The Pros & Cons of Acute Care Nursing

If you’re considering working as an acute care nurse, it’s important to think about all the advantages and disadvantages that come with the job. 

Every nursing specialty is unique, and each has its own pros and cons. Knowing which advantages really work for you and which are deal breakers is essential to finding the right fit for you.

So what are the pros and cons of acute care nursing? Let’s dive in and take a look. 

Pro: It’s a Fast-Paced, Demanding Environment 

Looking for a nursing career that keeps you on your toes? If you want an exciting, fast-paced environment that will rarely leave you sitting around bored and waiting for the clock to run out at the end of your shift, acute care nursing is a good choice.

As an acute care nurse (also called a “critical care nurse”), you’ll be working with patients with serious and sometimes emergent conditions. You’ll likely be kept busy with complex assessments, ongoing needs for medications, and the monitoring of patients with urgent conditions. 

If you like a challenging and engaging work environment, critical care nursing just might be the specialty for you. 

Con: It’s a Fast-Paced, Demanding Environment 

You don’t have double vision; one of the biggest pros of acute care nursing is also one of its biggest cons.

Not everyone loves that rapid-fire pace that acute care nursing may bring to the table, especially on the really hard days. These jobs can be stressful, and that stress can not only be difficult to carry through a shift, but it can also start to impact your mental well-being outside of work, too. 

And with the nursing shortage and factors like violence against healthcare workers directly contributing to nursing burnout, sometimes added layers of stress from an always-demanding environment are just too much to handle. 

There are plenty of nursing specialties that can be challenging and engaging without feeling like you need to put out multiple fires at once. If the stress or pace isn’t a fit for you, take a look at some of your other options here

Pro: Every Day Is a Little Different 

Some people downright dread monotony, and the thought of every day being the same as the one before sounds paramount to torture. 

Many acute care job roles will have you working with patients with a variety of different conditions. Someone in the emergency room (ER) could have patients coming in with any number of injuries or illnesses, ranging from stubbed toes to strokes and everything in between.

If you want a job where you’ll use your full scope of medical training and never know exactly what will come in through the door next, acute care nursing may be for you.  

Con: The Work Can Be Physically Demanding 

Many nursing roles can be physically demanding, having you on your feet for long periods and potentially requiring you to help lift, move, and care for patients.

It’s common for acute care nursing to be a particularly physical nursing specialty. You may need to lift or turn bed-bound patients in addition to helping them in and out of bed. Conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is also something that you’ll need to be familiar with, which can be incredibly physically challenging.

Pro: You Get Autonomy as a Nurse 

Nurses, in many ways, get to be more hands-on with patients when working in acute care positions than in some other types of nursing roles. In acute care settings, patients are often more familiar with their nurses than their doctors, which is the opposite of jobs in private offices. Patients are likely to report concerns or new symptoms directly to you, and you’ll play an important role in examining and monitoring the patient. 

Because of the more intensive role, you can get a little more autonomy and independence. Acute care nurses are held responsible for the direct care of their patiens, including overseeing treatment plans. Charge nursing and supervisory positions allow for even more independence and growth in leadership opportunities. 

It’s important to note that you’ll still be working as a part of the patient’s medical team, but here you’ll be center stage instead of just a supporting character who pops up to jot down notes in a chart before heading to the next patient. 

Con: You May Need Additional Certifications  

Every employer is different, and some may require additional certifications. 

It’s common for acute care nurses to need the Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, which can help you recognize and react to life-threatening emergencies as a nurse.

Some other facilities may require or encourage you to receive additional certifications, or they may prefer to hire candidates who have received these credentials, all else being equal.

These certifications may include specialized acute care or critical care certifications for adult critical care, pediatric acute care, remote acute care, and cardiac critical care. 

Pro: There’s Plenty of Flexibility 

Love working in critical care but need a change of scenery? That’s always an option, as acute care nurses are always in demand. 

There are also plenty of unique specialties that fall under the acute care nursing umbrella. You can work in the intensive care unit (ICU), the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), outpatient facilities, and more. You can choose to niche down into specialties like cardiology or neurology and opt to work with all ages or with either adults or pediatrics. 

And here’s the good news: You can pick one and switch it up later. Many critical care skills are transferrable from one position to the next, and you can always get additional training or certifications if needed to switch positions.  

Pro: The Pay Is Good 

Last but most certainly not least, a significant perk to consider is that acute care nurse salaries are often competitive. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average RN salary across all specialties is $82,750. Many acute care settings surpass this, including the following:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $85,020
  • Specialty hospitals: $84,800
  • Outpatient care centers: $93,070

There are always ways to increase your pay, too. Because acute care nurses are in such high demand, you can often find PRN shifts near you, especially if you live in a busy and high-population metropolitan area. PRN nursing shifts typically pay more than staff positions do and give you the flexibility to set your own schedule.

Interested in learning how to make more as a PRN acute care nurse? See how Nursa’s nurse staffing app works here

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