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What does an acute nurse do?

Our guide to the role of the an acute care nurse
Written on 6/4/14

Every kind of modern nursing role is demanding, but acute care represents one of healthcare's most challenging disciplines. As a front line care position, acute nurses are called upon to perform a wide variety of tasks and must be prepared for diverse situations every day.

If you are thinking about embarking on a career in acute care nursing, check out our guide to the role to find out what kind of responsibilities and opportunities to expect...

What is acute care?

Acute care falls under the broader category of secondary care - the stage after primary care (when a patient makes first contact with medical professionals). Acute care involves the treatment of patients diagnosed with short term but serious conditions - and might take place in a number of clinical settings like Accident & Emergency, Intensive Care and Neonatal Care. Typical medical conditions an acute care nurse may be called upon to treat range from severe injury and chronic illness, to strokes and infectious diseases.

Day-to-day responsibilities

Like other nursing roles, acute nurses work with patients, perform administrative tasks and assist other medical professionals, like doctors and consultants. A typical day might include:

  • The assessment and monitoring of patient conditions
  • Checking symptoms and vital signs and arranging diagnostic tests
  • Developing on-going care plans
  • Administering intravenous drips or different types of medication
  • Checking and using specialised equipment such as monitors and ventilators

As an acute nurse working in hospital wards, GP surgeries or community care centres, no two days will ever be the same - and you should expect surprises. Acute nurses may be first on the scene when a patient's condition changes - for better or worse - and should be prepared to administer emergency first aid. Conversely, acute nurses deal frequently with patients whose conditions are improving - which could mean contacting family members and support services or arranging transfer to different facilities.

Skills and qualities

Acute care professionals deal with a huge number of patients presenting with a wide range of conditions so an ability to be caring, compassionate and patient is crucial. Acute nurses may have to deal with patients with learning disabilities or those suffering from dementia -  these situations demand excellent communication skills. Given the fluid nature of the role, nurses should be prepared to think quickly - and on their feet - and adapt to the demands of on-going medical situations.

To become an acute care nurse, candidates need to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council - but must have completed a degree in nursing beforehand. Nursing degrees last three years (4 in Scotland), taken on a full time basis, involving practical components on the ward and time spent in the classroom (courses can also be taken on a part time basis). Nursing degree courses cover the four branches of nursing - adult, mental health, learning disabilities and children's nursing - all of which offer candidates opportunities to work in acute care. 

Acute care nursing promises new challenges every day, but for committed and capable nurses, offers a long, rewarding career. To keep up to date on the industry developments and find vacant acute care positions, check out our roles and read the latest from Nursing Times