How to Become a Geriatric Nurse in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for geriatric nurses. Get the facts about education, training and licensing requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Adult Health Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Geriatric Nurse?

Geriatric nurses are a specialized type of registered nurse or advanced practice nurse who work with the elderly population. As an RN who works with geriatric patients, you will keep track of their medications, their vital signs, and any new or strange symptoms. You then share this information with the doctor. As a nurse practitioner who works with the geriatric population, you may work as their primary care provider. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a geriatric nurse.

Registered Nurse (RN) Nurse Practitioner
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Master's degree
Field of Study Nursing Advanced nursing gerontology
Key Responsibilities Maintain patient records; administer medications and tests according to doctor's orders; observe and record patient vital signs and other diagnostic medical indicators; teach patients and caregivers necessary procedures to manage medical conditions Provide primary or acute health care for elderly patients; examine, diagnose and prescribe treatment and medication; order and perform medical tests and analyze results
Certification and Licensing All states require registered nurses to be licensed RN license; certification as a gerontological nurse may be preferred by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses* 35% for all nurse practitioners*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 for all registered nurses* $98,190 for all nurse practitioners*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

Geriatric nurses work with elderly adults providing treatment and care for various medical conditions or ailments. As a geriatric nurse, you'll treat and maintain the physical, mental and functional health of elderly patients. You may work in hospitals, senior centers, community health centers, patients' homes or long-term care facilities. Typical duties include administering medications, assisting with rehabilitation, educating patients and their families about a patient's condition, recording medical histories and performing diagnostic tests. Advanced practice nurses, or nurse practitioners may provide primary health care or urgent care for elderly patients.

Step 1: Choose a Nursing Program

Nursing programs are offered at both the associate's or bachelor's degree level. You should consider your career goals when choosing a program. Consider looking for programs that emphasize or provide exposure to geriatric nursing. Nursing programs combine clinical experience with classroom instruction in various topics, such as anatomy, nutrition, medical terminology, chemistry and psychology.

Step 2: Pass the National Licensing Exam

You must become a registered nurse by passing the national exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org). The exam you'll want to take is the NCLEX-RN exam for registered nurses (RN). This exam is often used by your state's licensing board as a requirement. Also, in some occasions this exam can be coupled to provide you with state licensure in two states.

Step 3: Earn Your Master's Degree

One method of becoming a geriatric nurse is to continue your education with a master's degree program. Such a program allows you to choose a specialty area or population to treat. A geriatric nursing program should teach you about aging, elderly disorders, human development, pharmacotherapeutics and gerontology.

Step 4: Get Experience as a Geriatric Nurse

In order to understand nursing responsibilities in geriatric care, you'll need to complete a clinical or gain experience with a job. With a growing elderly population, job opportunities for geriatric nurses are on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that opportunities in home health care are increasingly rapidly due to the growing number of elderly adults with functional disabilities (www.bls.gov). Opportunities in long-term care facilities and hospitals are also increasing.

Step 5: Consider Certification

According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), certified nurses are not only in the highest demand, but also earn higher average salaries (www.nursecredentialing.org). Through the ANCC you can earn a Gerontological Nurse Certification if you are a registered nurse and have completed a clinical practice and a master's degree program in geriatric nursing, and have also passed the certification exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Geriatric nurses have all pursued an RN degree and some have pursued an advanced nursing degree to work specifically with the aging population. At the RN level, nurses could also work in rehabilitation, addiction, critical care, or another specialty. If you want to pursue an advanced nursing degree, you also could choose a program in nursing midwifery, which involves working with women during their pregnancies, or a program in nurse anesthetics, which involves administering anesthesia medication to patients who are about to undergo procedures.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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