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FNP vs ACNP: Do You Know the Differences?

Trailblazers / FNP vs ACNP: Do You Know the Differences?
FNP vs ACNP - a picture of an NP listening to a male patient.
August 23, 2022

When considering the role of an FNP (family nurse practitioner) vs ACNP (acute care nurse practitioner), there are similarities and differences to weigh when choosing the best educational path toward a fulfilling career.

All nurse practitioners (NPs) can assess, diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic illnesses, in addition to many other tasks. Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is a popular career path bustling with opportunity. With competitive salaries and higher than average expected job growth through 2030, many are choosing a career as an NP.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that NPs were earning a median annual salary of $123,780 and a median hourly wage of $59.51 in 2021, with 271,900 practicing NPs in the United States.

The BLS expects NPs to experience 45% job growth between 2020 and 2030 (much faster than average), and they project that at least 121,400 jobs to be added during that period.

The FNP

FNPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are trained to provide high-quality family-focused healthcare services to patients of all ages, from newborn babies to the elderly. FNPs have a broad scope of practice that includes performing physical exams and diagnostic tests, developing treatment plans, and treating injuries, diseases, or conditions that fall under primary care. Some FNPs can prescribe medicine, however, that is dependent upon the state in which the FNP practices.

In terms of education, nurses interested in becoming an FNP will likely enroll in a degree program such as USU’s FNP program, which includes 48 graduate credits of master’s-level education and tuition costs only $375 per month.

Following graduation from an FNP degree program, the candidate must successfully pass the Family Nurse Practitioner board exam.

FNPs are fortunate to have the option to work in many places, aside from primary care. FNPs are commonly employed in a variety of outpatient settings:

  • Primary care practices
  • University and college health centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Family planning centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Urgent care centers
  • Telehealth companies
  • Employee health clinics
  • Private and public clinics and medical practices
  • Retail clinics like grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Specialty clinics (e.g.: orthopedics and oncology)

FNPs’ work schedules can vary depending on the setting. Working Monday-Friday during business hours is common, however, FNPs may be required to fulfill evening or weekend hours in some practices, as well as after-hours emergency calls.

Most NPs manage their own continuing education (CEU). They earn the required amount of CEU credits as determined by the board of nursing in the state or territory where they work. Certain employers may provide NPs with an educational budget for conferences and seminars. Other employers may have in-house learning opportunities, like in-services or seminars, that provide NPs with CEU credits.

Salary.com reports that FNPs earn a median annual income of $115,600, with a range between $107,270 and $125,580.

The ACNP

ACNPs are NPs who work in acute care facilities. These inpatient settings are very different from the outpatient clinics and practices where FNPs often work.

To start, most ACNPs will specialize as either adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AG-ACNP) or pediatric acute care nurse practitioners (PNP-AC), which differs from the all-encompassing range of patients FNPs treat.

To clarify even further, AG-ACNPs provide care for adolescents to elderly patients in acute care hospitals. This may include patient care in trauma units and emergency departments. Patients may be complex, and the acute setting may call for the AG-ACNP to stabilize patients by performing invasive procedures like intubation. Communication, clinical skill, and critical thinking are key to this role.

Moreover, PNP-ACs provide care for pediatric patients from newborns to adolescents or young adults. This care may also involve invasive procedures and complex clinical scenarios. A career in pediatric acute care nursing requires empathy, clinical skill, patience, and the ability to communicate effectively with both patients and their families.

Work hours may vary greatly for acute care NPs, including day shift, evening shift, night shift, weekends, holidays, and on-call.

Salary.com reports the average annual salary for PNP-ACs as $103,946. They also report that adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of $101,733.

ACNPs vs FNPs common ground

The common ground between FNP vs ACNP includes:

  • All NPs undergo a similar educational path through a master’s of science in nursing program and passing an NP licensing exam.
  • All NPs bear responsibility for maintaining their license through continuing education.
  • The BLS job outlook statistics for NPs are strong, with 45% projected job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Next Steps

For those interested in becoming an FNP, USU’s FNP program is an excellent opportunity for moving forward in their career.

Helpful resources regarding the nurse practitioner role include:

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a nurse, holistic career coach, writer, podcaster, and keynote speaker. Keith has conducted more than 2,000 coaching sessions with nurses from all walks of life, and his podcast, The Nurse Keith Show, reaches nurses throughout the world with fascinating interviews and messages of inspiration and career strategy. He lives and works in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.