The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Sherry ChristiansenNurseJournal Rankings Team
Updated November 30, 2023
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Interested in earning an MSN in acute care? These programs prepare you for a vital role as a nurse practitioner in an emergency room or intensive care unit.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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If you are considering a nurse practitioner (NP) career, but need to continue working during graduate school, you may consider an online acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) program. Online NP programs offer convenience and flexibility, allowing students to continue working while getting a master’s degree in nursing or a doctoral degree in nursing practice.

Learn what to look for in online acute care nurse practitioner programs, why accreditation is important, and how to apply for and pay for an NP program. Finally, see our list of the top online acute care NP programs.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online acute care NP programs, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: Academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

At a Glance: The Top 10 Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

  1. Georgetown University
  2. Vanderbilt University
  3. Duke University
  4. University of South Florida
  5. Stony Brook University
  1. Herzing University-Brookfield
  2. George Washington University
  3. University of South Carolina-Columbia
  4. DePaul University
  5. Maryville University of Saint Louis
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Learn About the Best Online Acute Care NP Programs

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.
#1 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Georgetown University

  • Location-markerWashington, DC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$57,384
  • Out-of-state$57,384
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate17%
  • Students Enrolled19,371
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Vanderbilt University

  • Location-markerNashville, TN
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$52,781
  • Out-of-state$52,781
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate12%
  • Students Enrolled13,537
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Duke University

  • Location-markerDurham, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$55,880
  • Out-of-state$55,880
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate8%
  • Students Enrolled16,172
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment42%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

University of South Florida

  • Location-markerTampa, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,559
  • Out-of-state$15,473
  • Retention Rate92%
  • Acceptance Rate49%
  • Students Enrolled50,626
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment90%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Stony Brook University

  • Location-markerStony Brook, NY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,070
  • Out-of-state$24,740
  • Retention Rate90%
  • Acceptance Rate49%
  • Students Enrolled26,782
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment90%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Herzing University-Brookfield

  • Location-markerBrookfield, WI
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,320
  • Out-of-state$13,320
  • Retention Rate100%
  • Acceptance Rate93%
  • Students Enrolled498
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment79%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

George Washington University

  • Location-markerWashington, DC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$55,961
  • Out-of-state$55,961
  • Retention Rate88%
  • Acceptance Rate43%
  • Students Enrolled27,017
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment25%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

University of South Carolina-Columbia

  • Location-markerColumbia, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$12,288
  • Out-of-state$33,528
  • Retention Rate90%
  • Acceptance Rate68%
  • Students Enrolled35,470
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment93%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

DePaul University

  • Location-markerChicago, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$40,551
  • Out-of-state$40,551
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate70%
  • Students Enrolled21,922
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment99%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 The Best Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

Maryville University of Saint Louis

  • Location-markerSaint Louis, MO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$24,766
  • Out-of-state$24,766
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate95%
  • Students Enrolled10,979
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in an Online Acute Care NP Program

There are several important factors to consider when narrowing down your best options. These include the admission requirements, specializations, clinical experience requirements, and online learning formats.

Examining essential data points, such as graduation rates, can tell you what you need to know about a program’s quality before applying. These data points also contribute to the selection of our top picks.

Admission Requirements

Admission to an online acute care NP program can be highly competitive. Reviewing admission requirements can give you a glimpse at what a school prioritizes when selecting students. This can help you build a stronger application.


ACNPs can pursue professional specializations in areas including adult-gerontology acute care and pediatric acute care.

When checking out new program options, you must ensure the ACNP track you plan to pursue is offered.

Program Curriculum

Many of the courses in a nurse practitioner program’s core curriculum are similar across programs, but the electives may vary. The electives offered could be a factor when selecting the right program for you.

Clinical Experience

One factor to pay close attention to is the number of clinical hours required and where those clinical placements will occur. Many online programs allow students to complete clinicals in their local area.

Schools may or may not offer assistance in securing placement.


It’s essential to check whether each prospective program you apply for is accredited because only accredited programs qualify for ACNP certification. You won’t be allowed to sit for the licensing exam unless you graduate from an accredited master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctoral nursing program.

Program Length

Finding out how long a program takes to complete is key to selecting a program that is right for you. On average, an MSN takes two years to complete. If you have work, personal, or family obligations, you may prefer a part-time option that allows more free time.

School Graduation Rate

A school’s graduation rate is an indicator of the quality level of a college or university; it can help predict your chances of completing the program. Nursing students can also review a school’s certification pass rates to determine how well a program prepares graduates for licensure.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

When considering an online NP program, it’s essential to determine whether nursing classes are 100% online or if there are in-person requirements, such as lectures or other learning modalities. Find out if the coursework is synchronous (live classes on a set schedule) or asynchronous (recorded lessons and assignments that can be completed on your schedule).

This data point may be important for working students or those with personal or family obligations.

Why Is Online Acute Care NP Program Accreditation Important?

The accreditation process for nursing programs involves third-party experts who review a program’s instructors, course content, clinical requirements, and other aspects of the program to ensure it meets quality benchmarks. There are many reasons that accreditation is essential, including:

  • Accreditation ensures quality in a college, university, or specific program.
  • Only accredited courses are considered for board certification and state licensure.
  • Most employers only hire graduates of accredited programs to ensure all employees provide safe, effective practice.
  • Accredited schools will not accept transfer credits from an unaccredited program.
  • Federal loans and many other types of financial aid are typically only awarded to students attending accredited schools.

How Online Acute Care Programs Work

Choosing between an online or in-person nursing program requires much consideration. While attending an online program is convenient, distance learning involves some challenges.

Many online nurse practitioner programs offer asynchronous courses, but students may be required to log in to take live courses during a specific time. Students who participate in hybrid programs must complete on-campus requirements.

Even when acute care NP programs offer a 100% online curriculum, the clinical component for online nursing students must be completed in person. There may also be other face-to-face requirements, such as lab simulations, lectures, or orientation requirements. Campus-based expectations are usually scheduled in advance for students who need to make travel arrangements.

Applying to an Online Acute Care NP Program

Applying to an acute care NP program requires time and effort. Several important steps are involved. Prospective students must consider the school’s admission requirements, materials, and prerequisites, such as a bachelor’s degree, minimum GPA, and mandatory entrance exam scores.

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    Admission Requirements

    Most acute care NP programs require prospective students to have a bachelor’s in nursing or an entry-level MSN (such as clinical nurse leader), a current, unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license, and advanced cardiac life support certification.

    There may be specific course completion requirements with a minimum GPA in classes such as statistics or sciences. You must also have a minimum of two years’ work experience, usually in the intensive care unit, the emergency department, or the telemetry unit of an acute or progressive care center.

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    Admission Materials

    Applicants are usually required to submit an application, a resume, personal statement or essay, a current copy of a U.S. unencumbered RN license, and official school transcripts.

    Many programs require criminal background checks and a pre-admission interview. The interview could be in person or online (for remote students).

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    GPA Requirement

    Most programs require a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for students to be accepted; if your GPA is lower than 3.0, you can talk to an advisor to find out if there are any exceptions to this prerequisite.

Paying for Online Acute Care NP Programs

Many variables can influence your ability to pay for an NP program, such as:

  • Whether the program is offered at a public or private institution (private schools are usually more expensive)
  • Whether distance students pay in-state or out-of-state tuition
  • The overall length of the program
  • The ability to earn income while completing an NP program (e.g., the flexibility of the program schedule)
  • Whether a student has financial support for nurses (e.g., loans, nursing scholarships or grants, or help with tuition from friends or family members)

Several types of financial aid are available for graduate students, including federal aid, private loans, and grants. You can find information on the school’s website on any special financial assistance offered specifically for NP programs and graduate students.

What Can You Do as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

Acute care NPs work with people of all ages, usually in a hospital setting. ACNPs provide advanced care to people who have experienced injury or trauma and are undergoing serious cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, women’s health, or psychiatric issues.

These nurses work with critically ill patients in fast-paced healthcare settings, such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, operating rooms, or urgent care facilities.

NPs plan patient care, order lab work, perform advanced patient care (like intubating patients), prescribe medications, and order lab work. A nurse practitioner is often responsible for leading interprofessional teams, evaluating and formulating nursing diagnoses, diagnosing medical conditions, and planning patient care. An NP’s scope of practice varies by state.

According to a November 2022 Payscale report, the average annual salary for an ACNP is $106,150.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acute Care NPs

Is an acute care nurse practitioner degree worth it?

There are many factors to consider when deciding on a nurse practitioner degree. These include your current personal and work obligations, career and financial goals, and nursing aspirations. If those factors align with becoming an NP, it is certainly worth it.

Nurse practitioners enjoy a much higher level of autonomy than other nurses and a wider range of job prospects; they can even own and operate private practices in many states.

Are online acute care NP programs respected?

Yes, if the program is accredited. Online programs must follow the same standards regarding instructors, curriculum, and clinical practicum hours as accredited in-person programs. The courses are usually taught by the same professors that teach onsite. This means you will be receiving the same level of education as on-campus NP graduates.

What does an acute care NP do?

An acute care NP works with critically ill patients of all ages, usually in the intensive care unit, hospital emergency room, or operating room. They may also work in urgent care or other healthcare settings.

Nurse practitioners can diagnose conditions, treat patients, assist during procedures, and prescribe medications. They are responsible for managing patient care, including after surgery.

Are acute care nurse practitioners in high demand?

Yes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 40% from 2021 to 2031. Acute care nurse practitioners are among the NPs most in demand.

Related Pages

Page last reviewed on November 14, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.