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An acute care nurse gives active but short-term care for a severe injury or episode of illness, an urgent medical condition, or during recovery from surgery. In medical terms, care for acute health conditions is the opposite from chronic care, or longer term care. Hospital-based acute inpatient care typically has the goal of discharging patients as soon as they are deemed healthy and stable.
An acute care nurse cares for patients with non-critical ailments and a wide variety of illnesses, including:
Acute care nurses assess patients and treat them according to established protocols and physician orders. They are capable of determining which of the ordered remedies is appropriate for the patient at any given point in time. Depending on where they work the nurses take on a variety of responsibilities.
Nurses in the emergency department determine which patients are the sickest then have the physician see those patients first. They provide lifesaving treatments, medications, monitoring, and care. In the operating room, they assist the surgeon in performing surgery and monitor the patient's condition throughout the operation. They then continue their care through the recovery process.
Birthing center nurses manage the labor process providing instruction, medications, and support throughout the process and finally assisting in the delivery of the child. Each department in an acute care hospital provides nurses with the opportunity to provide care to those who are sick or in need.
Acute care environments include hospitals, free-standing emergency rooms, surgery clinics, and short-term sub acute units. All are clinical environments that utilize high tech equipment, skilled staff, and a variety of support staff. Buildings are designed with surfaces that clean easily, such as tile, porcelain, and stainless. All areas are handicap-accessible. Unfortunately, staff areas are small and utilitarian. The necessities are present, but do not expect luxuries. Luxuries aside, there are sufficient supplies, equipment, and other materials to perform nursing-related duties.
Clinical environments are most often slightly colder than normal workplaces. The lower temperatures help inhibit bacterial growth. However, patients’ rooms can be rather warm. This situation creates rather drastic temperatures throughout the building. Nurses often wear a lab coat or scrub jacket in order to adjust to changes in temperature.
A genuine desire to help others at their most vulnerable is a necessity in this profession. Nurses must be confident dealing with people from various ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. Nurses must handle unpleasant sights, sounds, and odours. They are exposed to contagious diseases and have to work using personal protective equipment. They require an impressive memory and well-developed critical thinking skills.
Nurses must complete an accredited college program that prepares them to take a state examination to get their licenses. Licensed practical nurses are being phased out of the acute care environment. They are still active in other environments such as long-term care and physician offices. However, acute care nurses need at least an ADN.
ADN - The associate degree in nursing is a two-year program offered at community colleges. This program has both classroom and clinical instruction. The graduate is ready to sit for their license exam. Programs are plentiful, but competition for acceptance into a program is still competitive. Two well-known programs are the Sampson Community College in Clinton, North Carolina, and the Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
BSN - The bachelor's program is offered in a four-year university. Students get a basic baccalaureate educational experience while preparing for their nursing career. Graduates are ready to take on nursing jobs with management components to them. Many nurses start with their ADN and then complete their BSN in one of the many RN to BSN online programs. The University of Alabama and the University of California rank as the top two schools offering BSN programs per U.S. News.
MSN - The master’s degree in nursing is a postgraduate degree. The ADN or BSN returns to school and completes their master’s degree. Degrees can be done online or at a local university. There are many programs that target working nurses for this program. It can take between three to six years to complete depending on the amount of time the nurse can devote to the program.
DNP - A doctorate in nursing is one of the most coveted degrees. It is the top of the line for nurses. It can take a nurse four to six years to complete the program. They must have a master’s degree before starting the doctorate program. Graduates usually work in the top echelon of nursing administration.