Geriatric Nurse Career Overview
| NurseJournal Staff
As the aging population continues to grow, nurses who specialize in the care of the elderly will find expanding career possibilities. Geriatric nurses provide patient-focused care to a vulnerable population with the ability to greatly improve their patients' quality of life.
Geriatric Nurse Career in Brief
Geriatric nurses work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to care for the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of elderly patients, helping them maintain independence and quality of life. These registered nurses (RNs) possess specialized knowledge and skills to treat common health issues affecting the elderly population. Some key responsibilities include the following:
- Develop treatment plans and administer medications
- Educate patients and caretakers on coping skills to handle age-related conditions
- Provide treatment for chronic conditions most likely to affect the elderly (e.g., heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease)
- Monitor for signs of elder abuse
- Assist with and train patients on daily living activities, such as hygiene, toileting, and medication management
- Knowledge of the aging process and disease progression
- Ability to recognize verbal and nonverbal communication cues
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Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?
RNs specializing in geriatric care typically find employment at hospitals and medical clinics. In addition, work settings such as nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and home healthcare also rely on the services of geriatric nurses.
Geriatric nurses implement treatment plans, administer medications, and educate patients and families about care options.
Nursing home RNs provide full-time healthcare, assist with personal needs and rehabilitation, and monitor patients for bedsores, infections, or other conditions.
Home healthcare geriatric nurses help patients recover from surgery and care for those with chronic conditions such as dementia or paralysis. They may also assist with personal hygiene and nutritional needs while working with families to maintain the best level of care.
Why Become a Geriatric Nurse?
Although geriatric nurses often work in physically demanding and stressful settings, this career offers personal and professional fulfillment by providing crucial healthcare services and improving the quality of life for the aging population.
Advantages to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse
- Rewarding work in patient-focused care and advocacy
- Assist patients in maintaining their quality of life by offering preventive care and wellness education
- Develop high pharmacological and treatment skills while working with patients on several medications for multiple conditions
- Increasing job and salary opportunities, especially for RNs with graduate training and certification
- Potentially strong relationships with patients and their families in long-term care facilities and nursing homes
Disadvantages to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse
- Physically tasking duties, such as lifting, turning, and bathing bedridden or immobile patients
- Heavy workloads and understaffing in hospitals serving high elderly populations
- Difficulty communicating with and treating patients suffering from cognitive impairments and dementia
- Increasing paperwork related to government regulations and insurance claims, especially for RNs working in nursing homes and assisted living facilities
- Burnout from caring for end-of-life patients and those with untreatable or rapidly declining conditions
How to Become a Geriatric Nurse
Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure
Gain bedside nursing experience
Consider earning a Gerontological Nursing Certification
Geriatric Nurse vs. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
While geriatric nurses may enter the field with an RN license, adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (NPs), as advanced practice registered nurses, must hold a master's and specialized certification.
Geriatric Registered Nurse
- ADN or BSN degree and valid RN license; may pursue voluntary gerontological certification
- Typically employed in hospitals, nursing homes, skilled long-term care and assisted living facilities, and home healthcare
- Provides bedside care, assists healthcare team during medical exams and procedures, and administers medications
- Serves as a liaison between patients and other healthcare professionals
- Educates patients and caregivers on treatment options
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
- Master of science in nursing; certification and license as an NP with possible specialization in various fields such as diabetes and palliative care
- Offers a full range of services for adults across the lifespan from adolescents to the elderly
- Can work in private practice in addition to other healthcare facilities
- May provide services independently of direct physician supervision, depending on state NP licensing regulations
How Much Do Geriatric Nurses Make?
The population over the age of 65 will grow to over 82 million by 2030. This demographic surge will positively impact the demand for geriatric nurses, as the expanding elderly population seeks an array of primary and preventive healthcare services.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not differentiate between RN specialties, RNs can expect a 7% overall job growth between 2019 and 2029, with more opportunities available to those with certifications. Based on salary information provided by PayScale's employee reports, RNs with geriatrics skills earn an average income of $67,530, below the overall median salary of $75,330 for all RNs as reported by the BLS. Certifications can significantly boost geriatric nurse salary levels and job prospects.
Frequently Asked Questions
Geriatric nurses provide healthcare services to the elderly, helping them maintain their quality of life. Although responsibilities vary by employment setting, these RNs may assess vital signs, administer medications, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to implement treatment plans. They may assist with basic functions and personal hygiene and offer patients information and resources about their conditions.
A geriatric nurse can enter the field after earning a two-year associate degree or a four-year BSN followed by receiving an RN license. Employment opportunities increase by earning gerontological nursing certification which requires two years of RN experience with 2,000 hours of practice in gerontological nursing.
Geriatric nursing requires a valid RN license and undergraduate coursework that provides the essential knowledge and skills necessary to engage in evidence-based practice. In addition to gaining experience in clinical placements, nursing students receive training in acute and chronic disease management, advanced pharmacology and pathophysiology, palliative care, and healthcare promotion.
Licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) and certified nursing assistants often work with older patients in nursing homes and home care settings. However, hospitals and other facilities serving elderly populations prefer to hire RNs who hold BSN degrees, and, in some cases, voluntary gerontological nursing certification. MSN-trained advanced practice nurses may obtain national certification as adult-gerontology acute care NPs and adult-gerontology primary care NPs.
Resources for Geriatric Nurses
Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses AssociationEstablished in 1981, GAPNA provides professional development and continuing education opportunities designed for advanced practice nurses who care for elderly patients. Members receive quarterly newsletters and access to online resources. The association offers a new specialty certification available only for APRNs. The Gerontological Specialist-Certified (GS-C) credential requires a minimum of 2,500 hours of experience working with older adults.
American Geriatrics SocietyAGS champions health, independence, and quality of life for the elderly by offering programming, publications, and resources for healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public. HealthinAging.org, the AGS public education portal, provides older adults, family members, and caregivers with timely information on health and the aging process with access to a network of geriatrics healthcare professionals.
Eldercare Workforce AllianceEWA represents 35 national organizations that have joined forces to prepare the healthcare system to care for older Americans and their families. Policy priorities include strengthening the direct care and immigrant eldercare workforce, ensuring healthcare access through Medicaid and Medicare, and the expansion of mental health resources. The alliance offers state-issued briefs, caretaker resources, and an advocacy toolkit.
American Assisted Living Nurses AssociationCreated by assisted living nurses, AALNA is the only national nonprofit association representing RNs and LPNs/LVNs employed in assisted living settings. Membership benefits include discounted registration for the AALNA national conference and reduced rates for long-term care insurance and professional liability insurance. AALNA administers the Assisted Living Certification Exam, available to both RNs and LPNs/LVNs.
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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