What Is a Geriatric Nurse?
Geriatrics is a healthcare specialty that focuses on the clinical care of older adults. Often, this means working in skilled nursing facilities or assisted living communities and providing daily care to the people who live there.
Geriatric nurses are sometimes referred to as gerontological nurses. No matter the title, nurses in this specialty take on challenges and responsibilities that require compassion, patience, and understanding. They provide care to patients with physical and mental health conditions that can make it difficult for those patients to communicate, care for themselves, remember instructions, or walk even short distances safely. Geriatric nurses might be responsible for patients who are at a high risk of falling, or who are unable to verbally express pain, hunger, and other needs.
Despite the challenges, geriatric nursing can be a very rewarding nursing specialty. Many geriatric nurses enjoy working in long-term care settings because it allows them to get to know each patient. This can be a great chance to not only form a strong patient-caregiver bond but to learn from the people you care for.
Many geriatric nurses enjoy working in long-term care settings because it allows them to get to know each patient.
“Geriatric nursing is unique because the population that you care for is unique,” says Carrie D. Brecheisen, RN, a geriatric nurse with more than 30 years of experience in the field. Brecheisen is the nursing supervisor for Saint Raphael Nursing Services in Wichita, Kansas. “This generation is living history. The seniors have so many great and eye-opening stories. They have first-hand accounts of some of the biggest historical events.”
How to Become a Geriatric Nurse
The first step to becoming a geriatric nurse is to pursue either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. While employers are increasingly requiring applicants to hold a BSN for most nursing positions, both options will prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Once you pass the exam, you can apply for RN licensure in your state.
You can work as an entry-level geriatric nurse once you have your RN license. Once you gain experience, your degree can influence how you advance in your role. For instance, if you earned a BSN, you might be able to take on leadership or administrative roles in geriatric nursing.
“Geriatric nurses can work in many facets within long-term care, skilled nursing, or assisted living,” Brecheisen says.
Such jobs may include:
You can advance your geriatric nursing career even further by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
As a geriatric APRN, there are two primary paths you could take:
Licenses and Certifications
There are no certifications required to practice as a geriatric nurse. However, earning certification is a great idea. It shows that you’re dedicated to your specialty and that you have the experience and education you need to deliver excellent patient care. Plus, certification can help you stand out to employers and might increase your job prospects.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Gerontological Nursing Certification (GERO-BC). You’ll need an RN license in good standing to be eligible for this certification. Other eligibility requirements include:
You’ll need to pass an exam for certification. Your certification will need to be renewed every five years. You’ll need to earn 75 continuing education credit hours for renewal.
What’s the Difference: Geriatric Nurse vs Gerontologist
It’s easy to get geriatric nursing and gerontology confused. The two roles sound very similar, and they do have a lot in common. However, there are some important differences.
Geriatric nursing focuses on caring for the physical and mental health needs of older adults. It involves providing treatment and direct health care to people in clinical settings.
Gerontology is a healthcare role, but not a nursing role. A gerontologist focuses on the social and psychosocial effects of aging along with physical and mental health needs.
Gerontologists often take on administrative and customer service roles and advocate for changes in public policy. They are rarely involved in direct patient care, although this has shifted some in recent years.
|Need an RN license||Need a bachelor’s degree, often a master’s|
|Earn a median income of $77,600 a year||Earn a median income of $91,510 a year|
|Focus on patient care||Focus on public policy and sociology|
Salary Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021
What Do Geriatric Nurses Do?
Geriatric nurses are responsible for a wide range of tasks. They take on standard RN duties such as administering medications, caring for wounds, providing treatments, monitoring vital signs, and developing patient care plans. However, because they are caring for older adults, there are specific concerns and responsibilities for geriatric nurses. For instance, geriatric nurses must have an understanding of conditions that are common among older adults, including:
Geriatric nurses manage many of these conditions daily. They know the challenges these conditions can present, and they know the most effective way to provide care to patients who have them. This often adds job duties such as:
Where You’ll Work
Geriatric nurses can find work in settings such as hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Other common workplaces include:
However, you might work in some unexpected locations, too.
“A surprising workplace is convents,” Brecheisen says. “With the aging population, there are not enough nuns joining to care for the elder population, so they need to hire outside nursing care.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track data for nursing specialties. As a geriatric registered nurse, your specific job title and level of experience can have an impact on your salary. Take a look at RN median annual salaries according to the BLS:
Median Salary: $77,600
Projected job growth: 6.2%
10th Percentile: $59,450
25th Percentile: $61,790
75th Percentile: $97,580
90th Percentile: $120,250
Projected job growth: 6.2%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$95,220||$62,700||$129,670|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
As Brecheisen mentioned, geriatric RNs with years in the role can take on management and leadership roles in skilled nursing or other long-term care facilities. The BLS reports that medical and healthcare service managers working in nursing and long-term care facilities earn a median salary of $97,360.
Advancing your education could also boost your salary significantly. Nurse practitioners across all specialties earn a median salary of $120,680, according to BLS data.
Healthcare careers are on the rise. The baby boomer generation, one of America’s largest generations, is aging. This will lead to a huge spike in healthcare careers for two primary reasons.
The first reason is retirement. As baby boomer professionals retire, they’ll create openings all over the workforce, including in nursing, that will need to be filled by skilled and educated replacements.
The second reason is that, as a rule, people need more healthcare as they age. Having a larger number of older Americans than ever before means there will be greater demand for healthcare services.
Together, these factors mean healthcare careers are skyrocketing.
Nursing is one area projected to see major growth. The BLS projects a 6 percent increase in all RN roles through 2031. The growth of APRN roles is expected to be even more impressive, with a projected increase of 40 percent.
The BLS doesn’t make projections specific to geriatric nurses. However, Brecheisen says that geriatrics is a specialty where there is a major demand for qualified nurses.
The BLS projects a 6 percent increase in all RN roles and a 40 percent increase in APRN roles by 2031.
“The nursing shortage is hitting in every field and geriatric nurses are always needed,” Brecheisen says.
Is Geriatric Nursing for Me?
Nursing is a field that draws compassionate, empathetic, and caring people. To take on the specialty of geriatric nursing, you’ll also need a good deal of patience, excellent communication skills, and the ability to stay calm in a crisis. You’ll also need to be resilient, as you’re likely to see many patients decline and pass away during your time as a geriatric nurse.
Other helpful traits include:
- Active listening
- Openness to learning new things
- Ability to adapt to challenging situations and people
- A sense of humor
- Strong problem-solving skills
Staying current on news, trends, and research is an important part of building your career. By connecting with professional associations, you can develop career networks and ensure you’re always in the loop. There are many associations and resources current and aspiring geriatric nurses might find helpful: