Geriatric nurses are trained certified medical personnel responsible for taking care of elderly patients. They often find work in nursing homes, hospitals or community healthcare centers and normally work as part of a bigger medical team. The job and salary outlook for geriatric nurses is highly positive, as per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to learn more about this career, including the educational and experience requirements involved, the following comprehensive guide has all the relevant information.
What is Geriatric Nursing?
Gerontology is the study of physical, mental and social factors relating to the elderly population. Registered nurses (RNs) working in this field possess specialized skills and knowledge required to treat common health concerns and issues faced by the elderly.
Geriatric nurses provide help in basic care for aging patients, helping out in daily activities, administering medicines and advising family members or caregivers of the patients. These medical professionals provide care for patients with a wide range of health conditions such as cancer, stroke, shingles, heart failure or Alzheimer’s, among others.
These nurses typically can recognize verbal and nonverbal communication cues of their patients and are expected to be highly compassionate and persistent.
Steps for Becoming a Geriatric Nurse
In order to become a geriatric nurse, there are several educational, experience and certification requirements that must be fulfilled. The following list of steps to become a geriatric nurse provides a comprehensive look into all the requirements that need to be fulfilled to enter this field of nursing.
Aspiring geriatric nurses need to earn either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), which is a 2 year extensive program or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which is a 4 year long college-level program.
The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) has to be passed by all nurses in order to become Registered Nurses (RNs).
Students with sufficient experience in critical care might find work right out of nursing school. Critical care experience is ideal in this case as it prepares students for different types of illnesses, along with artificial ventilation and intensity of the medical conditions they are likely to experience in the field.
Even though most employers do not consider a certification mandatory for geriatric nurses, it is recommended as the ideal way for career advancement. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC) to eligible candidates.
What are the Education Requirements for a Geriatric Nurse?
Medical professionals who want to work in the field as geriatric nurses need to fulfill certain educational requirements. To become a nurse in this field, you must become a Registered Nurse (RN) first. For this, you will have to complete at least an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Common coursework includes physiology, anatomy, medical terminology, ethics and patient care. Some undergraduate programs offer courses in geriatrics, though these are brief and basic-level concepts.
After getting a few years of experience as a nurse, these medical professionals can work towards getting certified in geriatric nursing. Advance study options include getting a master’s degree in nursing, which can lead to careers such as a gerontological nurse practitioner or a geriatric nurse specialist.
Any Certifications or Credentials Needed for Geriatric Nurses?
Certifications or credentials are not required for geriatric nurses. However, they are major stepping stones for career advancement. The most popular certification for geriatric nurses is the Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC) offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This certification requires an active RN license, along with 2 years of nursing experience, 2,000 hours of gerontological nursing clinical practice and 30 hours of continuing education.
Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?
Geriatric nurses work in different healthcare settings, including hospitals, home healthcare centers and nursing homes. Medical facilities such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities also often rely on services provided by geriatric nurses.
While working in hospitals, geriatric nurses implement treatment plans devised by physicians, provide medication to elderly patients and educate patients and their caregivers regarding treatment options available.
Geriatric nurses who work in nursing homes provide healthcare assistance on a full-time basis, which involves monitoring patients for infections or bedsores, among other concerns. These nurses also assist patients with rehabilitation and personal needs.
Home healthcare geriatric nurses assist patients in recovering from major surgical procedures and also provide basic care to those with conditions such as paralysis or dementia. In addition, they may also take care of personal hygiene concerns and nutrition requirements of those under their care.
What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?
Geriatric nurses have the experience and skills required to take care of elderly patients, including their highly complex physical and mental needs. They help patients deal with changes in their mental and physical abilities because of old age, by providing medical, psychological and emotional help as required. The primary goal of a geriatric nurse’s job is to help old people stay independent and active for a longer period of time.
Geriatric nurses typically perform tasks such as assessing a patient’s mental health and thinking capabilities, sorting out their medications, understanding their acute and chronic health concerns, educating them about disease control and prevention, maximizing their personal safety and communicating to them about common health problems related to old age such as different sleep patterns, incontinence or danger of falling in common household areas. Geriatric nurses also ensure that patients take their required medication regularly.
Why Become a Geriatric Nurse?
Becoming a geriatric nurse can be a highly rewarding experience, with a lot of learning and professional growth involved. Let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of becoming a geriatric nurse, to help aspiring nurses make a more well-informed decision.
Advantages to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse
- If you are a compassionate person, working as a geriatric nurse is likely to be a highly rewarding experience. Helping old patients stay active and involved for as long as possible can help build strong relations that have a lasting impact. Besides that, assisting patients in maintaining their quality of life through prevention and education can help build a healthier and happier community, which makes this job even more rewarding.
- Another benefit of working in this field is that geriatric nurses end up developing strong pharmacological and treatment skills when working with patients with different conditions and varied medications. This can help in career advancement at later stages, along with creating a stronger knowledge base.
- Geriatric nurses enjoy good salary and job prospects, especially those with graduate level training and certifications. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses made an annual median income of $75,330 per year as of 2020. The job outlook for this profession is 7% in the years between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
Disadvantages to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse
- The job duties of a geriatric nurse can be physically demanding, including activities such as lifting, bathing bedridden patients and turning patients who have mobility problems. Besides that, heavy workload and understaffed medical facilities make the work of geriatric nurses even more strenuous and challenging. As a long-term career option, this can take a huge toll on the mental and physical health of geriatric nurses.
- Geriatric nurses may face difficulty in communication with patients suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia, which is why the job requires a lot of patience and understanding.
- Nursing professionals have to deal with an increasing load of paperwork due to strict government regulations in this field. This is especially true for nurses working with insured patients in home healthcare settings or assisted living facilities.
- Geriatric nurses often have to take care of elderly patients who are in the last stages of their lives, which can be emotionally draining.
Geriatric Nurse vs. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Geriatric nurses require lesser educational credentials as compared to adult-gerontology nurse practitioners, who must have at least a master’s degree and a specialized certification. Let’s have a look at the fundamental differences between these two nursing credentials.
- Education: To practice as a geriatric registered nurse, you will need an ADN or a BSN degree, with a valid RN license. On the other hand, to become an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, students must have at least a master of science in nursing, along with a certification and a license to practice as an NP.
- Place of Employment: Geriatric nurses usually work in hospitals, assisted living facilities or nursing homes, while adult-gerontology nurse practitioners may work in private practice as well, besides the above-mentioned healthcare facilities.
- Job Description: Geriatric nurses largely provide basic facilities such as bedside care, medicine administration, and assistance for medical teams. On the other hand, adult-gerontology nurse practitioners can provide medical services independent of physicians’ supervision, depending on state regulations.
- Range of Practice: Geriatric nurses have a limited range of duties and serve as liaisons between patients and their physicians. Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners offer a complete range of medical services for adults throughout their life, from the early years to old age.
How Much Does a Geriatric Nurse Make?
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide salary data specific to Geriatric Nurses. It does, however, provide information on the yearly salary for Registered Nurses. As per 2020 data from BLS, the annual median income for Registered Nurses was $75,330, which equates to approximately $36.22 per hour. Since Geriatric Nurses are specialized and have additional certifications, they can expect a higher salary potential. Additional credentials, such as the Gerontological Nursing Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) can significantly improve the salary potential for Geriatric Nurses by providing them with enhanced knowledge and skills to deal with medical issues pertaining to the elderly.