What is a Gerontological Nurse?

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What is a gerontological nurse? Gerontological nurses work with older adult populations, assisting with activities of daily living and treating various health conditions common in older adult patients. Gerontological nursing requires a specific skill set to work with older adult patients, and students must undergo comprehensive education to become one.

nurse with elderly patient in patient's home

The nursing field is diverse and filled with many specializations to explore. As a registered nurse (RN), you can choose to work with specific patient populations, from neonatal nursing to gerontological nursing. If you are curious about working with older adult patients, gerontological nursing may be a worthwhile specialization. But what is a gerontological nurse, and what do they do?

Gerontological nurses work with older adult patients while supporting physicians and other healthcare staff. Gerontological nurses provide evidence-based care to their patients, addressing their needs from a holistic perspective with a focus on healthy and successful aging.

If you feel called to become a nurse, you will have many opportunities to explore nursing specialties during clinical learning experiences as part of Mercer University’s Second Degree Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track. You can earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in as few as 12 months — not including the time needed to complete prerequisites — and pursue your chosen nursing specialty.

Below is an exploration of gerontological nursing, from what these nurses do to how you can become one. After understanding “What is a gerontological nurse?” you can gauge whether this path is right for you.

What Does a Gerontological Nurse Do?

What does a gerontological nurse do? Gerontological nurses specialize in caring for and treating health conditions that commonly affect older adult populations, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

They share similar responsibilities with other RNs, such as administering medications and implementing care plans. They also educate patients and caregivers.

Additionally, nurses are mandated reporters, so gerontological nurses are responsible for recognizing and reporting signs of elder abuse and neglect. While state laws differ regarding mandated reporting, gerontological nurses must report any signs of elder abuse, whether by caregivers or healthcare staff.

nurse in gray scrubs smiling at camera

Gerontological Nursing Skills

Gerontological nursing requires a specific skill set. While all nurses need to understand the aging process and how symptoms present in older patients, gerontological nurses must focus on the unique needs of their patient population and develop the following skills to provide the best care they can:

  • Patience: As we age, we slow down, and our bodies no longer move or function like they once did, which can be an emotional experience. Gerontological nurses must be understanding and empathetic as they care for patients during this new life stage.
  • Verbal and Nonverbal Communication: Some older adult patients experience communication barriers, so a nurse’s ability to communicate verbally and nonverbally and recognize nonverbal cues can significantly improve patient-nurse relationships.
  • Compassion: Older adults may be afflicted with multiple conditions and diseases and live with many complex symptoms, sometimes requiring extra care when interacting with them. Gerontological nurses must possess compassion to provide dignified and effective care.
nurse kneeling holding hands with child both smiling

Read more to learn eight important soft skills in nursing that will serve you throughout your career, regardless of specialty.

How to Become a Gerontological Nurse in 4 Steps

Now that we’ve answered, “What is a gerontological nurse?” we will discuss how to become a gerontological nurse. First, you must earn a nursing degree to be eligible to receive a registered nursing license. You also have the option to earn a gerontological nursing certification after gaining clinical experience. Below is an in-depth look at the process of becoming a gerontological nurse.

1. Earn a Nursing Degree

The first step in the process is to earn a nursing degree, either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a BSN. While both degrees qualify you to sit for the licensure exam, many healthcare employers prefer hiring nurses with a BSN.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a higher proportion of BSN-educated nurses in a healthcare facility leads to improved patient outcomes. This is because a BSN education is comprehensive and more in-depth than an ADN program. A BSN is also the minimum degree requirement for entry into master’s and doctorate programs, a necessity if you plan to advance your career.

Earning a BSN typically requires enrolling in a four-year program; however, if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, Mercer’s ABSN track allows students to earn a second degree in nursing in as little as 12 months.

Our full-time curriculum combines online coursework with hands-on experiential learning, ensuring you graduate with the technical skills and knowledge needed to become a skilled and compassionate nurse. If you meet the admissions requirements for the ABSN track, you can earn your BSN and be on the path to practicing in your chosen nursing specialty sooner.

Graduating nursing school is a significant accomplishment, but you must plan your next steps. Read more to learn what to do after graduating from nursing school.

nurse holding clipboard

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

After earning ADN or BSN, the next step is to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX-RN is a nationally recognized licensure exam that tests a nursing school graduate’s clinical judgment and understanding of nursing practice.

The exam is comprehensive and takes significant preparation. To be successful, you should start preparing for the exam during nursing school by reviewing practice questions and tests. Then, after graduation, you can dedicate the next few months before the exam to full-time study.

While the NCLEX is rigorous, rest assured that you will be prepared. At Mercer, our NCLEX pass rates are consistently above national and state averages. Your time in the ABSN track provides the knowledge and experience to confidently approach exam day. Once you pass the NCLEX, you can apply to your state’s board of nursing for a nursing license.

nurse studying in common area

3. Gain Clinical Experience

It is possible to start working in a gerontological unit after nursing school and earning your license; however, most employers prefer hiring gerontological nurses after they have gained bedside experience.

Gerontological nurses need strong assessment skills and must be quick on their feet to respond to various medical emergencies. Gaining clinical experience in acute care units will help you gain these skills and acclimate to that type of environment. Work experience will also help you improve communication skills while navigating patient-nurse relationships, preparing you for work in a gerontological unit.

Employers typically like to see at least two years of clinical experience before you apply; however, there is no set rule. If you choose to earn gerontological nursing certification, you need at least two years of clinical experience, among other requirements.

4. Earn Gerontological Nursing Certification

The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a Gerontological Nursing Certification to practicing RNs. While optional, earning certification validates your skill set and can advance your career.

To qualify for the exam, you must have an active RN license, have practiced for at least two years as a full-time registered nurse, and have at least 2,000 clinical hours of gerontological nursing and 30 hours of continuing gerontological nursing education within the past three years.

Gerontological Nursing Career Outlook

A nationwide nursing shortage has created a high demand for nurses. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses are projected to grow 6% between 2022 and 2032, double the projected growth for all other occupations.

The shortage is due to several contributing factors, one of which is increased demand for healthcare due to an aging population. The career outlook for gerontological nurses is positive. From projected salaries to a variety of working environments, you may find that this is a specialty worth pursuing.

student smiling at camera in mock hospital room

Projected Salary

The BLS does not differentiate salaries between nursing specialties and instead encompasses salary data under registered nurses. According to the BLS’s latest data, the median annual wage for registered nurses is $81,220, significantly higher than the national average for all occupations.

Salaries depend on industry, as well. For example, nurses who work in state, local, and private hospitals have a median salary of $82,250. In contrast, nurses who work in nursing homes and residential care facilities have a median salary of $75,410.

Work Environment

Gerontological nurses work in many environments, from acute care settings to long-term care facilities to patient homes. You will utilize many of the same skills and perform the same responsibilities; however, each work environment is nuanced.

  • Hospitals: Gerontological nurses who work in hospitals follow patient care plans and administer medication. They also take the time to educate patients and their caregivers.
  • Nursing Homes: Gerontological nurses who work in nursing homes provide full-time patient care and have more time to build relationships with patients. They assist patients with activities of daily living and rehabilitation and closely monitor patients for bed sores and other conditions.
  • Home Healthcare: Gerontological nurses in the home healthcare industry visit patients in their homes. Their patients range from individuals recovering from surgery to those with chronic conditions. Home health gerontological nurses also work closely with caregivers to ensure patients receive quality, dignified care when they are not present.

Start Your Nursing Journey Today with Mercer University

Mercer nursing students sitting in front of Mercer University wall sign

Mercer’s ABSN track prepares students for a career in various nursing specialties. Even if you do not have the opportunity to work in gerontology during clinical rotations, your education at Mercer serves as a solid foundation to build your nursing career.

You gain valuable knowledge and skills to provide dignified and compassionate patient care across populations through online coursework, nursing simulation and skills labs, and clinical rotations.

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for the ABSN track. Contact an enrollment counselor at Mercer to learn more, and take the next steps toward a career in your chosen nursing specialty.