answer: Acute care nurse practitioner (NP) programs prepare registered nurses (RNs) to work with patients who are suffering from acute illnesses and health conditions, while primary care NP programs train RNs to work with patients who need routine medical care or who suffer from chronic conditions that do not need immediate medical attention.

The coursework for acute care NP programs generally focuses on training students to provide short-term care for patients with severe health issues in settings such as specialized clinics, hospitals, and intensive care units. Primary care NP programs generally have classes that focus on caring for and advising patients at different stages in their lifespan. Currently, Adult-Gerontology NP programs and Pediatric NP Programs are the main two types of APRN degree programs that have acute care and primary care tracks.

Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Programs

The majority of AGNP programs prepare students for either acute care or primary care NP roles. Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners work with adults from adolescence to late adulthood who are suffering from acute or severe health conditions in settings such as intensive care units, surgery units in hospitals, and long-term acute care hospitals. Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners work with adults from adolescence to old age to provide long-term and preventative care in such settings as hospitals, private clinics, and community health centers.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) Programs

Adult-gerontology acute care NP programs tend to focus on training RNs to make advanced clinical decisions in acute care settings, care for critically ill or injured adults, and take advanced health assessments. Common courses for AGACNP programs may include:

  • Advanced Health Care Ethics
  • Advanced Healthcare Management for Adults Across the Lifespan
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Advanced Critical Care for Adults
  • Acute Care for the Elderly

Students enrolled in adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner programs are expected to fulfill a certain number of clinical hours in real medical settings that enable them to fulfill actual acute care nursing responsibilities.

Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) Programs

Adult-gerontology primary care NP programs typically include classes that focus on health education, health assessments, developmental challenges that adults encounter throughout their life, and caring for chronic conditions that adults experience. Common courses in AGPCNP programs may include:

  • Lifestyle and Behavioral Health Management Across the Lifespan
  • Primary Care of the Elderly
  • Primary Care of Adolescents
  • Advanced Primary Care Nursing for Adults with Chronic Health Conditions
  • Risk Reduction and Health Promotion Throughout Adulthood

In addition to primary care-focused coursework, students in AGPCNP programs must fulfill a certain number of clinical hours through a clinical internship in one or more settings that allow them to practice primary care with actual patients in a real medical setting, under the supervision of a preceptor.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

Similar to AGNP programs, pediatric nurse practitioner programs also prepare students for either acute care or primary care NP roles in caring for the needs of children. Pediatric acute care nurse practitioners (PACNPs) provide health care services and support to infants, children, and adolescents suffering from acute and severe health problems. They can work in such settings as the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU), surgery clinics, the pediatric emergency department, and specialized departments such as the pediatric cardiac ICU. Pediatric primary care nurse practitioners (PPCNPs) provide long-term primary health care to children from infancy to adolescence. They provide health guidance to children and their families, assess patients’ health over the long-term, administer immunizations, and help their patients manage chronic and minor acute health conditions. PPCNPs work in a variety of settings, including outpatient clinics, community health centers, private clinics, and schools.

Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) Programs

PACNP programs train RNs to diagnose and treat acute health conditions that children may experience, and to support the families of children experiencing these health issues. Common courses that PACNP programs have may include:

  • Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
  • Acute Pediatric Health Conditions and Their Treatment
  • Pharmacotherapeutics in Pediatric Acute Care
  • Health Care Ethics
  • Infant, Child, and Adolescent Wellness

Students enrolled in PACNP programs are also required to fulfill a minimum number of clinical hours through clinical internships at a prearranged medical site. During these internships, students complete actual acute care nursing responsibilities with pediatric patients under the supervision of a preceptor.

Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP) Programs

PPCNP programs tend to focus on health education and preventative care, health assessments, and the developmental issues that children may encounter at different stages in their life. Examples of common courses this type of APRN program may have include:

  • Management of Minor Injuries and Illnesses in Children and Adolescents
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Child and Family Development Across the Lifespan
  • Human Physiology and Pathophysiology

Students enrolled in PPCNP programs must fulfill a minimum number of clinical hours at a prearranged medical site. During their clinical internships, students fulfill actual primary care nursing responsibilities with pediatric patients under the supervision of a preceptor.