Job Profile: Gerontological Nurse

The Administration on Aging (AoA) reports that persons aged 65 years or older represent 14 percent of the U.S. population at 44.7 million. By 2060, it’s estimated that there will be around 98 million older adults. With an average life expectancy of 78.74 years, Americans are living longer than ever before. As this large population ages, they require more medical care to retain good quality of life. Gerontological nurses are registered nurses who focus their practice on meeting the unique healthcare needs of these elderly adults. Also called geriatric nurses, gerontological nurses help older patients cope with medical conditions developing later in life, such as osteoporosis, dementia, cancer, heart disease, and shingles. Gerontological nurses usually provide in-home treatment or preventative care in medical offices.

Salary

According to statistics published on Salary.com, gerontological RNs in the United States make a median yearly salary of $63,626. This is equivalent to an average hourly wage of $31 or $1,224 weekly. With bonuses, social security, retirement, disability, healthcare, and time off included, the median total compensation for gerontological nurses is $89,853.

Beginning Salary

When just starting out, gerontological nurses typically land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with an annual salary of $52,166. With more years of experience and leadership responsibility, gerontological nurses can eventually bring home a base salary over $82,595. Those who advance as geriatric NPs earn an average annual wage of $97,990.

Key Responsibilities

Gerontological nurses primarily act as health advocates to help elderly patients with diminishing mental capacity receive the best course of treatment. Geriatric RNs specialize in treating the complex physical, cognitive, and psychological needs of older adults so they can remain independent as long as possible. Typical daily duties include assessing patients’ mental status, conducting routine screenings, developing patient treatment plans, setting health goals, organizing medications, and assisting with pain management. Gerontological nurses will educate patients and their families about living with late-onset medical conditions for good self-care. Many will also refer elderly patients to useful local resources, including assisted living.

Necessary Skills

Caring for aging adults requires gerontological nurses to be skilled communicators. RNs must have the speaking skills to pronounce loudly and slowly so that hearing impaired patients can process information easily. Older adults can struggle to retain instructions, so gerontological nurses must have the patience to repeat themselves. Critical thinking and analytical skills are important for geriatric RNs to quickly notice abnormal symptoms. Gerontological nurses must possess good teaching skills to educate patients’ caregivers about preventing falls, bedsores, and other injuries. Working in gerontology requires RNs to have the emotional fortitude to cope with death and terminal illness. Geriatric nurses must also be sympathetic, kind, observant, and well organized.

Degree and Education Requirements

Before becoming a gerontological nurse, you’ll need to become a registered nurse (RN) in one of three methods. Most states allow RN candidates who have a one-year nursing diploma, two-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Aspiring gerontological nurses are strongly encouraged to receive a BSN for the greatest career prospects. If you’re already licensed, many colleges now provide RN-to-BSN programs either on-campus or online. Make certain your nursing school is properly accredited through the CCNE or ACEN. After graduation, nurses who pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) could advance as Geriatric Nurse Practitioners (NPs).

Pros and Cons of the Position

Like other RN specialties, gerontological nurses experience both rewards and challenges. On the positive side, geriatric RNs enjoy plentiful job options in a variety of healthcare settings as demand for senior care skyrockets. Gerontological nurses bring home an above-average salary with excellent benefits. There’s plenty of room for advancement into APRN roles like nurse practitioner and clinical nursing specialist. Geriatric RNs report high levels of job satisfaction working with older patients. The multi-faceted, patient-facing role is ideal for extroverted individuals. On the other hand, gerontological nurses may work odd evening, weekend, and overnight shifts to provide 24/7 care to the elderly. Nursing practice requires the upfront investment of higher education and certification. Continuing education is mandatory for retaining RN licensing. Geriatric nurses deal with the emotional strain and stress of losing patients. Some gerontological RNs may be overwhelmed with heavy caseloads too.

Getting Started

After earning an appropriate nursing degree, aspiring gerontological nurses must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). States may also require other steps, such as passing a criminal background check, before licensure. As a licensed RN, you should begin applying for entry-level staff nursing positions. Choosing a setting where you’ll interact daily with seniors and elderly patients is advised. Most gerontological nurses will have at least two years of clinical experience. Having 2,000 or more clock hours in geriatrics is necessary for certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). You can become an RN-BC in Gerontological Nursing by passing a specialty examination. Certifications are also offered in Home Health Nursing and Pain Management Nursing. Consider joining the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA) for networking and continuing education.

Future Outlook

Nurse Journal has ranked gerontological nurse among its 31 fastest-growing specialty nursing careers. Demand for healthcare services is expected to spark due to America’s large aging baby boomer population. Higher diagnosis rates of elderly patients with chronic conditions, including arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, will require more treatment. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more elderly Americans have access to insured preventative care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of RNs will grow rapidly by 16 percent from 2014 through 2024. Gerontological nurses will have a bright outlook in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, ambulatory centers, physician offices, and nursing homes. Many older adults prefer being treated at home, so home health services will also be popular.

Overall, gerontology is an in-demand field of medicine that focuses solely on the complex health problems experienced by elderly people aged 65 and older. Gerontological RNs have specialized training to understand and address the special needs of fragile elderly patients. In addition to physical health, geriatric nurses are responsible for their mental and emotional well-being. Gerontological RNs handle all aspects of the patients’ care regimen so that they can live active, independent lives for as long as possible. If you’re a cheerful, compassionate person with a true desire to work with aging adults, becoming a gerontological nurse could be the perfect fit.