Registered Nurses: Which NP Track is Right for You?

How do you choose which type of nurse practitioner (NP) you want to be? Which path is right for you? Should you do a more general approach or more of a specialty approach? What jobs might be available with a certain degree? Where do you begin to decide? This article will discuss the similarities and differences among four NP tracks at Youngstown State University (YSU):

  1. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) — Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  2. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) – Post Master’s Certificate
  3. MSN – Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)
  4. AG-ACNP – Post Master’s Certificate

What’s the Difference Between an NP program and a Post Master’s Certification NP Program?

In looking at YSU’s four tracks, the first two programs focus on the FNP role and the last two programs are both for AG-ACNPs. The FNP – Post Master’s Certificate is designed to “place you” into a real-world situation and expand your role as an FNP. This program is designed for nurses with MSNs to expand their knowledge through online coursework and clinicals. Think of it as “intensive” training.

The AG-ACNP – Post Master’s Certificate program is for nurses who have MSN degree qualifications. Perhaps they practice in education, as a clinical nurse specialist, in administration/leadership or another NP role. Post-graduate programs also apply to those with a Ph.D. in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing practice (DNP). The other two MSN paths are for BSN nurses becoming an FNP or AG-ACNP.

How Does an FNP Role Compare to That of an AG-ACNP?

Let’s look at the names within these two NP roles: family versus adult gerontology acute care. FNPs typically provide primary care to individuals across the lifespan, and acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) provide acute care for elderly patients.

  • FNPs care for families, individuals or communities. They may care for persons of all ages in a general setting (private practice, clinic, community center) or sometimes within a special area or focus on an age range like women’s health, pediatrics or hospice.
  • AG-ACNPs, as the name implies, care for older adults or a geriatric population and in an acute care setting of patients with complex, acute conditions. Most AG-ACNPs practice in intensive care, trauma or critical care units, but more work in specialty clinics, acute home care and long-term care facilities as patient acuity increases outside the hospital walls.

How Are NP Competencies and Laws Influencing NP Practice?

Since the 2008 release of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Consensus Model: Licensure, Accreditation, Certification, and Education, the NP community has followed these guidelines. In addition, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) issues advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) regulations with patient safety as a unifying link. This general principle applies to acute care and primary care NP practice: “The care focus is on the patient’s needs, not the setting — defining acute care versus primary care of family care.”

As healthcare shifts with changes in care models, these practice guidelines are more challenging. More hospital-level care is shifting to the home, as there are limited hospital beds due to COVID-19. Some patients receive acute care through a Hospital at Home model.

Some organizations, like those in Texas, require trained oncology NPs and certified FNPs to return to school for acute care skills. FNPs who have been in oncology practice (inpatient, outpatient or hybrid) for decades are now returning to school given widespread healthcare changes. For example, since cancer care has been re-defined as intense, acute care, these new standards will require more training for NPs to keep their current positions. While some employers may be willing to hire FNPs in areas beyond a primary-care focus, such as the emergency room, if the patients become unstable, critical or complex patients, FNPs would be practicing outside their scope of practice. It remains unclear how shifts in care will impact the FNP role in areas beyond primary care.

FNP and AG-ACNP roles are in high demand, particularly in underserved rural areas. Both positions are critical to filling the gaps to lessen severe healthcare provider shortages. In addition, employment options are rapidly changing as models of care evolve. There will be a definite increase in telehealth, virtual visits, phone calls and patient portal communication. YSU also offers Advanced Placement Post Master’s Certificates in both specializations, which are for existing Nurse Practitioners.

However, one final consideration might help you decide which path is best for you: Do you prefer a focus on health and wellness, or do you thrive in an acute care more urgent situation? Either way, FNP and AG-ACNP roles both help you advance your clinical position and are in high demand.

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s NP online programs.

YSU Skyline Silhouette