Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) Graduate Certificate Programs
Registered Nurses (RNs) who have completed a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing can train to become Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNPs) without having to earn an additional degree by enrolling in a graduate certificate program with an AGACNP specialization. These programs, commonly referred to as post-graduate or post-master’s certificate programs, provide qualified RNs with didactic instruction and clinical training in the principles and practices of adult and gerontological acute care nursing. They are designed for professional nurses who have already received general advanced clinical training through a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, and are thus able to provide RNs, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), and other advanced practice specialists with only those courses and clinicals required for professional certification and/or licensure in adult-gerontology acute care nursing.
In practical terms, this means that nurses who qualify for an AGACNP graduate certificate program can typically attain eligibility for professional certification and/or licensure as an AGACNP in one to two years, in contrast to the two, three, or more years it typically takes to earn an MSN or a DNP degree with an AGACNP specialization.
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nursing Explained
The AGACNP specialization focuses on the care and treatment of critically and chronically ill adult patients across the continuum of care and in a range of medical settings, including urgent care clinics, trauma wards, hospital emergency rooms, critical and long-term care units, and inpatient surgical centers. As with other Nurse Practitioner (NP) specialties, AGACNPs are trained in advanced pharmacology, advanced physiology, and advanced patient assessment theories and practices, and are thus qualified to conduct physical exams, take patient histories, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe treatments and medications as delineated by their state board of nursing’s scope of practice and prescriptive authority regulations. In addition, AGACNPs undergo specialized training in the tools, technologies, and evidence-based practices used to assess complex medical conditions, monitor life-threatening illnesses, and prioritize critical treatments for adults who present with urgent and acute medical issues, such as cerebrovascular and bodily trauma, respiratory diseases, and central nervous system conditions, as well as patients experiencing complication from surgeries and/or chronic long-term illnesses.
Identifying and Classifying AGACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
AGACNP graduate certificate programs are by definition post-master’s certificate programs because applicants are required to hold a minimum of a master’s degree, which typically must be an MSN degree. (Note: There are a limited number of programs that may accept RNs with a non-nursing master’s degree in a healthcare field). Indeed, schools commonly designate these programs as post-master’s, post-MSN, or post-graduate certificate programs, and some schools even use the designation post-professional certificate program to indicate that, in addition to holding an MSN degree, applicants to those programs are required to have one or more years of clinical experience in an acute or emergency care setting. These programs are offered by regionally accredited colleges, universities, and schools of nursing and medicine that have programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
It is important to note that while an MSN degree is the minimum level of educational attainment required for a post-graduate AGACNP certificate program, applicants who hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in nursing are also eligible for AGACNP graduate certificate programs, provided they meet other admissions requirements, as detailed below. In addition, some programs may identify themselves as Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) certificate programs and offer a specialization track that provides AGACNP training; however, students should contact the program to confirm there is indeed an AGACNP track and that the program is not designed for RNs interested in becoming Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNP) instead.
There are essentially three types of programs for RNs who want to train in adult gerontology acute care via a post-graduate certificate program. These three types of AGACNP graduate certificate programs are categorized based on their admission requirements as follows:
- Post-MSN AGACNP certificate programs that accept RNs who have completed an MSN degree, regardless of their area of specialization
- Post-MSN AGACNP certificate programs that require applicants to already be trained and practicing in another APRN specialty
- Post-MSN AGACNP certificate programs that require applicants to be trained and practicing in a specific APRN specialty
For RNs who have not previously trained in an APRN specialization, post-graduate certificate programs require coursework in advanced pharmacology, advanced physiology, and advanced patient assessment, in addition to specialization coursework and clinicals in acute care theory and the treatment and management of complex health problems in adults with critical and chronic illnesses. For APRNs who are looking to obtain licensure in a second NP specialty, graduate certificate programs typically do not require students to retake courses they have already completed. Instead, they conduct a gap analysis in order to determine the courses and clinical assignments each student will need in order to complete the program and qualify for AGACNP certification and/or licensure. Therefore, APRNs do not need to specifically attend a program that requires an APRN license for admission. In other words, APRNs may attend either a graduate certificate program that accepts students who have completed any type of MSN or one that requires applicants to be licensed APRNs, and the number of courses they will have to take should be similar, with minimal to no curricular overlap with graduate coursework they already completed as part of their MSN.
AGACNP Graduate Certificate Coursework
As noted in the section above, the coursework and clinical hours required in order to complete an AGACNP graduate certificate program typically varies by student and is based on a gap analysis conducted by a program administrator. However, most AGACNP graduate certificate programs have several core courses that cover topics in acute care theory and its practice with critically and chronically ill adults, and which are required for all students. This coursework is generally designed to align with training requirements for state licensure and for the two NP credentials available in the field of adult-gerontology acute care nursing: the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (AGACNP-BC) credential administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC); and the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification-Adult-Gerontology (ACNPC-AG) credential awarded by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Both credentials require NPs to have a minimum of an MSN degree, graduate coursework in adult-gerontology acute care nursing, and at least 500 supervised clinical hours. Licensing requirements for NPs vary by state* and, while the AGACNP-BC and ACNPC-AG credentials may not be required for licensure, most employers require AGACNPs to be certified and to hold a state license.
As mentioned above, RNs who have not previously trained in an APRN specialty may be required to complete general advanced practice nursing courses, including courses in physiology, pharmacology, patient assessment, clinical decision making, and differential diagnosis. The following are examples of courses students typically complete as part of an AGACNP graduate certificate program:
- Acute Care Theory and the Management of Chronic Health Problems in Adults – A theoretical, practical, and evidence-based foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of common episodic and complex chronic conditions in acutely ill adult-gerontology patient populations.
- Managing Complex Health Problems in Acutely and Critically Ill Adults – Principles and practice for care of acutely and critically ill adult-gerontology patients, including knowledge and skills necessary for planning, implementing, and evaluating patients with complex health problems that are commonly seen across the continuum of acute care delivery systems.
- Theories of Aging and Geriatric Healthcare – An exploration of medical problems commonly encountered in the geriatric population, with an emphasis on the aging process, health promotion, and the diagnosis and management of chronic and acute health problems in older patients.
A subset of AGACNP post-graduate certificate programs may also offer students the option of further specialization within the AGACNP specialty. Common areas of additional specialization for AGACNPs include: cardiopulmonary care; oncology; critical care; and emergency medicine. These specializations are typically covered in one or two courses that may include a clinical rotation.
Online AGACNP Post-Graduate Certificate Programs
AGACNP graduate certificate programs are generally designed to accommodate working RNs through part-time enrollment options that allow students to take just one course per term. In addition, a number of AGACNP programs leverage online learning tools and technologies to provide additional flexibility and convenience to working professionals and extend the reach of their programs to nurses who do not live near their school’s campus.
Online AGACNP graduate certificate programs* deliver all or most of their didactic instruction, including lectures, instructional modules, and other course materials, via web-based learning management systems (LMSs). There are also programs that utilize online instructional technologies for some but not all of their required courses and are thus referred as hybrid or blended online programs. The primary difference between an online program and a hybrid or blended program is the number of campus visits required by the program.
While there is no set criteria for a program to be called online versus hybrid, online programs typically do not require more than two or three campus visits per year, and some programs are 100% online for didactic instruction with no on-campus requirements. Campus visits, also referred to as intensives or immersion sessions, allow for face-to-face instruction and hands-on clinical training, which can be a valuable addition to online coursework. Typically, programs schedule campus-based sessions on weekends or during summer and winter breaks so as to minimize disruptions in the work and family life of students. Nevertheless, campus visits require travel and may be inconvenient for some students. Hybrid programs offer more flexibility and convenience than traditional, campus-based programs, but may not be practical for students who do not live near the school offering the program.
In addition to differentiating between online and hybrid/blended programs, it is important to note that there are two modes of online instruction programs can use to deliver lectures and other instructional sessions. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and thus requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS for scheduled lectures and virtual class sessions. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component and is a blanket term for a range of instructional activities, including pre-recorded lectures, videotaped demonstrations, and interactive learning modules, that do not have a real-time component and that can be accessed 24-7 via a program’s LMS. Synchronous instruction provides more structure and less scheduling flexibility than asynchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction is less rigid than synchronous instruction, but it requires more self-disciple and self-motivation.
Regardless of whether a program is offered on campus, online, or in a hybrid/blended format, AGACNP graduate certificate programs require students to complete in-person clinical rotations under the guidance of a qualified preceptor at sites approved by the program.
Examples of Online Post-MSN AGACNP Certificate Programs
This section provides several representative examples of online AGACNP graduate certificate programs offered by accredited colleges and universities that have nursing programs accredited by the ACEN or CCNE.
The George Washington University offers an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificate program through GW Online and The George Washington University School of Nursing. The online program consists of 20-23 credit hours, including 650 clinical hours. It can be completed in five semesters of part-time enrollment. Students in the program are required to attend two campus-based learning events: a Virtual New Student Orientation; and a Clinical Learning and Skills Intensive (CLASI). The program offered by GW Online is designed for MSN and DNP graduates regardless of their current area of specialization. To further explore the program offered by GW Online, visit GW Nursing at www.nursing.gwu.edu.
The University of Pittsburg offers a Post-Professional Certificate in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program that can be completed online or on campus. The program is designed for practicing NPs and Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) who hold an MSN or a DNP with a NP or CNS specialization and who have at least one year of nursing experience in an acute or emergency care setting. Students in the program complete 23 credits of coursework, including 540 clinical hours, and must attend a three-day, campus-based laboratory intensive, which is held in the summer between the program’s second and third term. In addition to offering an AGACNP curriculum, the program allows students to choose from among four subspecialties: Cardiopulmonary; Critical Care; Oncology; and Trauma Emergency Preparedness. To further explore the program offered by the University of Pittsburg, visit www.nursing.pitt.edu.
Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions offers an online Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Post-Graduate Certificate program with a track for RNs who have already trained in an NPs specialization and a track for RNs who hold an MSN degree in a non-NP specialization. The program’s core curriculum consists of 29 credits of coursework and clinicals that can be completed in one year by students who have already taken graduate-level courses in advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and physical assessment and diagnostic reasoning. Practicing NPs are required to complete up to 500 hours of clinicals, subject to a gap analysis, while non-NPs are required to complete 800 clinical hours. In addition to online courses and in-person clinicals, the program includes a two-day Summer Simulation Experience and two additional On Campus Intensive (OCIs) that students are required to attend. To further explore the Drexel program, visit the school’s College of Nursing and Health Professions at drexel.edu/cnhp/.
More Graduate Certificates in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
*Licensing requirements for AGACNPs vary by state. This can be an important consideration for nursing students who intend to apply for a state license upon completion of an online graduate certificate program offered by an out-of-state school. Students should review their state’s licensing requirements prior to applying to an online AGACNP graduate certificate program to confirm they will receive the training needed for licensure in their state of residence. It is also important to note that, for a variety of reasons, online AGACNP post-graduate certificate programs may not be authorized to accept students from all 50 states; therefore, students should reach out to an admissions advisor before applying to an out-of-state online program to confirm they accept students from their state.
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