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The Challenges and Joys of Geriatric Nursing


What you need to know when considering geriatric nursing

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan

From primary care offices and pediatrics, to ER and trauma centers, there are so many opportunities and different specializations available to our nursing graduates in Utah and all over the world. A speciality like geriatric nursing is easily overlooked, but it can be unexpectedly rewarding to many nurses out there.

It’s certainly needed. Geriatric care is on the rise. According to the Administration for Community Living, the percentage of people living in the U.S. who are over 65 will grow from 14.1 percent in 2013 to 21.7 percent by 2040. With this increase will come the need for passionate, understanding geriatric nurses who answered the calling to care for these sometimes forgotten generations.

Every one of our nursing students in Draper has a distinct and valuable reason for why they choose the profession. It’s not unusual for some of our students to pursue geriatric nursing because of personal experience with older family members or friends. Those who make this choice should know geriatric nursing comes with its own set of benefits and challenges, like the ones listed below.

Advancing through training, certification, and education

The programs and certifications for a geriatric nurse are very similar to other specialties. First, you need to enroll and complete a nursing program, like the one we offer at Ameritech, and pass the NCLEX. After you pass the NCLEX, RNs who wish to pursue a career working with the elderly can do so right away! To become certified, however, requires a little more work — mainly, experience.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center does offer credentialing in the form of the Gerontological Nursing Certification Exam. Before an RN can take this exam, there are eligibility criteria he or she must satisfy:

  • Have an active U.S. or state territory RN license (or legally equivalent licensure from another country),
  • Work as a full-time RN for a minimum of two years,
  • Have at least three years of experience working in the gerontological nursing field with a minimum of 2,000 hours accumulated, and
  • Complete 30 hours of continuing education in the field gerontological nursing within the last three years.

Becoming a certified geriatric nurse in this way comes with the coveted RN-BC (board-certified) credential and puts you in great position to become a leader in the field, gain more skills and knowledge, and give your patients a better quality of care. You can also continue on with your education, completing an RN-BSN degree program, an MS in geriatric nursing, or even a PhD. Though you only need an RN degree to begin, the sky’s the limit for geriatric nursing programs and certifications!

Creating meaningful relationships with an older generation

Geriatric nurse and older patient hold handsAs a nursing student, you’ll learn all about communicating with patients, explaining treatment options, and the ins and outs of appropriate bedside manner. All of this knowledge will help you in any given specialty, but it’s especially essential in your day-to-day today activities as a geriatric nurse.

As a nurse, you often have more contact with your patients than any other healthcare worker. You work as a patient advocate, so it’s important you understand the necessity of building a positive relationship with your elderly patient and his or her family. This takes high levels of patience, empathy, and compassion. It isn’t for everyone, but if you find value in forming meaningful relationships with aging individuals and want to give back to an older generation, you’ll find so much joy and satisfaction in the work — and it will be a positive experience, overall, for everyone.

In addition, enjoying the access to different perspectives, diversity, and years of memories, wisdom, and stories can lead to better care. Your life will be enriched, and if you express gratitude and respect for this, your patients will likely be more comfortable, feel more supported, and be honest and more cooperative with you over time.

Earning potential in geriatric nursing

While it’s wise to choose a nursing specialty based on passion and purpose, the salary for geriatric nursing can be a factor on the list, too. Depending on geographic location, experience, level of education, and institution, wages for geriatric nurses can vary greatly. Overall, though, if you’re wondering how much geriatric nurses make: they usually can carve out a nice living for themselves.

According to Nurse Journal, nurses who want to specialize in geriatrics can earn on average anywhere from $49,000 (Hawaii) to $98,000 (Washington, DC). The pay is higher on the East Coast, with Massachusetts ($94,000), Connecticut ($90,000), and New York ($95,000) leading the pack behind our nation’s capitol. If you don’t want to make the move to the East Coast, California (so close to Utah!) ranks high with an average salary of $84,000. There is a chance that these figures will change in the next few years. As we said, the aging population in the U.S., those who will need long-term care, is growing — and fast.

Again, while good pay might sound very tempting when considering a nursing career speciality, money can’t buy you everything. Place emphasis on what will make you happy as a nurse — your best personality fit, your ambitions, your passions, and your ability to handle pressure, for example — before you place emphasis on salary. Geriatrics is a field that takes a lot of heart and patience, and it isn’t for everybody, so don’t jump into it for the wrong reasons!

Related resource: Practical Advice for Choosing Your Nursing Specialty

Overcoming complexities

Geriatric nurse helping an older woman stand up

End-of-life care can be exhausting, because geriatric patients often need more physical assistance, and because elderly care has become more complicated with each passing year. Managing chronic illnesses, comorbidities, and medications requires a diverse range of skills and a strong knowledge base. Symptoms of a common condition can manifest in a completely different way in the aging population, which means geriatric nurses need to be comfortable with critical thinking and listening to the needs, wants, and feelings of the patient.

Related resource: Be Careful: These Are the Causes of Compassion Fatigue

Tackling fear of the elderly

Some people might have a misguided fear of the elderly. There are several myths and stereotypes that might keep some well-suited nurses from pursuing a career in geriatric nursing, where they would otherwise thrive in the field. Not all elderly patients have dementia. Aging individuals are all unique with different thoughts, capabilities, and world views. While physical strength, memory, and the five senses do decline with age, aging does not affect creativity, the ability to change, or the love families have for their parents, grandparents, or brothers and sisters. It’s important to avoid assumptions and to keep an open mind. You never know where someone has been and what kind of lives they’ve experienced.

Related resource: 8 Benefits of a Holistic Nursing Education

Nurse working with a geriatric patient in a wheelchairBecoming an advocate for older patients

There was a time when curing the patient was more important than the patients themselves. Hospitals are designed around efficiency rather than person-centered care, but times are changing, and in some cases, nurses — especially those with a holistic specialty — are leading the charge.

As a geriatric nurse, you’ll be one of the biggest advocates for the patient and the patient’s family. In some cases, the treatment objective will shift. In geriatric nursing, sometimes curing the patient’s illness will become secondary to treating the patient with respect and dignity, maintaining function, and giving the patient the best quality of care as possible.

You’ll also be a listening ear when needed, a voice for those without one, and sensitive to and aware of the family’s state-of-mind at all times. There is also great opportunity to give back to a generation of people who have given so much of their lives to the world already.


As demanding as it sounds, the work does become easier with time and proves rewarding for the right individual. At Ameritech College of Healthcare, we prepare our nursing students for the challenges they’ll face in their first job to their last. If you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse in Utah, or receiving a holistic education through our online 
RN-BSN degree completion program, please contact us today. We’d love to hear from you!