Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Geriatric Nurse


SON GerontologyOver 78 million people make up the generation commonly referred to as “baby boomers.” This sizeable and aging group, which is named for the influx of babies born between 1946 and 1964 – after WWII and before the escalation in Vietnam – makes up a staggering one-third of the U.S. population.

What does this mean for health care? In the last five years, the majority of this age group has crossed the threshold into their 60s. As they get deeper into the 65-and-over category, chronic illnesses and complications of aging are going to drive them to need additional health care.

To put it in context, twice as many people over the age of 65 have 10 or more health care visits per year compared to all other age groups. That’s a lot of extra visits as the largest generation in American history continues to age.

Enter the geriatric nurse 

You may be wondering how nurses will fit into this scenario. The answer is simple; there is going to be a significant demand for nurses beyond general care in elderly care homes. It’s clear from the statistics that the number of hospital visits alone is going to increase exponentially. Nurses that have an expertise in geriatric care will be a hot commodity.

Geriatric nurses have a lot of the same responsibilities as general care nurses but the distribution of tasks for geriatric nurses usually increases in the following areas:

  • Coordinate with patients to evaluate care plans

Elderly patients often transition insurance plans upon retirement which can result in a lot of questions. It has become the role of the nurse to guide the patient through their coverage and direct them to the right questions to ask their insurance company, says Michelle Katz, LPN, MSN, nationally-recognized healthcare advocate and author of Healthcare for Less.

  • Act as a “health care advocate”

Older adults often require help with “managing” their health care, beyond just working with their insurance. This can range from translating medical jargon, to acting as a spokesperson for the patient, to helping calm fears and rationalize which treatments are actually necessary. Katz says it is particularly important to pry deeper into symptoms with baby boomers in advance because of their insurance concerns.

  • Identify and treat commonly-occurring geriatric symptoms including: cardiovascular, neurological, psychosocial and sensory/pain

Elderly patients often are surprised by changes occurring in their body. “Why am I so tired?” is a question that Katz frequently hears from patients in this demographic. It is the role of the nurse to guide them through these changes with understanding and care.

Knowing if you have what it takes 

Nurses are commonly known for their hallmark commitment to care and building relationships, which is why theirs is considered the nation’s most trusted profession. Geriatric care requires a bit of added sensitivity and thoughtfulness. This is reflected in the most frequently occurring skills from over 100 geriatric job posts in the last year.

Geriatric Nursing - Skills Needed

With the increased focus on education, planning and mental health, nurses with specific skill sets will stand out from the competition. If you identify your capacity for the skills required of geriatric care, it will be helpful to start building your experience early, through clinical externships and networking during your education.

Path to a career in geriatrics 

If you are interested in pursuing a career in geriatrics it will be helpful to start thinking about it now, before you even start your education. This will allow you to focus your efforts and build the appropriate skills while you are a student that will make you stand out for the job. Typically, your career as a geriatric nurse should follow this path:

  • Choose a program

Analyze which schools are available as well as which program you would like to pursue. There are a lot of quality options out there so your choice in a college will depend upon your own preference for modality, length of time, type of college, cost and location. You also have a choice about the nursing credential you would like to pursue. With all of the acronyms and titles available it can be tricky weeding out the right one for you. There are a lot of resources to weigh the benefits of LPN, RN or even BSN which will help you along the path. 

  • Focus on geriatric-related (i.e., gerontological) training while in school

Pay special attention to classes with training for care of older adults and take as many as possible. When it comes time to schedule your externships at off-campus clinical sites, try to work in a program where you will get extra time working with older patients.

  •  Pass the NCLEX

The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), is the exam required for all nurses to become certified practitioners. It is often one of the most daunting parts of pursuing a career in nursing and, on average, seven out of 10 RN and PN students pass it the first time they take it. Your college wants you to succeed so they will build into your curriculum all of the tools you need. The web contains a multitude of great resources with more information on passing the exam.

  • Consider certification

In any industry, certification in a specialization is a tool to show you have gained expertise in a particular area. A gerontological nursing certification will set you apart from other general nurses in the field. It is important to note that if you are interested in pursuing this certification you will have to be certified as a registered nurse and have acquired at least two years of specialized experience.

Final thoughts

If you are considering a career in nursing, there are a lot of options available to gain specialized expertise. Knowing those options ahead of time can give you the tools to set yourself apart from the crowd. With baby boomers requiring more care every day, a career as a geriatric nurse could be a great option for building those specialized skills.

Check out this Rasmussen College student’s firsthand account of her rewarding new career as a nurse.    

*Source: BurningGlass.com (Analysis of 100 geriatric nursing job postings, Aug. 8, 2012 to Aug. 9, 2013)

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As an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Rasmussen College, Katy researches and writes student-focused articles in areas of the nursing and health sciences. She enjoys writing engaging content to help future, current, and former students on their path to a rewarding education.

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