HealthJune 21, 2016

Job focus: LTC vs. acute care nursing

What are differences in these 2 growing nursing care settings?

Among the many specialties in nursing, two stand out. While the foundations of care are the same, the population and setting are much different.

In one setting—acute care—nurses provide patients with short-term care; and long-term care (LTC) nursing involves caring for patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities for an extended period of time.

Long-term care

A job in LTC is often seen as a first step in a nursing career and a great way to get the experience required for career advancement.  According to, the median annual salary for a staff nurse (RN) in LTC is $65,750, with a range usually between $58K - $73K. This can vary widely depending on a number of factors.

Long-term care nurses work in retirement communities, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Some of the tasks assigned to LTC nurses include:

  • Concentrate on making patients/residents and their families as comfortable as possible during their extended stay.
  • Conduct regular assessments and monitoring to provide patients/residents with an overall map of their health to prevent readmission into the hospital. 
  • Help patients/residents maintain their independence.
  • Assist patients/residents with activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing, getting dressed, etc.
  • Provide patient education to family members.

At the same time, LTC nursing comes with its share of challenges. Nurses may have difficulty communicating with patients who cannot express their needs, and must deal with the circumstances surrounding an extended stay patient. Also, family dynamics among patients can be complicated, especially if there are several family members involved and not all agree. Ultimately, nurses are forced to deal with the decline of patients’ health as they age.

Acute care

In general, acute care nurses earn more than their LTC counterparts, but as always this can vary depending on numerous factors. The median annual for a staff nurse (RN) in acute care is  $69,375, with a range usually between $60K - $80K, per

Acute care nurses work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, urgent care centers, and healthcare clinics.

Acute care nurses:

  • Serve as a patient’s advocate for finding the right answer to a question.
  • Assess the impact of illnesses or injuries on a patient's health.
  • Make diagnoses.
  • 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.
  • Focus on meeting patient’s needs in the present time, as well as the future.

The challenges that come with acute care nursing include time management stress, such as being forced to work overtime hours during staffing shortages, and fitting in continuing education requirements. A job in acute care nursing continues to evolve to meet the needs of the ever-changing healthcare system.

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