FNP or ACNP: Which specialty is right for you?

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An FNP examines a patient

Health care organizations across the country are aggressively recruiting nurse practitioners. Demand for these specially skilled nursing professionals has increased 31 percent, as U.S. care providers look to add more than 64,000 NPs to their rosters by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why? A looming physician shortage has health systems, hospitals and clinics scrambling to find clinicians who can capably serve patients across multiple demographics. A shortage of between 42,000 and 121,000 primary care physicians and specialists is expected to materialize by 2030, according to research from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Increased NP recruitment could solve this problem.

An FNP writes a prescription.These advanced nursing professionals are capable of performing many of the duties of fully credentialed doctors and have prescriptive authority in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. An estimated 248,000 NPs work in hospitals and clinics across the U.S., with more than 60 percent seeing three or more patients per day. Their duties will most likely expand in the coming years as the national physician shortage grows and more health care providers discover just how effective these unique clinicians are.

Registered nurses interested in rising in the ranks and carving out more fulfilling careers in health care should consider pursuing this in-demand role. However, prior to embarking on this journey, prospective NPs must understand the numerous specialties that exist within the profession. There are at least a dozen different NP roles.

Acute care nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners are among the most common, according to the AANP. ACNPs account for more than 6 percent of the total NP population, while FNPs hold 60 percent of the NP positions in the U.S. Both career tracks allow nursing professionals to amplify their impact. However, each role carries with it unique clinical and managerial duties.

Understanding the ACNP role

Acute care teams treat individuals with severe, time-sensitive injuries. A significant number of patients suffering acute injuries enter health care facilities in critical condition, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine. Researchers for the organization found that intensive care units serve approximately 20 percent of all individuals with acute conditions. ACNPs are, of course, responsible for taking care of these patients. These clinical professionals leverage advanced knowledge and practice authority to help individuals who have suffered sudden acute injuries.

Most of these professionals work in hospital intensive care units, according to the AANP. Stabilization, monitoring and diagnostic test management are some of the most common ACNP job duties, Nurse Journal reported. Additionally, many of these clinical specialists develop overarching care plans to help patients heal once they have been discharged. For this work, the U.S.-based ACNPs earn salaries between $82,000 and $126,000, according to PayScale.

How can forward-looking health care professionals move into these roles? Attending graduate school is critical, the AANP reported. Approximately 98 percent of all NPs hold graduate degrees. In fact, the average NP enters the profession with six or more years of “academic and clinical preparation,” the AANP noted. Of course, certification is essential. All employers require aspiring NPs to obtain credentials from the AANP’s National Certification Board and pass state-level licensure exams. With these bona fides in hand, ACNPs can begin practicing.

Understanding the FNP role

FNPs are a dominant force within the NP community — and for good reason. These generalists are best equipped to fill gaps left by retiring physicians or specialty-oriented medical students. Unlike ACNPs, these clinical professionals can spend time developing lifelong relationships through family medicine clinics or health system departments. Instead of treating individuals with acute injuries or illnesses, FNPs provide preventive services designed to keep patients of all ages and genders out of the emergency room. They develop exhaustive care plans, conduct health screenings, perform diagnostic tests and prescribe medications to manage recurring conditions.

FNPs may also work in specialty areas such as women’s health, gerontology and pediatrics. The clinical environments in which FNPs function vary. Some work in private practices alongside doctors, while others practice in unorthodox settings such as businesses and schools.

FNPs operating in the U.S. earn salaries ranging from $75,000 to $111,000, according to PayScale. Health care professionals looking to move into these well-paying positions must navigate ample educational experiences, beginning with graduate education and ending with national and state certification. Only after obtaining these credentials can FNPs start working with patients.

Making the right decision

Both the ACNP and FNP roles offer immense opportunity for advancement. For health care professionals considering the latter position, a common choice among those entering the NP field, there are numerous educational options. However, not all graduate degree programs can offer aspiring FNPs the knowledge, insight and experience they need to successfully carve out niches in the profession.

The online Master of Science in Nursing — Family Nurse Practitioner program at Bradley University is among the best options for health care professionals pursuing FNP roles. Students enrolled in the -65-74-credit instructional track navigate a variety of courses covering numerous topics, including Leadership in the Health Care Delivery System, Health Informatics and Evidence-Based Practice.

The program also includes five specialty courses exploring care strategies for patients suffering from chronic conditions, children, the elderly and women. The online MSN-FNP program closes with five preceptor-managed clinical practicums that allow students to deploy their newly bolstered clinical skill sets in real-world health care settings.

In short, the online MSN-FNP program at Bradley University, which ranks among the top seven Midwest Regional Universities, according to U.S. News & World Report 2018, offers ascendant health care professionals the opportunity to grow and move into an expanding field.

Contact Bradley University today to learn more about the online MSN-FNP program.

Recommended Readings:

What Bradley University’s online program can do for you

How are family nurse practitioners changing primary care?



Bradley University

American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Association of American Medical Colleges

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Society of Critical Care Medicine

Nurse Journal