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What Is High Acuity Nursing & How Can Nurses Train for These Scenarios?

Ginelle Testa | Aug 29, 2023
Ginelle Testa | Aug 31, 2023

The beeping of monitors, rapid medical discussions, and the urgency of split-second decisions - welcome to a day in the life of a high acuity nurse. But how does one prepare for such demanding scenarios?

It requires education, licensing and certifications such as the Next Gen NCLEX,  continuous learning such as with tools like immersive virtual reality, attending professional development opportunities, as well as gaining specialized experiences. 

High Acuity Nursing: Focusing on Patients with Severe, Life-threatening Illnesses or Injuries

High acuity nursing is a specialized field within the nursing profession that centers on providing care to patients facing severe, often life-threatening conditions. Unlike general nurses who manage the overall health and well-being of patients, high acuity nurses operate in high-stakes environments where patients' conditions can change rapidly, and decisions must often be made in split seconds.

Training Pathway for High Acuity Nurses

For those aspiring to become experts in the care of critically ill patients, the journey to becoming a high acuity nurse is marked by rigorous training, hands-on experience, and continuous professional development. Here's a detailed look into the steps involved in this pathway:

1. Basic Educational Requirements

While starting with an ADN can get one into the nursing profession, many hospitals and healthcare institutions prefer candidates with a BSN, especially for advanced roles. A BSN program delves deeper into the complexities of patient care, leadership, and research methods, offering more comprehensive training and, consequently, more opportunities in the nursing field.

2. Licensing and Certification

Passing the Next Gen NCLEX:

After completing the necessary educational prerequisites, aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (Next Gen NCLEX). This exam tests the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for RNs and LPNs. 

Pursuing Certifications Specific to Critical Care Nursing:

Beyond the basic RN license, nurses aiming to specialize in high acuity nursing can seek certifications tailored to critical care. One such renowned certification is the CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) certification. Achieving this signifies expertise in caring for acutely/critically ill patients and showcases commitment to the specialization.

3. Continuous Learning & Professional Development

Pursuing Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) Training

Immersive VR can be used by nursing students or nurses to sharpen their skills in high acuity scenarios. It offers an opportunity to practice in specific scenarios that they might not otherwise have immediate access to in a safe way. 

UbiSim is an immersive virtual reality platform created just for nurses with scenarios created by nurse educators. Hospitals or educators can craft and customize scenarios to meet their needs with UbiSim’s intuitive Editor

UbiSim has quite a few scenarios that fall under the “high acuity” category, here are two: 

  • Jadyn Turner - Diabetes-Related Ketoacidosis (DKA): Will require pediatric ICU-level care for close monitoring with the IV drug needed.
  • Sharif Amari - Myocardial Infarction: This is a very acute situation (heart attack) in which a nurse would need to act quickly and efficiently. 
Learn more about UbiSim by scheduling a demo!

Regularly Attending Workshops, Seminars, and Conferences:

Engaging in professional development opportunities like workshops, seminars, and conferences not only offers learning but also provides a platform to network with peers, share experiences, and discuss challenges and innovations in the field.

4. Specialized Experience

Working in General Medical/Surgical Units:

Before diving into high acuity settings, it's beneficial for nurses to gain experience in general medical or surgical units. This foundational experience helps them understand the broader aspects of patient care and hospital dynamics.

Gaining Hands-on Experience in ICUs or Other High Acuity Settings:

Theory and coursework lay the groundwork, but mastering high acuity nursing truly happens with hands-on experience. Working directly in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) or similar high acuity settings allows nurses to apply their knowledge, develop their skills, and grow in their role under the mentorship of seasoned professionals.


The path to becoming a high acuity nurse is undeniably challenging, but it's also worthwhile for those who pursue this path. Through immersive training tools, specialized certifications, and continuous professional development, we're empowering the next generation of nurses to be at the forefront of critical care, ready to make a difference when it matters the most.

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