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How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

By Ajoke Aminu

Published:

Do you have a heart for serving the elderly? Geriatric nursing enables you to make a meaningful difference in the lives of older adults and their families. In this article, we will explore equally important aspects like the professional and personal growth alongside the geriatric nurse salary. 

Career Summary

Geriatric Nurse Salary

A geriatric nurse salary is not nearly the highest one in the nursing field, but it aligns with the national average salary in the US. Geriatric nurses often get paid the following, according to Glassdoor:

  • Entry: US$48K
  • Median: US$61K
  • Executive: US$78K

What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

Geriatric nursing is a career that focuses on providing specialized care to older adult patients. The responsibilities of a geriatric nurse include addressing the unique health needs of the elderly, managing chronic conditions, promoting overall well-being, and ensuring a patient-centered approach to enhance the quality of life for this demographic. A geriatric nurse also plays a crucial role in recognizing and addressing potential health issues that may arise more acutely in older adults.

Geriatric Nurse Career Progression

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): Entry-level position involving basic patient care and support under the supervision of nursing staff.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): Provides more advanced care, including administering medications and assisting with patient assessments.
  • Registered Nurse (RN): An in-depth nursing role involving patient care planning, coordination, and implementation. This role requires a nursing degree and licensure.
  • Geriatric Nurse Practitioner:  An advanced practice nursing role with a focus on geriatric care. Involves diagnosing, treating, and managing health conditions, often requiring a Master’s or Doctoral degree in nursing.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Specialized role providing expert guidance on geriatric nursing practices, often with a focus on education, research, and leadership.
  • Nurse Manager: Involves overseeing nursing staff, managing resources, and ensuring quality care within a geriatric unit or facility.
  • Director of Nursing: Leadership position responsible for the overall management and direction of geriatric nursing services within a geriatric care setting.
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO): Executive-level role overseeing the entire nursing department in a healthcare organization that specializes in geriatric care.

Career progression may vary, and additional certifications or advanced degrees can contribute to moving up the hierarchy in geriatric nursing.

Geriatric Nurse Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Geriatric Nurse

  • Being able to make a meaningful impact in the lives of older adults. 
  • Having an opportunity to engage in diverse challenges and learn from them.
  • Being able to develop strong connections with elderly patients.
  • Addressing both the emotional, physical, and mental aspects of aging.

Worst Aspects of Working as a Geriatric Nurse

  • Dealing with the emotional toll of witnessing the decline or loss of elderly patients.
  • Facing complex and often challenging family dynamics in caregiving situations.
  • Managing the physical and strenuous demands of the job.
  • Facing the potential for burnout due to the intensity of emotional involvement.

Useful Skills to Have as a Geriatric Nurse

  • Ability to understand and connect with emotional needs.
  • Being able to engage in effective communication.
  • Having strong critical thinking and analytical skills.
  • The capacity to remain patient and adapt in challenging situations.
  • Being able to work in and collaborate with a team.

Popular Geriatric Nurse Specialties

  • Geriatric Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Long-Term Care Nurse
  • Geriatric Psychiatric Nurse
  • Home Health Geriatric Nurse
  • Acute Care Geriatric Nurse
  • Geriatric Orthopedic Nurse

How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Geriatric Nurse 4 Steps to Career

As with many other scopes that a nursing career presents, becoming a geriatric nurse requires a substantial degree of experience and training.

Let’s break it down.

Step 1: Geriatric Nursing Education

Geriatric nursing education is a critical aspect of preparing healthcare professionals to meet the specific needs of the aging population. As the elderly demographic continues to grow, the demand for skilled geriatric nurses rises, emphasizing the importance of specialized training and education in this field.

Geriatric nursing education typically starts with foundational nursing programs, where students acquire fundamental knowledge and skills in patient care. However, to address the unique challenges and complexities of caring for older adults, nurses often pursue additional education and training specifically focused on geriatrics.

Becoming a geriatric nurse involves a progressive educational journey that equips individuals with the knowledge and work ethic needed to provide specialized care for older adults. The first step is completing a high school diploma or equivalent. During this period, focusing on science and math courses can be beneficial in laying a foundation for future nursing studies.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Geriatric Nurse?

Yes, pursuing a degree is typically necessary to become a geriatric nurse. The most common path involves obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which is essential for becoming a registered nurse (RN). This foundational education equips individuals with the fundamental knowledge and skills required for nursing practice.

While some entry-level nursing positions may accept an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), many employers and healthcare institutions increasingly prefer or require a BSN due to its more comprehensive curriculum. A BSN program covers a range of nursing topics and provides a broader understanding of patient care.

Beyond basic nursing education, individuals interested in specializing in geriatric nursing often seek additional training or certifications. This may involve participating in workshops, courses, or obtaining certifications related to gerontology or geriatric care. Some nurses also pursue advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), with a focus on gerontology or geriatric nursing to enhance their expertise and advance their career in this specialty.

In summary, while a specific degree in geriatric nursing may not be mandatory, a solid educational foundation in nursing, typically starting with a BSN, is crucial. This ensures that aspiring geriatric nurses acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and clinical experience to provide effective and compassionate care to the elderly population.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Nursing Degree?

The time required to obtain a degree in geriatric nursing depends on the level of education pursued and the educational path chosen.

However, here are the general timelines for different degrees:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Typically takes about 2 to 3 years to complete. ADN programs provide basic nursing education and may be a starting point for entry-level nursing positions.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN):  A BSN degree typically takes about 4 years to complete. Some programs offer accelerated options for individuals with prior education or relevant experience. BSN is considered a standard for registered nursing practice and provides a more comprehensive education in nursing.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): For those looking to advance their career or specialize in geriatric nursing, an MSN degree usually takes an additional 1 to 2 years beyond the completion of a BSN. MSN programs may include concentrations in gerontology or geriatric nursing.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. in Nursing: These advanced degrees, often pursued by those seeking leadership roles or advanced practice in geriatric nursing, can take an additional 3 to 5 years beyond the completion of a BSN. The exact duration depends on the specific program and whether the student is attending full-time or part-time.

It’s important to note that these timelines are general estimates, and the duration can vary based on factors such as the specific program structure, part-time or full-time enrollment, and any prior education or experience that may be credited toward the degree.

Additionally, nurses can choose to pursue certifications and continuing education in geriatric nursing at various points in their career, which may not involve the same time commitment as a degree program but can contribute to their expertise in the field.

How Much Does It Cost to Study Nursing at University?

During the academic year spanning 2022-2023, colleges providing Geriatric Nurse/Nursing programs have reported an average tuition cost of US$15,332 for undergraduate programs and US$21,062 for graduate programs. These figures encompass the financial commitment students can expect as they pursue their education in geriatric nursing. 

It’s noteworthy that these figures encapsulate tuition expenses and may not account for additional costs such as textbooks, supplies, or fees that students may encounter throughout their educational journey in this specialized field.

Can I Become a Geriatric Nurse Through Online Education?

Certainly! Pursuing a career as a geriatric nurse through online education is entirely feasible. 

Various accredited institutions offer online programs at different educational levels, including Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and even advanced degrees like Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. in Nursing

Online education provides flexibility for students to complete coursework at their own pace, making it accessible for those with diverse schedules or geographical constraints. It’s crucial to choose accredited programs to ensure the quality and recognition of your education. 

While theoretical components can be completed online, some programs may have in-person clinical requirements, so checking specific program details is essential. Overall, online education offers a convenient and accessible pathway for anyone aspiring to become a geriatric nurse.

Step 2: Obtaining a Licensure

After completing a degree program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse (RN). This licensure is a prerequisite for practicing nursing.

To obtain RN licensure in the United States, several key steps need to be followed:

  • NCLEX-RN Application: Apply for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) through the nursing regulatory body in the state where you intend to practice. Submit the required documents, including transcripts from your nursing program.
  • Registration: Register and pay the exam fee through the Pearson VUE website, the organization that administers the NCLEX-RN.
  • Authorization to Test (ATT): Once the regulatory body approves your application, you’ll receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) notification. This allows you to schedule your exam within a specific timeframe.
  • NCLEX-RN Exam: Take and pass the NCLEX-RN, a standardized exam designed to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for safe and effective nursing practice.
  • Licensure Application: After passing the NCLEX-RN, submit an application for RN licensure to the state board of nursing. This usually involves providing proof of passing the exam and fulfilling any additional state-specific requirements.
  • Background Check: Some states require a criminal background check or fingerprinting as part of the licensure application process.
  • Licensure: Upon approval of your application and completion of all requirements, you’ll receive your RN license, enabling you to legally practice nursing in that state.

The specific requirements may vary slightly from state to state, so it’s crucial to check with the state board of nursing where you plan to practice for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Step 3: Gaining Practical Experience

If you are aspiring to become a geriatric nurse, you must consider gaining hands-on experience before diving into the field. While gaining practical experience expands your knowledge and develops your skills, it also translates to a potentially higher geriatric nurse salary. 

Whether you gain practical experience through internships or job opportunities, it will provide a real-world context to apply and enhance your theoretical knowledge.

What are internship opportunities for a Geriatric Nurse?

Internship opportunities for geriatric nursing may include placements in:

  • Long-Term Care Facilities: Interning in nursing homes, assisted living, or rehabilitation centers provides hands-on experience in managing the complex healthcare needs of elderly residents. This includes administering medication, assisting with daily activities, and collaborating with interdisciplinary teams.
  • Hospitals – Geriatric Units: Interning in hospital-based geriatric units allows exposure to acute care settings for older adults. This involves working with conditions such as dementia, frailty, and age-related illnesses, while collaborating with physicians and specialists.
  • Home Healthcare Agencies: Internships in home healthcare provide insight into delivering personalized care to elderly individuals in their homes. This includes assessing home environments, creating care plans, and addressing the unique challenges of home-based geriatric care.
  • Palliative Care Programs: Interning in palliative care settings exposes aspiring geriatric nurses to the sensitive and specialized care required for patients nearing the end of life. This involves pain management, emotional support, and communication with families.
  • Memory Care Facilities: Focusing on dementia and Alzheimer’s care, internships in memory care facilities allow for a deep understanding of the unique challenges associated with cognitive decline in the elderly. Activities may include cognitive stimulation programs and behavioral management.
  • Community Health Clinics: Interning in community health clinics with a geriatric focus involves preventive care, health screenings, and health education for older adults. It provides an opportunity to address the broader health needs of seniors within a community context.
  • Research Opportunities: Some internships may involve participation in research projects related to geriatric healthcare. This could include studying innovative approaches to elder care, medication management, or interventions to enhance the quality of life for older adults.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Geriatric Nurse?

As a geriatric nurse, you will acquire skills including:

  • Comprehensive Assessment: Develop the ability to perform thorough assessments, considering the unique health challenges faced by older adults. This involves evaluating physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects.
  • Medication Management: Acquire proficiency in managing medications, understanding the complexities of multiple prescriptions and potential interactions, and adjusting dosages based on the unique requirements of older adults.
  • Communication Skills: Hone effective communication skills to interact with elderly patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals. This includes empathetic listening, clear explanations of care plans, and addressing concerns with sensitivity.
  • Pain Management: Gain expertise in assessing and managing pain, a critical aspect of caring for older adults who may experience chronic pain related to various health conditions.
  • Wound Care: Gain expertise in managing common skin issues and wound care, which may be more prevalent in the elderly population.
  • Fall Prevention and Safety: Learn strategies to prevent falls and enhance safety for elderly individuals, considering their increased vulnerability to injuries.
  • Dementia Care: Develop specialized skills in understanding and managing dementia-related conditions, including behavioral interventions, communication techniques, and creating a supportive environment.
  • End-of-Life Care:  Acquire competence in providing compassionate end-of-life care, supporting both patients and their families during this sensitive time.
  • Cultural Competence: Develop cultural sensitivity to provide person-centered care that respects the diverse backgrounds and preferences of older adults.
  • Adaptability and Critical Thinking: Cultivate the ability to adapt to the evolving needs of elderly patients, coupled with critical thinking skills to address complex healthcare situations effectively.
  • Team Collaboration: Learn to collaborate with various healthcare professionals, including physicians, therapists, and social workers, to provide comprehensive and coordinated care for elderly individuals.
  • Emotional Resilience: Develop the ability to cope with emotional challenges, including dealing with the loss of patients and addressing the emotional needs of elderly individuals and their families.
  • Nutritional Assessment: Understand the unique nutritional needs of older adults and contribute to dietary planning to support their health.

Step 4: Continuing Education

Geriatric nursing is a field that continually evolves. Engaging in ongoing professional development through conferences, workshops, and seminars is crucial for staying current with best practices and advancements in geriatric care.

Useful Web Resources for Geriatric Nurses

To perfect your skills and stay updated in the field of geriatric nursing, you can explore various web resources that offer educational materials, courses, and professional development opportunities.

Here are some valuable online resources:

These are some of the most prominent and credible online sources to learn and perfect geriatric nursing skills. And remember, before enrolling in any courses or programs, ensure they are from reputable institutions and meet your specific learning goals. Always check for the most up-to-date information on these websites.

Geriatric Nurse Certifications

Some geriatric nurses opt to obtain certifications to further demonstrate their expertise. Certifications like Gerontological Nursing Certification or Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) are examples of credentials that validate specialized knowledge in geriatrics.

What’s the Career Outlook for Geriatric Nurses?

The demand for geriatric nurses is set to rise due to the aging U.S. population and the retirement of current nursing professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6% overall growth in nursing jobs from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the national average. These opportunities include positions in healthcare clinics, hospitals, and retirement facilities, as well as roles in research, administration, and education.

Overall, the outlook for geriatric nurses appears promising, with ample opportunities for employment and career advancement due to the increasing demand for specialized care for older adults.

Geriatric Nurse Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Geriatric Nurse?

Geriatric nurses have various job opportunities across different healthcare settings.

Some potential career paths include:

  • Nursing Homes/Long-Term Care Facilities: Work in skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers, or retirement communities, providing comprehensive care to elderly residents.
  • Geriatric Units at Hospitals: Join specialized geriatric units within hospitals, focusing on acute care for older adults with complex health needs.
  • Home Healthcare Agencies: Provide in-home nursing care for elderly patients, addressing their health needs in the comfort of their residences.
  • Rehabilitation Centers: Assist older adults in rehabilitation settings, helping them regain functional independence after surgeries, injuries, or illnesses.
  • Memory Care Facilities: Specialize in caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in dedicated memory care units.
  • Community Health Clinics: Work in community-based clinics, offering preventive care, health screenings, and education to the elderly population.
  • Hospice Care: Provide end-of-life care and support to terminally ill elderly patients and their families through hospice programs.
  • Primary Care Practices: Collaborate with primary care physicians to address the health needs of elderly patients in outpatient settings.
  • Research and Education: Engage in research related to geriatric healthcare or take on roles in educating healthcare professionals, students, and the community about gerontology.
  • Telehealth Nursing: With the advancement of technology, there are opportunities to provide remote healthcare services, including monitoring and consultation for elderly patients.
  • Government and Public Health Agencies: Work in government agencies or public health organizations, contributing to policy development and community health initiatives related to aging populations.

These diverse job opportunities allow geriatric nurses to choose a career path aligned with their interests and expertise, contributing to the well-being of the aging population in various healthcare settings.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Geriatric Nurse?

The work-life balance of a geriatric nurse can vary based on the specific healthcare setting, caseload, and individual preferences. However, like many nursing professions, geriatric nursing may involve demanding schedules and high levels of responsibility.

Here are some tips on managing work-life balance:

  • Set Clear Boundaries
    • Clearly define your work hours and strive to adhere to them.
    • Communicate with colleagues and supervisors about your availability outside of scheduled shifts.
  • Delegate When Possible
    • Delegate tasks when appropriate, whether it’s coordinating with colleagues or seeking assistance with administrative responsibilities.
  • Utilize Support Systems
    • Seek emotional support from friends, family, or colleagues.
    • Consider joining professional networks to share experiences and coping strategies.
  • Take Breaks Mindfully
    • Use breaks effectively to recharge.
    • Engage in activities that bring relaxation and enjoyment during breaks.
  • Time Management
    • Develop effective time management skills to prioritize tasks and maximize productivity during work hours.
    • Focus on completing one task at a time rather than attempting to multitask excessively.

Should I Become a Geriatric Nurse?

Ultimately, becoming a geriatric nurse or deciding to become one is a deeply personal choice. There’s no doubt that you have to gain an educational experience, reflect on your genuine connection with elder care, and develop most of the skills highlighted in this article. However, one of the most important things to do is envision how a geriatric nursing journey fits into your long-term aspirations. If you truly consider it a career you’d like to do in the long run, then go for it, and good luck!

Careers Related to Geriatric Nurse


Ajoke Aminu

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