The United States is currently home to more than 54 million adults over age 65—a population that is projected to rapidly grow to 80.8 million by 2040.1 Known as the “silver tsunami” due to an average of 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, this wave of aging Baby Boomers is expected to crest in 2030.2
As the demand for healthcare increases, so too does the need for nurses and other healthcare practitioners trained to care for our aging population—a specialty known as geriatrics. Roles in this specialty field range from physicians to social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and nurses.3 This post focuses on geriatric nursing: what the job entails, the types of opportunities available, and the steps to becoming a geriatric nurse.
What Is a Geriatric Nurse?
A geriatric nurse, also known as a gerontological nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who is trained to address common health situations facing older adults. They are typically experts in interprofessional team collaboration, given that more than half of Americans over age 65 are managing two or more chronic conditions that may require treatment across healthcare disciplines.3
What Is the Field of Geriatrics?
Geriatrics is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a branch of medicine that deals with the problems and diseases of old age and the medical care and treatment of aging people.”4 The field of gerontology focuses on the aging process, examining the societal, physical, and mental changes that occur as people age.5
Because the needs of older patients vary greatly from person to person, geriatric nursing responsibilities cover a broad range of tasks that may go beyond traditional nursing duties.6
- Health assessment
- Assessing common geriatric health issues, such as dementia, fall risks, incontinence, and insomnia
- Assisting doctors with physical exams and tracking the patient’s cognitive function and mental health
- Monitoring the patient’s ongoing ability to perform routine self-care and daily activities
- Taking the patient’s history and vital signs for documentation in medical records
- Patient care
- Managing and administering medications; if a nurse practitioner (NP), prescribing certain medications
- Creating and supervising care plans
- Assisting with exercise and physical therapies
- Supporting basic needs such as eating, bathing, and dressing
- Encouraging the patient’s independence in completing daily tasks
- Patient advocacy
- Teaching the patient and family about diagnosed health conditions, strategies for continued self-care, and best practices for staying active and healthy
- Collaborating and coordinating with other healthcare team members to provide well-rounded care
- Addressing palliative and end-of-life care planning with the patient and loved ones
- Observing for signs of elder abuse
Which Patients Need Geriatric Medical Support?
According to the American Geriatrics Society, there are three potential indicators that a patient could benefit from a trained geriatrics healthcare professional:
- An older person’s condition causes considerable impairment or frailty. This is common after age 75 or when multiple health conditions are present.
- Family, friends, or other caregivers begin experiencing high levels of stress-related to care of the older individual.
- It becomes too overwhelming for the patient or caregivers to work directly with many different medical professionals treating multiple health issues.
The AGS clarifies that these indicators are by no means rules, because each patient’s case is unique.
Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?
The field of geriatrics offers nurses a wide variety of work environments to consider. Settings include primary care offices, hospitals, home health services, assisted living communities, senior centers, nursing homes, and rehabilitation and long-term care facilities.
Depending on the practice setting, some geriatric nurses may have the chance to specialize further in areas such as palliative care, mental health, pain management, or orthopedics. The work is often interdisciplinary, involving a care team that may feature doctors, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, nutritionists, and more.7
Geriatric Nursing Salary and Career Outlook
The median salary of a geriatric RN is $72,659,8 on par with the median salary of registered nurses: $64,490.9 Geriatric NPs earn an average salary of $108,406,10 in comparison to the $112,47011 salary of general NPs. And given that the silver tsunami is coinciding with the ongoing nursing shortage, job opportunities for geriatric nurses are abundant.
Earning a nursing role specialty or certification in gerontology or a related specialty could lead to the potential for higher rates of pay. Less than 1% of nurses are geriatric certified, leaving the field open for those who pursue additional training.2
How Can I Become a Geriatric Nurse?
Like other nursing specialties such as pediatrics and public health, the path to a career in geriatrics begins with nursing school, where you can earn your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Next, you must pass the RN-NCLEX and meet any additional state licensing requirements to become a licensed RN. Continuing your education and completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program will improve your chances for career growth. During your master’s degree studies, you can earn a role specialty in adult gerontology, typically concurrent with your nurse practitioner credential.
Several organizations offer gerontology certifications that can enhance your expertise in the field. Nurses must have a current, active RN license, have completed continuing education courses in this specialty, and satisfy certain clinical experience requirements to be eligible for certification. Find out more about the options:
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA)
As the proportion of the American population over age 65 continues to rise, a nursing career in geriatrics enables you to meet the growing demand—and help elders live longer and healthier lives.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our nursing degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* (scheduled to resume in 2022). Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. Additional role specialties are coming soon within the MSN program: Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) and Primary Care Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PCMHNP). The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.
- Administration for Community Living, “Projected Future Growth of Older Population,” last revised May 25, 2021: https://acl.gov/aging-and-disability-in-america/data-and-research/projected-future-growth-older-population
- Conor Killmurray, “Nurses Face Challenge of Closing Gap in Geriatric Care,” Oncology Nursing News, Feb. 16, 2020: https://www.oncnursingnews.com/view/nurses-face-challenge-of-closing-gap-in-geriatric-care
- American Geriatrics Society, “Why Geriatrics”: https://www.americangeriatrics.org/geriatrics-profession/why-geriatrics
- Merriam-Webster, “Geriatric,” accessed Aug. 27, 2021: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/geriatric
- The Gerontological Society of America, “What Is Gerontology?”: https://www.geron.org/about-us/our-vision-mission-and-values/what-is-gerontology
- Indeed, “What Is Geriatric Nursing?” Feb. 22, 2021: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/geriatric-nursing
- American Geriatrics Society, “Training for Geriatric Nurse Practitioners”: https://www.americangeriatrics.org/geriatrics-profession/training-requirements/training-geriatric-nurse-practitioners
- Salary.com, “Staff Nurse – RN – Geriatric,” accessed Oct. 14, 2021: https://www.salary.com/tools/salary-calculator/staff-nurse-rn-geriatric?view=table
- Salary.com, “Registered Nurse (RN), Level 1,” accessed Oct. 14, 2021: https://www.salary.com/tools/salary-calculator/registered-nurse-rn-level-1
- Salary.com, “Geriatric Nurse Practitioner,” accessed Oct. 14, 2021: https://www.salary.com/research/salary/recruiting/geriatric-nurse-practitioner-salary
- Salary.com, “Nurse Practitioner Salary in the United States,” accessed Oct. 14, 2021: https://www.salary.com/research/salary/benchmark/nurse-practitioner-salary