How to Become a Geriatric Nurse

Geriatric nursing represents an in-demand specialty that can provide fulfilling work. Learn more about how to become a licensed geriatric nurse.

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by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Published August 12, 2022

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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How to Become a Geriatric Nurse
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Geriatric nurses generally care for older patients and understand the mental and physical aspects of aging. These healthcare professionals provide bedside care, deliver and control medications, and support and educate patients and their caregivers. Geriatric nurses also support patients as they cope with aging-related issues like Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, chronic pain, osteoporosis, slips and falls, and decreased mobility.

People passionate about healthcare and the needs of older adults might find geriatric nursing an attractive career. Many successful nurses in this specialty exhibit critical thinking and communication skills, which help them assess and determine corrective or preventive actions. Geriatric nurses also need to communicate compassion and possess the physical stamina to lift or move patients.

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What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

Professionals specializing in geriatric nursing might see their career opportunities and earning potential expand. Many nurses work in home care, hospitals, and nursing homes. They can also find employment in government, case management, rehabilitation services, the military, or physicians' private practices.

Some people in geriatric nursing advance their careers by getting a master's degree to acquire more technical skills or a doctorate to pursue gerontological research opportunities. Nurses can also become adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs), who can diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, educate patients, and provide routine check-ups and assessments. Regardless of their education, geriatric nurses must continue their education and maintain their licensure to remain employed.

Geriatric Nurse Responsibilities

  • Care for and educate patients, caregivers, and families.
  • Administer medications, treat wounds, and change dressings.
  • Perform patient assessments and collect vital signs.
  • Assist physicians and other providers in performing emergency procedures.
  • Create, execute, and update nursing care plans.

Geriatric Nurse Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Geriatric Nurse?

Becoming a geriatric nurse involves several steps, including earning a degree, gaining supervised work experience, and obtaining a nursing license. Certification in geriatric nursing is a voluntary step nurses can take to enhance their careers.

Step 1: Earn an ADN or BSN

Registered nurses (RNs) must have at least an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Students earning an associate degree pay an average of $10,300 for tuition and other fees, while private school learners pay more. Some individuals with an ADN pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to earn higher salaries and expand their employment opportunities. The cost of an in-state bachelor's degree averages $25,490 per year.

Individuals can gain access to geriatric nursing more easily if their backgrounds include coursework or experience in gerontology or senior care. Many nursing programs offer courses focusing on geriatric nursing in addition to prerequisite classes like anatomy, nursing theory, psychology, and statistics. Students should also take courses in communication, leadership, and other subjects that teach soft skills.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam

Prospective nurses must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides information about the NCLEX-RN and licensing requirements by state.

Taking the NCLEX costs $200 and requires students to register with the nursing regulatory body (NRB) in their state. After registering, applicants will receive an authorization to test (ATT), after which they can call or go online to schedule their testing date.

The exam includes 60-145 fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, and hot-spot questions that test students' cognitive abilities and thought-processing skills. The questions assess people's knowledge of safe environments, health promotion and maintenance, physiological integrity, and psychosocial integrity. The exam uses a pass-fail scoring system instead of percentages.

Step 3: Obtain RN Licensure

All nurses require licensure, which ensures that geriatric nurses and other nursing care providers practice the profession's highest standards. Nurses can apply for a state-issued license with a passing NCLEX score, a diploma from an accredited program, and a certain number of supervised work hours.

Licensing regulations vary by state. The licensing application fee can cost as little as $75 or exceed $300. Many states hold nursing licensure compact (NLC) status, which means that nurses can move among participating states to practice.

Step 4: Get a Job in a Critical Care Setting

Critical care experience in geriatric nursing provides the necessary competencies to deliver essential treatment for chronic conditions that afflict many older adults. Most nurses acquire about two years of experience in the field before applying for certification in geriatric nursing. Some nurses with sufficient work experience in geriatric settings might obtain employment immediately after nursing school.

Payscale reports that nurses working in geriatrics earn between $25-$40 per hour on average. Geriatric nurses can increase their salaries by furthering their education or accumulating additional clinical experience in their chosen settings.

Step 5: Apply for Certification

Certification in geriatric nursing generally requires graduation from an accredited nursing program, a state-issued nursing license, and about two years of experience in clinical care. Unlike the RN license, nurses can voluntarily apply for certification to enhance their professional credibility.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) offers a gerontological nursing certification (GERO-BC) that requires renewal every five years. Applicants must hold an RN license, show at least two years of full-time nursing experience, and document a minimum of 2,000 hours of work in geriatric nursing. This certification also requires 30 hours of continuing education within the previous three years. ANA members pay $295 to apply, while non-members pay $395.

What to Know Before Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

Accreditation

Graduating from an accredited program means receiving an education that surpasses educational requirements and reflects academic rigor. Aspiring geriatric nurses can choose from several traditional and online programs that hold accreditation. Students from such programs can typically transfer their credits to other institutions, especially if they wish to further their education.

Cost

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in-state students pursuing a bachelor's degree pay an average of $9,349 a year in tuition and fees. A graduate degree can average $19,792 a year. Students might cut costs by enrolling in online nursing programs.

Geriatric nursing certifications also come with costs, including application and processing fees. For example, certification applicants pay a $140 administrative fee for the GERO-BC, and the application costs between $295-$395. Certification renewal costs between $250-$350.

Salary

According to Payscale, geriatric nurses earn a mean hourly wage of over $30, or $70,150 annually. Professionals with more than 20 years of experience can earn more than $94,000 on average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses in California earn some of the highest salaries. Other high-paying states include Hawaii, Oregon, D.C., and Alaska.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

What qualifications do you need to become a geriatric nurse?

Individuals wanting to know how to become licensed geriatric nurses should learn about the steps to acquire the necessary education and credentials. After earning an ADN or BSN, a graduate must pass the NCLEX to become an RN. Then, they can pursue a gerontological nursing certification, which requires a state-issued RN license, two years of nursing experience, 30 hours of continuing education, and 2,000 hours of gerontological nursing practice.

What is the fastest way to become a geriatric nurse?

Nursing students can shorten the time it takes to get a geriatric nurse license. One way to fast-track training involves enrolling in accelerated courses in accredited online nursing programs to graduate sooner. Also, nurses who have worked for a while can accumulate experience in critical care settings, which qualifies them to assess and treat the illnesses and conditions that many older patients experience.

What skills are needed to be a geriatric nurse?

Geriatric nurses require essential technical skills and knowledge sets to do their jobs well. They must possess an extensive understanding of gerontological issues, including knowledge of chronic ailments prevalent among older patients.

Nurses need to detect signs of conditions like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and heart disease early to ensure the highest quality of care. A geriatric nurse must also know how to provide the most comfort possible to individuals undergoing treatment or coping with pain. Soft skills like communication, patience, and empathy also factor into high-quality geriatric nursing.

Is geriatric nursing a specialty?

Geriatric nursing represents one of many specialties in the nursing field. In addition to fundamental skills and knowledge, a geriatric nursing concentration requires competency in meeting older patients' needs.

Nurses in this specialty typically focus on preventive medicine, end-of-life care, and working closely with caregivers and family members. Experts project that by 2040, adults over the age of 65 will comprise over 21% of the U.S. population. The expected growth of this age group drives the demand for compassionate and competent geriatric nurses.

How much money can I make as a geriatric nurse?

According to PayScale, a geriatric nurse can make between $30-$40 per hour on average. Combined with bonuses, overtime pay, and profit sharing, geriatric nurses can earn between $51,000 and $85,000 annually. Accumulating work experience can allow professionals to increase their earning potential.

In addition to base pay, geriatric nurses can receive health insurance coverage, paid time off, retirement plans, and continuing education reimbursement. Some employers assist with moving expenses as a recruitment incentive.

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