Geriatric nurses specialize in caring for elderly citizens. Geriatric nurses help senior citizens manage and control chronic illnesses such as diabetes, respiratory disorders, hypertension, genitourinary issues, or arteriosclerosis. They play an important role in the care of seniors by addressing many physical issues caused by aging, as well as by providing education and support to family members.
Geriatric nurses help families understand the scope of certain health conditions, and explain to both patients and their care givers medical regimens and their effects, as well as provide direction on disease prevention and how elderly citizens can better protect themselves from acute and chronic diseases and other medical conditions. Their care helps seniors and their families spend more meaningful and satisfactory time together.
Geriatric nurses also perform a variety of testing procedures and administer certain medications. They plan and document treatment programs, and assist physicians during examinations or procedures.
One very important function of geriatric nurses is to help patients manage drug regimens, as elderly citizens often take a great deal of medication, and use of multiple medications can cause negative effects. The American Geriatrics Society states that another primary role of geriatric nurses and geriatricians (physicians who specialize in elder care) is to help seniors maintain a high degree of independent living.
Geriatric nurses should be good listeners as well as highly analytical to help delve to the root of problems quickly. Oftentimes the job can be challenging, since many seniors suffer from mental illnesses such as dementia and cannot properly communicate their needs to their care providers.
Working Conditions for Geriatric Nurses
Geriatric nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:
- Private residences
- Nursing homes and assisted living centers
- Hospice care
Duties vary by location. In hospitals, geriatric nurses often provide care for outpatient surgery, dermatology, cardiology, and geriatric mental health. In rehabilitation facilities, geriatric nurses help seniors with regaining mobility and other issues. Nursing homes and assisted living centers employ the most geriatric nurses, since these centers house primarily seniors.
Geriatric nurses must be able to handle the emotional burden placed on them by oftentimes severely debilitated patients. Many of their patients die. To some degree, geriatric nurses should be able to separate the harsh realities of their jobs from their personal lives.
Salary Information and Job Outlook for Geriatric Nurses
The American Geriatric Society cites some alarming figures for employment of geriatric nurses:
- Currently, there is only one geriatric nurse employed for every 5,000 seniors age 65 or older in the U.S.
- By 2030, it is estimated there should be just one geriatric nurse for every 7,665 seniors.
As such, employment is projected to be extremely strong for geriatric nurses. The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education reports that some students choose to pursue degrees in gerontology to start their careers, but education in gerontology is provided from associate's through post-doctoral level study. There are more than 500 colleges offering accredited programs in aging care. Students with associate's degrees typically seek entry-level work, while those with bachelor's or master's degrees can find employment in mid-level jobs as practitioners or clinical specialists.
The median salary for geriatric nurses in the U.S. is just over $60,000, Salary.com reports. Geriatric nurses at the top end of the pay scale earned more than $70,000 annually, however. The nursing publication Scrubs says gerontological nurse practitioner salaries in 2009 averaged about $75,000.