Geriatric Nurses

None of us are getting any younger – one reason the field of geriatric nursing is expanding. For those with interest and stamina, job prospects are good.


By Teresa Odle
CTW Features


Nursing is a great career and much in demand. Some nurses are finding greater satisfaction and more opportunities caring for a special population. Older adults use at least half of all hospital care, more than three-fourths of homecare services and the vast majority of nursing home beds in the United States. And as baby boomers age, they will need more nurses who specialize in caring for geriatric patients.


Geriatric Nurse

Catherine Cole, Ph.D., ACNS-BC, is assistant professor of nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. She didn’t start to specialize in geriatrics until later in her career, when she started working on her doctoral dissertation. “When I first graduated from nursing school in 1979, we had hours and hours of work that focused on labor and delivery and pediatrics and not one hour devoted to geriatrics,” says Cole. But the odds are much greater that a nurse will encounter more older adults in most settings than children or babies, she says. Today, schools like UAMS offer special courses in geriatrics.

Lots of Workplace Choices

Geriatric nurses don’t just work in hospitals or nursing homes. “Geriatric nurses are needed everywhere,” says Patti Cantillo-Kodzis, BSN, RN, BC, of HealthSense LLC in Winter Springs, Fla. In addition to working in hospitals and nursing homes, geriatric nurses travel to patients’ homes as case managers or in other roles, and to physician offices and schools. In each of these locations, they may perform bedside, direct patient care roles or management functions. Some also become involved in research on how to better care for older adults. “Registered nurses with a BSN [bachelor’s] degree or higher have the greatest variety of choices in work settings,” says Cole.

Getting Started

You don’t have to be a registered nurse, or RN, to work with older adults. Licensed practical nurses often work as geriatric specialists. The first step is to obtain nursing credentials at any level and then look for courses that focus on geriatrics. You can find these at colleges such as UAMS, conferences or online. Cole says there also are master’s programs in geriatric nursing.


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Are You the Right Fit?

“A passion and desire to care for this population is a must,” says Cantillo-Kodzis. “Older adults have so much to offer and they have very specialized needs.” Cole agrees, saying that those who choose nursing already have most of the characteristics that will make them good geriatric nursing; they just need to dedicate themselves to this special population. The work is physical and at times frustrating. Cantillo-Kodzis says that guiding older patients through the health-care system can present unique challenges. “I can only draw from my own personal experiences and say geriatric nurses need patience, humor and compassion.”

At the End of the Day

With pay and job outlook tops among professions, you can’t beat nursing as a practical career choice; geriatric nursing is even more in demand. Nurses may even receive sign-on bonuses from employers in addition to their annual salaries. “As with any profession, increased levels of education lead to improved monetary rewards,” says Cole. But she points to the nonmonetary rewards, too: the knowledge that your work is truly important for individuals and society. Cantillo-Kodzis agrees. “Please come to geriatric nursing; your heart and mind will soar with delight. Caring for aging adults is a challenging, demanding, important and fun – yes, fun – career choice. And most of us age.”

Geriatric Nursing

Take Home: About $ 52,000 – $58,000 per year for an RN, $32,000 – $38,000 for an LPN, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More if you manage others, get an advanced degree or work in some settings or markets.

Training: It depends on whether you want to be an LPN (usually high school diploma and one year of training) or RN (usually four years of education). The requirements vary by state and include licensing and continuing education. You can choose to specialize in geriatrics in some coursework and continuing education.

Skills: Compassion, patience and a true desire to help older adults.

Upside: The satisfaction of knowing you help a special population, great pay and a job nearly anywhere you want to live.

Downside: Bedside nursing is a physical job.


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