What is a Geriatric Nurse?

With so many nursing specializations to choose from, you may be wondering about the role of a geriatric nurse and whether it’s the right role for you. While many people think of geriatric nursing as primarily taking place in nursing homes, in truth it’s an important area of nursing across many settings, and becoming more so. With the baby boom generation moving into their later years, the rise in the elderly population is driving a demand for more nurses who are qualified to give competent geriatric care.

The Growing Demand

According to the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA), 1 in 7 Americans is currently over the age of 65, a statistic that will change to 1 in 5 Americans by the year 2030. The increasing number of older people in the U.S. presents a challenge for the nursing profession, as aging patients generally have more health related issues that are more chronic and complex. Many nurses already treat at least some elderly patients as a matter of course in hospitals, clinics and physician’s practices. This is in addition to nurses who work specifically with aging populations in places like nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Although the number of elderly patients is growing, thus far the numbers of nurses trained to give specific geriatric care has not kept pace. Only about 1 percent of registered nurses (RNs) and about 3% of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have a geriatric certification. Those who do hold board certification receive it from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

An Excellent Opportunity

This growing need for geriatric nurses presents an excellent opportunity for nurses who have interests and gifts in working with this population. Not only does it ensure a strong job outlook in the field for many years to come, but the growing awareness of the need in the profession is beginning to improve the quality and depth of education and preparation for gerontological nursing.

The Role of the Geriatric Nurse

A nurse can help elderly patients in all kinds of ways, from direct care to health education and advocacy. Advocacy can be especially important as changing health issues, lower energy levels that come just with normal aging, and illnesses can all present aging people with a number of difficult challenges. These challenges can affect people at all levels: emotionally, spiritually, mentally, financially, as well as medically. A nurse working with elderly patients needs to be skilled in helping older adults navigate these new and challenging issues, which may include dealing with new types of insurance and medications. Because some elderly patients are dealing with not one but multiple chronic issues at the same time, a nurse must also be skilled in helping patients and their families manage complex issues of care.

The growing aging population of the U.S. and the complex healthcare needs of seniors ensure that geriatric nursing will be a growing specialty of nursing for many years to come. If you have an interest in caring for aging adults, and in helping elderly patients navigate the complicated and sometimes confusing issues that can come with aging, then becoming a geriatric nurse may be an excellent career option for you.