What Is a Geriatric Nurse?

NursingDecember 11, 2023

There were over 54 million adults aged 65 and over in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This population is projected to grow to over 80 million by 2040 and could climb to over 94 million by 2060, per CDC data. With the growing population of older adults in the U.S., trained medical professionals, including geriatric nurses, are needed to provide care to meet the unique needs of this age group. 

To understand healthcare for older adults, nurses first need to understand what a geriatric nurse is. These professionals are registered nurses (RNs) who are typically employed by facilities that cater to aging populations, such as nursing homes and retirement communities. Of their many duties, geriatric nurses work to address the specific health challenges that older people may face. This not only includes addressing chronic health issues and more, but also being committed to improving the well-being of this group through hands-on, compassionate care. 

Nurses interested in this field should consider pursuing a nursing school program. Graduating from a program provides an education which enables students to gain fundamental skills, prepare to pass the national nursing exam, and secure a license in their chosen state of practice. 

What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

Geriatric nurses, also known as gerontological nurses, specialize in the care of patients aged 65 and older. They’re registered nurses (RNs) who are trained to address specific needs, such as age-related diseases and chronic pain. They focus on both preventive and corrective care. In addition to the duties below, they may monitor patients’ daily mobility. 

Common duties may include:

  • Helping patients with light exercises and physical therapies
  • Conducting comprehensive medical assessments
  • Taking and recording patients’ vital signs
  • Collecting blood samples for laboratory tests
  • Assisting physicians with procedures
  • Educating patients and their families on treatment options for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis
  • Organizing and administering medications
  • Developing individualized treatment plans for chronic and acute illnesses in conjunction with healthcare professionals
  • Assisting with daily living activities like bathing, eating, dressing, and medication management
  • Providing end-of-life care in accord with family’s instructions

Work Settings for Geriatric Nurses

While geriatric nurses may be called upon to work at hospitals, they may also work in the following settings. 

  • Senior living facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Home healthcare settings
  • Primary care offices
  • Retirement communities
  • Private homes

Depending on the facility, some patients require 24-hour care, so nurses may need to work long hours completing their rounds and duties. 

Education Requirements and Certification Options 

At minimum, individuals need at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become a geriatric nurse. This program offers classroom and hands-on clinical practice to prepare individuals for entry-level nursing jobs. Nurses also need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which is a standardized test required of all prospective RNs. Finally, nurses can obtain a nursing license through their state’s nursing board. 

To demonstrate their expertise in caring for aging populations, geriatric nurses may seek voluntary certification. The American Nurses Foundation offers the Gerontological Nursing Certification credential, which is awarded after passing an examination. Eligibility requirements include an active RN license, at least two years of RN practice, a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in gerontological nursing, and the completion of 30 hours of continuing education in gerontological nursing. The certification is valid for five years. 

Fundamental Skills

To fully understand what a geriatric nurse is and what they do, it’s important to recognize the expertise needed to provide care. Aside from the standard nursing skills, such as physical stamina, organization, and attention to detail, there are specific qualities that geriatric nurses should hold to provide the best care for their patients.

  • Compassion: Geriatric nurses may help patients who are experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, nutritional deficiency, depression, arthritis, or impaired mobility. Nurses should be able to demonstrate empathy for patients with these conditions and offer emotional support when needed. 
  • Communication: Effective communication is crucial to patients and their families as they learn about wellness, treatment options, medicine side effects, and assessing cognitive skills. Also, when dealing with patients who have vision and hearing limitations, nurses may need to adjust their way of communicating. 
  • Patience: Geriatric nurses should remember to show patience and understanding as they administer care to older adults.
  • Adaptability: Flexibility is necessary to manage the diverse, changing, and complex medical needs of older adult patients.
  • Specialized knowledge of the aging process: Having a firm understanding of age-related illnesses enables geriatric nurses to provide tailored care and adjust to changes. 

Job Outlook for Geriatric Nurses 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth for all RNs will increase 6% from 2022 to 2023. One of the reasons for this employment growth is the need to replace retired nurses or professionals who are changing careers. 

The expertise of geriatric nurses is vital to care of older adults, especially those who are entering senior care facilities or need in-home care. This patient population likely has more chronic, age-related conditions that need more hands-on care and personal sensitivity. Geriatric nurses are specifically trained to address the unique needs of this population.

Start Your Career as a Geriatric Nurse 

Geriatric nurses are compassionate healthcare professionals who are committed to helping older adults. The road to becoming a geriatric nurse starts with acquiring the same education and licensing as other RNs. Seeking certification can validate a nurse’s gerontology experience and expertise to employers.

In as little as two years, you can begin your nursing career by earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Fortis offers this program in select campuses in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. The Fortis ADN program prepares students for a career of service through small group activities, clinical training, and classroom learning. 

Upon graduation, you can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), seek licensure in your chosen state of practice, and pursue entry-level nursing positions.

Discover how Fortis nursing programs can help you reach your career goals. 

Recommended Readings
6 Essential Clinical Nursing Skills
4 Growing Technologies in Nursing
5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients' Lives

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Gerontological Nursing Certification
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Promoting Health for Older Adults
Chron, "Job Description of a Registered Nurse for an Elderly Care Facility"
Health in Aging, “Geriatrics Basic Facts”
Indeed, Geriatric Nursing: Definition and Career Path (With Salary)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
U.S. Census Bureau, “Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History”