What is the Role of a Gerontological Nurse?

If you’re looking for an in-demand registered nursing specialty, you should consider fulfilling the role of a gerontological nurse. Also referred to as geriatric nurses, gerontological nurses play an important part in coordinating medical treatment for elderly patients. Geriatric nursing is a fast-growing niche because the large aging baby boomer population is causing a spike in demand for healthcare services later in adulthood. According to the U.S. Census, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents will be 65 by 2050. Since half of all hospital admissions are patients over this age, it’s no surprise that the need for gerontological nurses will be strong. The following is a brief job overview to help you determine whether geriatrics is the right fit for your nursing career.

What Gerontological Nurses Do

Gerontological nurses are specially trained to treat the complex physical and mental health needs of older adults. Registered Nurses (RNs) in geriatrics often work as case managers to design healthy regimens that elderly patients can follow to stay healthier and more active late in life. On a typical day, a gerontological nurse may be found assessing a patient’s cognitive abilities, evaluating a patient’s acute or chronic condition, educating patients on ways to prevent falls or injuries, organizing medications, linking patients with community resources, watching for signs of elder abuse, helping patients with daily grooming needs, and giving advice on disability-related problems. Gerontological nurses often act as essential liaisons for connecting the patient and family members to the physicians.

Where Gerontological Nurses Work

Job opportunities for geriatric nurses are highly diverse because they are capable of working anywhere older adults are present. The highest percentage of gerontological nurses are employed in traditional healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, community clinics, outpatient care centers, and physician offices. Many other nurses in geriatrics choose to provide round-the-clock residential care for the elderly in nursing homes, hospices, retirement communities, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, and caregiver centers. It’s also becoming popular for gerontological nurses to work in home healthcare services where they travel directly to their patients’ homes for regular comprehensive care.

How to Become a Gerontological Nurse

Before you can jump into a geriatric nursing career, you’ll first need to become a nurse through one of three pathways. You can choose to earn a one-year diploma in a hospital-based program, a two-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college, or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a university. Make certain that the nursing school is properly accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) for quality career preparation. While earning your education, complete a practicum in a local senior center or nursing home to assess your ability for handling the unique challenges of older adults (please see: How Do I Find Out What Clinical Experiences a Nursing School Offers?). Once you obtain a degree, you’ll then need two years of full-time experience for taking the gerontological nursing certification exam hosted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

In today’s healthcare industry, nurses with expertise in geriatric care are a hot commodity because they have the added sensitivity for fulfilling the needs of older adults. Gerontological nurses are essential healthcare advocates who translate medical jargon, rationalize treatments, work with insurance companies, and act as spokespeople for the elderly. If you decide to work in the role of a gerontological nurse, you’ll have the rewarding chance to help adults over age 65 lead happy, healthy, and comfortable lives.