How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Learn about the many opportunities for geriatric nurses.

The Basics

What you'll do: Geriatric nurses care for the elderly, focusing on the development and implementation of treatment plans for chronic illnesses, including diabetes, hypertension and respiratory disorders. They also educate and counsel families of elderly patients who suffer from acute and chronic conditions.

Minimum degree you'll need to practice: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Certification: The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers three main categories of certification for geriatric nurses, one for RNs and two for advanced practice nurses (APNs).

Median annual salary: $61,761*

Geriatric Nursing Career Overview

nurse with an elderly woman in the background

Geriatric nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and community health centers where they provide care, compassion and friendship to their patients.

In addition, geriatric nurses deliver in-home treatment to patients who require regular medical assistance but can care for themselves predominantly on their own.

They will also likely encounter patients with diminishing mental capacities who lose their ability to make independent decisions about their health.

The following duties are typical responsibilities of a geriatric nurse:

  • Assisting physicians during exams and procedures
  • Performing patient medical tests in-home or in a medical office
  • Establishing a patient care plan and setting health goals
  • Administering medications to patients based on a care plan
  • Teaching family members about a patient's condition and how to promote self-care skills

Geriatric Nurse Education

Graduates can start their geriatric nursing career with a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. To help you advance to higher levels of practice, nursing schools offer Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees and post-master's programs for clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) looking to focus their career on gerontological care.

To qualify for certification, nurses must hold a current, active RN license, have graduated from an accredited nursing school program and meet specific experience criteria:

  • Gerontological Nurse Specialist—requires two years of practice as an RN, with 2,000 hours of practice and 30 hours of continuing education in gerontological nursing in the last three years.
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  • Clinical Nurse Specialist in Gerontological Nursing—requires that your CNS in gerontology program included 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical practice and course work in advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology and advanced pathophysiology.
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  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner—requires that your gerontological NP program included 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical practice and course work in advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology and advanced pathophysiology, plus training across the life span in health promotion, disease prevention, differential diagnosis and disease management.

Geriatric Nursing Career Outlook

The AACN reports that by the year 2030, nearly 20 percent of Americans will be age 65 and over. In addition, older adults represent half of all hospital stays, nearly two-thirds of all ambulatory adult primary care visits and almost three-quarters of all home care visits. Taking these statistics into consideration, geriatric nursing careers will expand significantly over the coming decades. In hospitals and nursing care facilities, nurses can expect an increase in employment of 22 and 20 percent, respectively.

Sources: American Association of Colleges of Nursing; Nurse Week; American Nurses Association; American Nurses Credentialing Center; Salary.com, January, 2014; Staff Nurse-RN-Geriatric.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.