How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Learn about the specialized knowledge needed to be a geriatric nurse

Male nurse with an elderly patient

Geriatric nurses are registered nurses who have received additional training and education specifically targeted towards meeting the unique needs of elderly patients. Geriatric nurses provide holistic care to older adults, considering not only their physical health but also their mental, emotional, and social well-being. They are involved in health promotion and disease prevention strategies, work closely with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, play a vital role in medication management, ensuring that medications are appropriately prescribed, administered, and monitored, conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate the physical, cognitive, functional, and psychosocial aspects of elderly patients, and are also involved in providing palliative care and end-of-life support to older adults with chronic or terminal illnesses.

With advancements in healthcare and improved living conditions, life expectancy has increased, leading to a larger proportion of older adults in the population. This demographic shift has created an increased need for specialized healthcare for older adults, highlighting the importance of geriatric nurses. Geriatric nurses help bridge the gap in healthcare by providing specialized care that considers the complexities of aging. They play a vital role in improving the overall quality of life for older adults, promoting healthy aging, preventing complications, and managing chronic conditions effectively.

The article aims to provide an overview of the steps required to become a geriatric nurse, including earning a nursing degree, obtaining a nursing license and certification, and seeking employment in the field. Learn more about how to become a Registered Nurse and explore different types of nursing jobs and the education, training, and certifications required to perform these jobs.

Geriatric Nurse Definition

What is a Geriatric Nurse?

A geriatric nurse provides specialized care to older adults, focusing on their unique needs and challenges, including the physiological, psychological, and social aspects of aging. They are responsible for conducting comprehensive assessments, providing preventative education, managing, and monitoring chronic conditions, administering medication regimens, and implementing strategies for fall prevention. Aging often brings changes in social connections, mental health, and emotional well-being. Geriatric nurses provide psychosocial support to older adults by addressing their emotional needs, facilitating social engagement, and connecting them with support services. They may also assist patients and families in coping with end-of-life issues, including advance care planning and providing emotional support during the grieving process.

Geriatric nurses have a significant impact in addressing these needs because they have specialized knowledge and training in gerontology and understand the challenges faced by older patients, such as functional limitations, cognitive decline, social isolation, and emotional well-being. By taking a comprehensive approach, geriatric nurses support healthy aging and overall well-being. In addition, the collaborative nature of the geriatric nursing role is essential for providing holistic care and meeting the complex needs of older patients. They coordinate care among the interdisciplinary team to ensure seamless communication and continuity of care, offer recommendations for appropriate interventions and treatments and actively involve patients and their families in care decisions, empowering them to make informed choices regarding their healthcare.

Geriatric Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

Geriatric nurses perform a range of duties and responsibilities in various healthcare settings to provide specialized care to older adults. Here are the primary responsibilities of geriatric nurses and the tools of their trade in caring for geriatric patients:

Comprehensive Assessments
Geriatric nurses conduct thorough assessments to evaluate the physical, cognitive, functional, and psychosocial aspects of older adults, including gathering information about medical history, current health conditions, medication use, lifestyle factors, and social support. To perform these assessments, they conduct interviews and utilize standardized assessment tools specifically designed for older adults, such as the Geriatric Assessment Tool (GAT), Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), and Activities of Daily Living (ADL) scales.

Individualized Care Planning
Based on the assessment findings, geriatric nurses develop individualized care plans for each older adult by collaborating with physicians, therapists, social workers, and pharmacists. These plans outline the specific goals, interventions, and strategies to address the identified needs and challenges of older adults and often include medication management, physical therapy, cognitive exercises, social engagement programs, and other interventions.

Care worker helping an elderly man

Care Implementation
Geriatric nurses provide direct nursing care, including administering medications, monitoring vital signs, assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs), managing chronic conditions, and providing wound care. They regularly assess vital signs, conduct ongoing physical examinations, and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and review and update care plans as necessary, ensuring that interventions are effective and aligned with the changing needs of older patients.

Emotional Support and Advocacy
Aging often brings emotional challenges, such as loneliness, grief, anxiety, or depression. Geriatric nurses provide emotional support to older adults, actively listening to their concerns and offering empathetic care. This knowledge enables them to advocate for their patients, and promote their rights, preferences, and dignity throughout the healthcare process.

Patient Education
Geriatric nurses educate patients on their conditions, medications, and self-care strategies, as well as provide guidance on lifestyle modifications, fall prevention, and community support services.

Geriatric Nurse Duties

The day-to-day responsibilities of a geriatric nurse may vary depending on the setting and the needs of the patients they serve. However, these examples provide a general idea of the types of responsibilities they have:

  • Conducting comprehensive assessments of older adults’ physical, cognitive, functional, and psychosocial well-being.
  • Developing individualized care plans based on assessment findings and in collaboration with interdisciplinary teams.
  • Administering medications and monitoring their effects on older patients, including vital signs, and then adjusting care plans accordingly.
  • Assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, and feeding if necessary.
  • Managing chronic conditions in collaboration with healthcare professionals to coordinate and deliver comprehensive care.
  • Educating patients and their families on self-care techniques, medication management, and healthy aging strategies.
  • Providing emotional support and counseling to older adults and their families.
  • Advocating for the rights, preferences, and dignity of older adults.
  • Maintaining accurate and thorough documentation of care provided to older patients.
  • Facilitating referrals to additional healthcare services or community resources as needed.
  • Keeping up with the latest developments in geriatric care and applying evidence-based practices in nursing interventions.

Geriatric Nurse Skills

To be successful as a geriatric nurse, several skills and qualities are essential. Here are some key ones:

  1. Knowledge of Geriatric Care: Geriatric Nurses should be familiar with age-related conditions, geriatric pharmacology, and evidence-based practices for promoting healthy aging and managing chronic illnesses.
  2. Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment Skills: Geriatric Nurses must possess skills in cognitive assessment tools, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), as well as functional assessments to determine an older adult’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).
  3. Geriatric Pharmacology Knowledge: Geriatric nurses must be knowledgeable about the unique pharmacokinetics, which is the movement of drugs through the body, and pharmacodynamics, the body’s biological response to drugs. This knowledge allows them to monitor medication regimens and ensure appropriate medication management.
  4. Effective Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Geriatric Nurses need excellent communication skills to interact with older patients, their families, and the healthcare team. They should be able to listen actively, provide clear explanations, and establish effective rapport.
  5. Empathy and Patience: Geriatric Nurses should be empathetic listeners, able to address fears and concerns, and provide emotional support throughout the care process.
  6. Cultural Sensitivity: Being culturally sensitive allows Geriatric Nurses to provide holistic and person-centered care while respecting the individuality of older adults.

Female nurse measuring a man's heartbeat

Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?

Geriatric Nurses can practice in various work settings, depending on their preferences and career goals. Care settings may include hospitals, hospice, home healthcare, long-term care facilities, and assisted living facilities.

Geriatric nursing offers various career opportunities beyond direct patient care. For example, they can pursue careers as geriatric care managers or take on roles as educators by working in academic institutions, nursing schools, or healthcare organizations. They also can also engage in research studies that aim to improve care outcomes, promote healthy aging, or advance knowledge in geriatric nursing. They can get involved in policy development and pursue leadership positions within healthcare organizations or geriatric care facilities.

Geriatric Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Geriatric Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Geriatric Nurse?

To become a Geriatric Nurse, individuals typically follow a specific educational pathway and pursue additional certifications and specialized training. Here’s an overview of the educational and professional development opportunities:

Nursing Education
The first step to becoming a geriatric nurse is to complete a nursing education program. This can be a diploma program offered by hospitals, an associate degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing school.

After completing the nursing education program, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse (RN). Licensure requirements vary by country or state, so it is important to meet the specific requirements of the jurisdiction where one intends to practice.

Clinical Experience
Gaining clinical experience in geriatric care settings is crucial for aspiring geriatric nurses. This can be accomplished through internships, clinical rotations, or employment in healthcare settings that cater to older adults, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities.

Additional Certifications
Pursuing additional certifications in geriatric nursing demonstrates a commitment to professional development and enhances career opportunities. The Gerontological Nursing Certification offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a widely recognized certification for geriatric nurses. This certification validates specialized knowledge and skills in geriatric care, including assessment, care planning, and interventions specific to older adults.

Specialized Training and Continuing Education
Geriatric nurses can enhance their expertise through specialized training programs and continuing education courses focused on geriatric care. These programs may cover topics such as geriatric pharmacology, geriatric assessment tools, management of chronic conditions, and geriatric mental health.

Professional Organizations and Resources
Some notable organizations include the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA), the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), and the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA). These organizations provide access to educational resources, research publications, networking opportunities, and conferences focused on geriatric care. In addition, there are online platforms, such as the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, which provide evidence-based practice guidelines, research articles, and educational resources.

Close up of stethoscope and stack of bills

Geriatric Nurse Salary

How Much Do Geriatric Nurses Make?

Although the BLS doesn’t report salary* data specifically for geriatric nurses, we can refer to the data for Registered Nurses (RNs). According to the BLS, the average annual wage for RNs in the United States was about $89,000 or about $43 per hour.

Factors that may affect salary* for palliative care nurses include geographic location, level of education, and experience. Nurses in urban areas and in states with higher costs of living generally earn higher salaries. Nurses with advanced degrees or specialized certifications may also earn higher salaries, as well as those with many years of experience in the field.

Geriatric Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Geriatric Nurses?

Although the BLS doesn’t report job outlook data specifically for geriatric care nurses, we can refer to the data for Registered Nurses (RNs). According to the BLS, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is due in part to an aging population and the increasing need for primary care and specialty care services, including geriatric nursing.

In terms of career advancement opportunities, geriatric nurses may choose to pursue advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which can lead to roles in management, administration, education, or research. They may also choose to obtain certifications in specialized areas of geriatric care, such as nurse managers or nurse administrators, where they oversee the delivery of geriatric care services, manage staff, and contribute to organizational strategies. They can work in academic institutions, nursing schools, or healthcare organizations, developing educational programs and providing training on geriatric care.

Start Your Career by Earning a BSN Degree

Overall, becoming a geriatric nurse offers a rewarding and fulfilling career that allows individuals to make a positive impact in the lives of older adults. By pursuing the necessary education, gaining clinical experience, and seeking opportunities for professional growth in the field of geriatric care, individuals can embark on a fulfilling career path as Geriatric Nurses and contribute to the health and well-being of older adults.

In this article, we have discussed the career path of becoming a geriatric nurse, including their primary duties and responsibilities, the necessary education and certification requirements, potential career opportunities, and the job outlook for this profession. It emphasizes the need for ongoing education and professional development in the field of geriatric nursing to stay updated on best practices and advancements in geriatric care.

To get started on the path to becoming a geriatric nurse, explore the Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) Program at Eagle Gate College. Or, if you already work as an RN with an associate degree, consider our RN-to-BSN Program to advance your career opportunities.

Male healthcare worker against a white backdrop