Long-term Care Nurse vs. Acute Nurse: Which Profession is Right for You?

female nurses helping patients 

Congratulations! You’re halfway through your nursing program, have possibly started your clinicals and are ready to begin thinking post-graduation. No matter what has gotten you to this point, you’re prepared to focus on the future and want to decide on the type of nursing care you’d like to provide your patients and their families.

There are two main types of nursing: one where you provide patients and their families with short-term care; the other –where you take care of patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities for an extended period of time. There are many ways to figure out which type of care is best for your career. This article serves to help you discover the path best-suited for you and your career aspirations by outlining the difference between the two paths, as well as what skills and duties each requires.

Where Should I Start?

First, there are some things to consider. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to care for the same patients day-after-day or do I want to help new and different patients?
  • What are my strongest skills and how do they fit in with everyday job duties?
  • What most interests me about nursing?
  • What are my future career goals (and how will I achieve those goals)?

How Does the Focus of the Jobs Differ?

Long-term Care Nurses:

  • Provide patients with an overall map of their health
  • Help maintain patients’ independence
  • Concentrate on making patients and their families as comfortable as possible during their extended stay
  • Provide regular assessments to their patients by monitoring their health
  • Assist patients with normal day-to-day tasks (e.g. bathing, getting dressed)
  • Provide education to family members

Acute Care Nurses:

  • Are a patient’s advocate for finding the right answer to a question
  • Focus on meeting patient’s needs in the present time, as well as the future
  • Assess the impact of illnesses or injuries on a patients' health
  • Make diagnosis’s
  • Provide care to patients and anticipate the outcome
  • Support a patient’s future by educating them and creating a preventative plan
  • Assist physicians and anticipate their needs

“However, [to do either job] you need the same basic nursing skills: flexibility, drive, compassion,” said Jodi Nicholson, LPN, Mayo Clinic Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Rasmussen College graduate. “In both places you also need to think quickly on your feet, be prepared for the unexpected and may experience coworker conflict, but it all boils down to the same motto that all healthcare teams should follow: The needs of the patient come first.”

What Challenges Do Long-term Care, Acute Nurses Face?

Long-term Care Nurses:

  • Dealing with an extended stay patient’s overall circumstance
  • May have difficulty communicating with patients who cannot communicate their needs
  • Cognitive declines in patients
  • Family dynamics (e.g. family that is strained, not in agreement of care of family member, upset family member, etc).

Acute Care Nurses:

  • Face time management conflicts
  • Must learn something new every day, including continuing education and training
  • May have an increase in overtime hours if working in hospitals due to smaller staff sizes
  • Job continues to change to meet the needs of an evolving healthcare system

Where Would I Work?

Long-term Care Nurses:

  • Retirement communities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers

Acute Care Nurses:

  • Physician’s office
  • Hospital
  • Urgent care
  • Healthcare clinic

Don’t Forget Job Growth and Salaries.

To work as a long-term care nurse or an acute nurse, you need to be a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). Both jobs are projected to grow by nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which translates into about 700,000 new jobs for RNs and 170,000 new jobs for LPNs.

In addition, your annual salary will depend mostly on where you work and what type of degree you have. LPNs typically make about $40,380 a year and RNs typically make $64,690 a year.

Also, remember to keep in mind: in most cases, long-term care is the step in the door to get you nursing experience. Most clinic and hospital settings want you to have at least one year of experience as a nurse.

And Nicholson argues it’s a good requirement.

“I think it’s a learning experience that every nurse should have under their belt,” she said. “While it may not be your first choice working in long-term care, if you go in with the right attitude, you will surprise yourself how much you enjoy your job and taking care of your patients. ”

What do you think about a career providing long-term nursing care? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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Jennifer Pfeffer

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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