How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated March 6, 2023
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Geriatric nurses are an essential part of caring for senior adults. Find out the steps you must take to practice geriatric nursing.
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The demand for geriatric nurses continues to grow. Each day 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age until 2030, and people over 65 use healthcare services more often. Roughly 80% have at least one chronic condition and 68% have two or more.

Geriatric nurses have the opportunity to help senior adults live independently. You can work in several settings, such as hospitals, community centers, and doctor’s offices. Your skills are needed in preventive care, rehabilitation, acute care, mental health, and intensive care.

There is also opportunity for educational and professional growth. Discover the steps it takes to become a geriatric nurse. Your education, licensure, and certification all play an important role in job opportunities and career advancement.

What Is a Geriatric Nurse?

Geriatric nurses specialize in the clinical care of senior adults. They work closely with physicians, social workers, therapists, and families to address the physical and psychosocial needs of the elderly. Geriatric nurses are responsible for working as a member of a multidisciplinary team to develop a plan of care to enhance the life of the patient.

They are challenged with caring for adults who may have conditions that make it difficult to talk, care for themselves, or remember instructions. Geriatric nurses can be generalists, or they can focus on a specific age-related disease common in the elderly. This could include dementia, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiency, or arthritis.

Adults with impaired mobility are at higher risk of negative health outcomes and poor quality of life. Impaired mobility increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and limited social activity. Geriatric nurses play a unique role in prevention and treatment that improves their patient’s level of comfort and well-being.

Steps to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

Your journey as a geriatric nurse begins by earning your nursing degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is necessary to get your license. The path you choose after these steps can help determine your career development, job opportunities, and clinical settings where you practice.

Most employers require RNs to be certified in basic life support. Depending on your job setting, advanced cardiac life support certification may also be required. Learn more about a geriatric nurse career.

  1. 1

    Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

    There are two ways to become an RN. You may earn an ADN. This is generally a two-year degree and the fastest route to becoming an RN.

    You may also earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree, which generally takes four years. Nurses who choose to start their careers quickly can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. You can find in-person and online nursing programs that allow you to complete your BSN degree while working.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX to Receive RN Licensure

    The NCLEX exam is a nationwide test required to get your state nursing license. The examination is a comprehensive test of your clinical skills. Most students take the test within 1-2 months after graduation.

    It is important to prepare for the NCLEX exam by studying the concepts and taking practice tests. The practice tests ensure you aren’t surprised by the types of questions or format used on test day.

    The NCLEX exam uses computerized adaptive testing to customize the test to the test-taker. This reduces the number of easy or difficult test questions and provides a reliable measurement of competence.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Geriatric Nursing

    Becoming a geriatric nurse requires experience, but it is possible to be hired by a gerontology unit directly out of nursing school.

    Employers are seeking nurses with acute and critical care experience. This improves your assessment skills and ability to react quickly to emergency situations. You may also gain experience in medical-surgical units or step-down units.

    Nurses who want to advance their education and become gerontology nurse practitioners must have at least one or two years of clinical experience before starting a master of science in nursing program.

  4. 4

    Consider Becoming a Certified Geriatric Nurse

    The American Nurses Credentialing Center’s gerontological nursing board certification validates your specialty knowledge. Nurses must meet eligibility requirements. These include holding an active RN license with two years of clinical experience. You must also have had at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice in gerontology in the last three years and 30 hours of continuing education nursing credits in the last three years.

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Geriatric Nurse Education

The minimum degree required to become a geriatric nurse is an ADN. While this is the quickest route, most employers prefer BSN-prepared nurses. However, an ADN offers students the opportunity to graduate within two years and start working. ADN-nurses can earn a BSN using an RN-to-BSN bridge program.

ADN Degree

An ADN program teaches nurses the foundational clinical tasks necessary to care for patients. It is best suited for students who don’t have the time or financial resources to attend a four-year program directly. It is the minimum eligibility requirement for the NCLEX.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; school transcripts, prerequisite college-level classes; pre-entrance exam like the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS); criminal background check; cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification; drug screening

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Hands-on learning experiences and coursework in English, communications, chemistry, biology, and foundations in nursing

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Two years for full-time students; 15-month schedule for accelerated programs

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Taking blood pressure; inserting a foley catheter; giving an injection; suctioning a tracheostomy

BSN Degree

Many employers prefer BSN-prepared nurses because care is linked to better patient outcomes and lower mortality. BSN-prepared nurses are also better equipped to manage teams and supervise students.

The BSN program is best suited for students who can take the four years before working. This is the minimum degree required to be eligible for a graduate program.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    Prerequisite college courses if applicant is not a direct admission from high school; high school diploma or GED certificate; minimum GPA; TEAS examination; criminal background check and fingerprinting; drug screening

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Hands-on clinical hours; courses in math, English, communication, anatomy/physiology, physical assessment, U.S. political systems, critical thinking, pharmacology, informatics, and culture

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    Four years for full-time students; faster if you take a heavier class load and longer if you attend part time

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Foundational nursing tasks; leadership skills; evidence-based practice; management; public health

Geriatric Nurse Licensure and Certification

How you become a geriatric nurse begins with being licensed by the state to practice nursing. The requirements may vary depending on the state board of nursing. However, each state requires nurses to submit an application and have passed the NCLEX exam. Other requirements can include fingerprint cards, submitting official transcripts, or providing social security numbers.

There is no requirement to be certified in gerontology. However, earning board certification as a gerontological nurse can demonstrate experience and knowledge in the specialty and helps job-seekers differentiate themself from competitors.

To become certified, a nurse must hold an active and current RN license in the U.S. and have at least two years of experience. The nurse must also have 2,000 hours of clinical experience in gerontology nursing in the last three years and 30 hours of continuing education hours in the last three years.

Working as a Geriatric Nurse

Geriatric nurses may find employment in different settings. However, before seeking a job outside of a hospital setting, it’s advisable for nurses to get at least two years of clinical experience.

Many community-based job opportunities require nurses to operate autonomously. Clinical experience is helpful to solidify your clinical, assessment, and intervention skills. You can find employment opportunities in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, and retirement communities.

Responsibilities vary depending on the setting. For example, geriatric nurses in retirement communities assist patients with medications, answer questions, and provide preventive care interventions. In a rehabilitation facility, a geriatric nurse helps patients relearn how to care for themselves, improve strength and coordination, and educate patients on preventive care.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an RN in 2021 was $77,600. Experts estimate the job growth at 9% till 2030, which is as fast as the average job outlook. This may be adjusted in the coming year as more nurses reach retirement age and the nursing shortage grows.

According to Payscale, an RN with geriatric nursing skills makes an average base annual salary of $70,290 as of July 2022. This does not include bonuses or profit sharing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

question-mark-circleHow many years does it take to become a geriatric nurse?

It takes 4-6 years to become a geriatric nurse. Included is the time it takes to earn your RN license and gain bedside experience with the geriatric population.

question-mark-circleWhat skills are needed to be a geriatric nurse?

Geriatric nurses must understand the aging process and have patience and empathy with their patients. They must also understand how to read nonverbal communication and be adept at caring for patients with the common chronic illnesses and diseases that affect the elderly.

question-mark-circleWhat is the difference between geriatrics and gerontology?

Both are in the same field and focus on elderly adults, but they serve different functions. Geriatrics focuses on the health of senior adults and treatment, while gerontology is a field of study that focuses on the physiological, biological, and psychological changes that occur with age.

question-mark-circleDo geriatric nurses get paid well?

A geriatric nurse’s salary depends on the practice setting. The average annual geriatric nurse salary is higher than that of the average professional. Factors that influence salary are geographical location, practice setting, certifications, and experience.

Page last reviewed July 12, 2022

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