Geriatric Nursing: An In-depth Look at this Specialized Nursing Field

Geriatric Nursing is specialized field of nursing that deals with caring for patients who are aging. It takes a special kind of person to become a good geriatric nurse. This is one of the most heart breaking and potentially rewarding careers a nurse can take on. It takes a strong hear that is made of solid gold in order to be the best of the best in this challenging nursing field.

What is Geriatric Nursing?

Geriatric nursing is a field of nursing that is dedicated to the unique medical and health care concerns of the aging population. People are living longer lives than ever before and their medical care needs as they age become more and more complex. This means the need for care and, in some cases, supervision, grows as people age.

A geriatric nurse is a registered nurse that has completed additional training and education specifically dedicated to the care of the elderly.

What are the Qualifications of a Geriatric Nurse?

Different states will have different qualifications. In order to become a Gerontological Nurse Specialist a nurse must have two years of practical experience as an RN (registered nurse) that includes at least 2,000 hours of practice and 30 hours of continuing education dedicated to the field of geriatric (or gerontological depending on locale) nursing within the time frame of the past three years.

Clinical Nurse Specialists can become CNSs in Gerontological Nursing if at least 500 hours of clinical practice that was faculty supervised is included in the course work – including advanced pharmacology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pathophysiology – to complete the requirement for becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist.

There are several professional organizations for geriatric nurses that offer continuing education, ongoing training, and certifications for nurses who do or wish to specialize in caring for the aging.

Aside from the professional qualifications necessary to be a geriatric nurse, the thing that sets the good nurses in this field apart from the great nurses is a genuine desire to help the elderly. Right now there are many nurses who see this is a gold mine opportunity. This is not a field to enter for the love of money. It’s one to choose because you love working with and talking to the elderly.

Where are Jobs Available for Geriatric Nurses?

Many people are surprised by the sheer volume of positions that are available in this specialized nursing field. It is possible to care for the elderly in almost any nursing capacity. These nursing positions provide unique opportunities to work directly with geriatric patients on a regular and consistent basis.

  • Some doctor’s offices hire geriatric nurses because they mainly treat elderly patients. Hospitals have RNs to man the phones and take care of various tasks like dressing wounds, dispensing medications, and taking medical tests.
  • Many hospitals hire nurses who have certifications or advanced studies in geriatric care. This is especially the case in cities that serve a large elderly population. Common places that geriatric nurses are found in hospitals include rehab centers, outpatient surgery teams, cardiology units, ophthalmology units, and units that specialize in geriatric mental health.
  • Nursing homes are another source of many jobs for nurses in this specialized field. In fact, this is often the first thought that comes to mind for geriatric nurses. Many people are surprised to discover that there are other options available.
  • Home health services also hire geriatric nurses to care for elderly patients. These nurses serve a dual role that is vital in caring for the elderly. Not only are they visiting these homes to safeguard physical and mental health (depression is a common issue among elderly patients) but also to watch for signs of neglect or abuse. Sadly, the elderly patients aren’t always able to speak for themselves and nurses who have been trained to watch for these signs are the ones who must speak for them.
  • Hospices also hire nurses who have training in geriatric care. Most hospices provide care to patients who are approaching the end of life or at the very least the end of their life expectancy. This is one of the compassionate and difficult jobs available in the field of geriatric medicine and requires a special heart.
  • Rehabilitation centers also hire a wide range of geriatric nurses to assist elderly patients in recovering range of motion and mobility after surgeries, strokes, or even extended bed rest.

As you can see there is plenty of demand for geriatric nurses. With baby boomers aging rapidly the demand for nurses to care for aging patients is only going to continue growing.

What do Geriatric Nurses Do?

There are many hats that a qualified geriatric nurse will wear. Here are just a few of the duties that a geriatric nurse may be called upon to perform in a typical day.

  • Help doctors examine patients
  • Perform medical tests on patients in an office or in their homes
  • Demonstrate and explain procedures that family members caring for a patient need to know and understand in order to care for the patient at home
  • Assist in medical procedures performed on patients
  • Administer medication to patients

Of course, this doesn’t include the other duties that a geriatric nurse performs that are not limited to making note of patients mental states, interacting with the patient to make sure the patient understands what is going on and what he or she needs to do for a full recovery, and giving the patient a friendly face (and ear as the case may be).

Income Potential for Geriatric Nurses

With growing demand for nurses specialized in care for geriatric or aging patients there is no real surprise that salaries for nurses uniquely qualified for these positions is also on the rise. CNSs in Gerontological Nursing positions earn a median income of $70,000 per year with five or fewer years of experience. With 10 or more years of experience the median salary increases to $75,000 a year. The real rewards for geriatric nurses though cannot be measured in dollar signs but in the lives they touch each and every day.

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