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Adult Gerontology: Differences Between Acute and Primary Care Nursing

Adult gerontology nurse practitioners can choose from two nursing career paths.

With today's increased emphasis on preventive care and a growing need for healthcare services for an aging population, nurse practitioners are in demand.1 Specifically, adult gerontology nurse practitioners are an increasingly important part of the healthcare system, providing care to people 13 years of age and older. But not all adult gerontology nurse practitioners are focused on the day-to-day primary care of patients. Some are focused on acute care. How are the two fields different and how are they related? Here are some answers.

They Focus on Different Kinds of Medical Care

In general, primary care refers to clinic-based medical care where you see a patient multiple times over many years, treating chronic health issues and helping the patient mitigate health risks. Acute care, however, refers to medical care given to treat a specific, pressing medical problem.

Adult Gerontology: Differences Between Acute and Primary Care Nursing

More precisely, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AG-PCNPs):

  • Assess the health of their patients.
  • Guide patients toward healthy life choices.
  • Help patients manage chronic health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Refer patients to specialists when needed.
  • Most often work in private clinics, ambulatory care centers, school settings, and long-term care facilities.

Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AG-ACNPs):

  • Conduct assessments focused on an acute illnesses or conditions.
  • Provide treatment or treatment options for a patient’s acute illness or condition.
  • Manage patients throughout their time at the healthcare facility, including admission and discharge.
  • Work directly with specialists and physicians to ensure the patient remains stable or is stabilized and has appropriate follow-up care arranged.
  • Most often work in inpatient hospitals, emergency departments, intensive care units, and acute-care/minor-emergency centers.

They Require Different MSN Degree Specializations

The separation between adult-gerontology primary care and adult-gerontology acute care begins the moment you enroll in a nursing school to become an adult gerontology NP. While both nursing careers require you to earn a Master of Science in Nursing, you need to follow different specialization paths focused on different kinds of medical care.

A master’s degree in nursing focused on primary care will teach you how to assess risk factors; treat illness; and promote healthy living in adolescents (13+), young adults, and older adults. A master’s degree in nursing focused on acute care will teach you how to treat acutely or chronically ill adolescents (13+), young adults, adults, and older adults from initial assessment and diagnosis to developing a treatment and care plan.

Nevertheless, both types of adult gerontology nurse practitioner programs share similarities. When you attend a master’s in nursing program at a high-quality nursing school, you can learn how to:

  • Synthesize organizational and systems leadership for cost-effective specialist nursing practice that contributes to high-quality healthcare delivery, advancement of the nursing profession, and social change.
  • Critique evidence-based literature drawing from diverse theoretical perspectives and pertinent research to guide decision making that demonstrates best practices for specialist nursing practice in a global society.
  • Integratively assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate cost-effective healthcare strategies that reduce health disparities by patient/population advocacy for access to specialist nursing care.

They Have Similar Certification Processes

Once you’ve earned your MSN degree, you’ll still need to apply for your certification. For both AG-PCNPs and AG-ACNPs, adult gerontology nurse certification is acquired through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). To be eligible to apply for the certification test, you must complete your MSN program and complete 500 supervised clinical hours in your specialization field.

They Can Both Be Earned at an Online Nursing School

Earning a master’s degree no longer has to mean driving to a campus and disrupting your schedule to attend classes. Instead, online education is offering a more convenient way for working professionals like you to advance your career. When you choose to earn a master’s in nursing online, you can complete your coursework right from home. Plus, online MSN programs let you choose when in the day you attend class, providing you with the level of flexibility you need to complete your Master of Science in Nursing while you continue to work full time.

Walden University offers a high-quality adult gerontology nurse practitioner program online. Not only does Walden have both primary care and acute care adult gerontology nurse practitioner specializations through its MSN program, but it also provides significant benefits that have helped the university become the leader in Master of Science in Nursing graduates.2 For example, Walden’s MSN program is CCNE accredited, has a didactic faculty that’s 100% doctorally prepared, is partnered with many leading healthcare employers and associations, and even offers an RN to MSN online option that makes it possible to skip your bachelor’s degree and go straight from RN to MSN.

Whether you want to be an AG-PCNP or an AG-ACNP, online learning can make your nursing career goals a reality. And when it comes to online learning, Walden is top choice.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with an Adult/Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner specialization and an MSN program with an Adult/Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner specialization online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

2Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using CIP code family 51.38 “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing” for Master’s degrees (Award level 7). Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing (BSN), master’s degree program in nursing (MSN), post-graduate APRN certificate program, and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Walden University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (

Note on licensure: Walden’s MSN nurse practitioner specializations are designed to academically prepare graduates with an active registered nurse (RN) license to practice in the U.S. as nurse practitioners. However, each state has its own academic preparation and authority to practice requirements and issues its own license for an RN to be permitted to practice as a nurse practitioner in that state. Learn more about professional licensure.

No graduate program can guarantee that graduates will obtain licensure to practice as a nurse practitioner. We encourage students to consult the appropriate board of nursing or regulatory authority in the states or jurisdictions in which they reside or intend to seek licensure to determine specific requirements. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to licensure; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to licensure for the state in which they intend to practice, as requirements vary widely.

Note on certification: Walden’s MSN program is designed to academically prepare graduates to apply for national certification. Walden makes no representations or guarantees that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve national certification. We encourage students to consult an appropriate certifying body for the specific certification eligibility requirements. Students should also consult their state board of nursing or other state agency to determine what certifications are required or accepted in that state. It is an individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification, as requirements vary widely. For more information about nurse practitioner certification exams, students should visit the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board at, the American Nurses Credentialing Center at, or other nurse practitioner certification websites.