What Is Subacute Care? Exploring This Nursing Specialty

You’ve probably heard of emergency care or urgent care, but have you heard of subacute care? This nursing specialty occupies the space between acute and chronic care, and it allows nurses to come alongside patients on their journey to recovery while working in a lower-stress environment than you may find in acute care.
If you haven’t heard of subacute care before or you’re not sure what falls between acute and chronic care, you’re not alone, even if you’re exploring potential careers in nursing. However, this relatively new level of care, despite its lack of fame, plays a critical role in serving patients in an inpatient setting.
So what is subacute nursing? Where can you find subacute nurses working, and what can you expect working in this unique nursing specialty?
What is subacute care?
To understand subacute care, it’s helpful to use acute care as a frame of reference. Acute care is inpatient care for critical medical problems. Places like intensive care units and cardiology units are examples of acute care.
Subacute care then is similar to acute care but is not for people with as time-critical of illnesses or injuries. It’s an inpatient care level between a nursing home or assisted living and acute care, and it is for people who have an acute issue, whether that be illness, injury or disease. For example, after someone is hospitalized for an acute problem, they may be moved to subacute care.
If you need intensive wound care or IV treatment, have GI tube issues or are recovering from a major stroke or malnutrition you could find yourself in a subacute care unit.
Where is subacute care provided?
Even though subacute is a newer approach to care, it’s growing quickly. Since many people go to subacute care after acute care, hospitals are one place you’ll find subacute care units. However, you’ll also find nursing facilities and recovery units at surgery centers with subacute care. Subacute care can even be delivered at a patient’s home, under the right circumstances.
All these locations mean that nurses interested in subacute care have a variety of locations to choose from when job scouting. If hospitals are not your favorite place—and you’re not alone with this opinion—then perhaps working in a surgery center is for you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in working with senior citizens, then maybe working in a nursing facility for the elderly is the perfect environment.
What makes subacute nursing unique?
Unlike acute care, subacute care does not treat people with critical medical problems. Instead, it focuses on ailments that are just below this level. The medical problems are serious, but there’s not as much rushing around and time-sensitive, urgent tasks involved in this specialty. This makes this a great middle ground for nurses who may be interested in focusing on care that goes beyond routine outpatient check-ups but might be wary of the high-intensity demands of working in certain acute care units.
And unlike many other types of care, subacute care is in an inpatient setting, which means the nurses get to work with patients for more than one brief visit. This means that subacute nurses can develop a reputation and relationship with their patients rather than have an impersonal one-time meeting.

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