If you’ve ever had a serious injury or illness, you’ll likely remember one or more of the nurses who cared for you. A kind smile, some nurturing words, and a gentle touch can mean so much when you are uncomfortable or in pain. From obstetrical nurses to geriatric nurses, nursing professionals comfort us and help us manage our health from birth to death.
National Nurse’s Week, which we celebrate in May, gives us the opportunity to remember Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. This special day also gives us an opportunity to honor the special nurses who have taken care of us when we’ve suffered through the worst of an illness or injury.
Many new specialties in the medical field have evolved along with the advancements in medicine and medical technology. These advances are opening up new opportunities for nurses who have expert knowledge and experience in various fields of medicine, including geriatrics.
Obstetrical, neonatal, and pediatric nursing jobs are perfect for nurses who enjoy working with patients at the beginning of life. Nurses who do their best work in crisis situations are well-suited for emergency nursing, critical care nursing, and medical-surgical nursing. Personal experiences may lead some nursing students to want to specialize in a field like cardiac nursing, dialysis nursing or oncology. Nursing students who are seeking a field with an excellent job outlook and great pay will find a multitude of opportunities as a geriatric nurse.
What is a geriatric nurse practitioner and exactly what do they do? A geriatric nurse practitioner works with patients during the final season of life, which typically means patients who are age 70 and older.
When you mention the care of geriatric patients, most people conjure up a vision of nurses caring for patients in a nursing home. That wouldn’t necessarily be a false representation. However, let’s take a closer look at geriatric nursing duties to get a feel for additional opportunities within the field of geriatrics.
The care of geriatric patients includes offering the type of care that elderly people deserve when they can’t leave their beds or aren’t able to take care of themselves. A geriatric nurse practitioner may also make home visits to monitor patients in their homes.
The types of medical risks that we encounter change as age alters our bodies. Elderly people do best with nurses who have knowledge and training in the types of illnesses and injuries that are common to their generation. Osteoporosis, which is the loss of bone density, causes risk of injuries, especially for elderly people who risk falling due to imbalance and instability. Geriatric nurses also receive training in mental health disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other cognitive and memory-related disorders.
Geriatric nursing includes opportunities for nurses who enjoy educating elderly people. There is a vast need for geriatric nurses who educate patients and the general public on the prevention of aging disorders. Gaining expertise and knowledge in the field of geriatric nursing may also bring opportunities for educating nurses or doing case management for patients.
Geriatric nurses often work as part of a medical team including doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and certified nursing assistants. It’s personally rewarding to be part of the team that helps someone heal or helps them and their loved ones through the final stages of life.
If you are considering a career as a geriatric nurse practitioner, you need to ask and understand, “What is a geriatric nurse practitioner?” and “Where do I see myself being the happiest within the geriatric field?”
As with most degreed professions, nursing students who wish to take advantage of a career as a geriatric nurse practitioner will need to get their Associate’s or Baccalaureate degree. The next step is to take and pass the NCLEX-RN licensing examination. In addition to being licensed, geriatric nurses must also complete at least 200 hours of hands-on experience in the geriatric field of nursing or pass a secondary certification exam called the Gerontological Nursing Certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. [i] [iv]
Nursing can open many doors to exciting opportunities like traveling outside the country. Many new opportunities are opening up in light of current demographic and societal health trends around the world.
As you gain experience in geriatric nursing, you may be motivated to seek a position in leadership or management. The most common advanced degrees in geriatric nursing are the Master’s Post-baccalaureate Certificate and Professional Doctorate.
Geriatric nurses work in many different settings. Some hospitals dedicate a ward of the wing of the hospital to geriatric care. Senior living communities need geriatric nurses to work in a range of environments including assisted living, nursing care, memory care, and hospice. [ii]
Our society is trending towards allowing seniors to age in place in the homes they love for as long as possible. Family caregivers can’t do the stressful job of caregiving alone. Geriatric nurses visit seniors in their homes to monitor health for elders with limited mobility. They also help with medication management, personal care, rehabilitation, and other eldercare needs. Geriatric nurses can be a huge source of support for stressed-out family caregivers who need to balance senior caregiving duties with the needs of their families and careers.
Being a geriatric nurse can be emotionally draining. One of the most difficult parts of geriatric nursing is that geriatric patients often don’t get better. Even though geriatric nursing can be emotionally draining, many nurses in this field feel a special calling to help elders and their families through long-standing illnesses or injuries, or through the end stage of life.
Geriatric nurses must also be physically strong because they spend many hours transporting patients who can’t get around on their own. Nurses must practice good lifting techniques for lifting and turning bed-ridden patients so they don’t get bedsores.
Quality geriatric nurses are patient, good listeners, and enjoy working with elderly people.
The job outlook for geriatric nurses is excellent. Baby boomers are now entering the elder stage of life, which is causing a higher-than-average rate of geriatric patients, which is driving the need for geriatric care. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of between 19% and 26% because of the large number of baby boomers needing geriatric care and the lack of existing geriatric nurses. According to the American Geriatric Society, less than 1% of Registered Nurses and less than 3% of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses are certified in geriatrics. [ii]
As the field continues to grow, additional education and experience will net higher pay levels, especially for bilingual geriatric nurses, which are in even higher demand.
Currently, about 88.8% of geriatric nurses are women, according to a poll of the top five nursing universities. [iii] The average age of geriatric nurses is 43.6, which means that there is plenty of room for entry-level geriatric nurses. [iii]
Besides the human rewards of geriatric nursing, salaries in the geriatric field are excellent. According to Nurse Journal, geriatric nurses earn salaries between $41,000 and $51,000 on a national average.[I]
When we ask the question in the future about the definition of what is a geriatric nurse practitioner, we can practically expect that the specialty will narrow even further than it is today, due to advances in medical technology. A career as a geriatric nurse offers great pay, interesting and challenging work in a variety of environments, and opportunity for growth. Those benefits will only be matched by the personal rewards of nurturing and caring for our elder society.